At least 23 inmates have been killed and scores wounded in days of rioting at the overcrowded La Mesa prison in the Mexican border city of Tijuana. Violence first broke out Sept. 14 during family visiting hours after a prisoner died inside, apparently at the hands of guards. Prisoners took advantage of the greater mobility afforded by the visiting hours to seize work implements such as picks and shovels to use as weapons, and set mattresses on fire with cigarette lighters. Four prisoners were killed in the initial outbreak; the remainder met their deaths as Baja California state police stormed the prison Sept. 18. Authorities said prisoners also used firearms, but no guards were among the casualties.
Authorities regained control of the prison and transferred 200 inmates to other facilities, Baja California Gov. José Osuña said at a news conference. The facility, built for around 3,000, was packed with more than 8,000, and family members protested that prisoners lived in dire conditions. Relatives of the inmates said they staged the uprising because they were not receiving food or water.
La Mesa was notoriously corrupt before a 2002 police raid revealed some prisoners lived lavish lifestyles with contraband goods, brothels and even restaurants. After police retook control of the prison they destroyed that part of the jail, known as “the little town” (El Pueblito). (Reuters, AlJazeera, Sept. 18)
Family members of La Mesa prisoners have held protests since the riots, charging authorities with manipulating the casualty figures and demanding to know there whereabouts of their missing relatives. Protest leaders charge the death toll could be as high as 40. (Sol de Tijuana, Sept. 18)
Relations of the prisoners also charged that torture in the facility helped provoke the uprising. The Baja California Human Rights Prosecutor had issued a report in April, dubbed Recommendation 01/2008, documenting use of torture at La Mesa. Last September a 19-year-old inmate, Israel Blanco Márquez, was apparently killed at the hands of guards. His body showed signs of blows and asphyxiation. (El Universal, Sept. 18)
The opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is demanding the resignation of Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, Baja California’s public safety chief, who is the brother of the leader of the state executive committee of the ruling National Action Party (PAN). (Sol de Tijuana, Sept. 18)
See our last post on Mexico’s narco war.