The authorities in Guatemala managed to regain control on Monday of Granja Penal Canadá prison in Escuintla, located south of Guatemala City, after a mutiny broke out the day before. The incident left 16 people dead.
According to early official accounts, unrest began around 4.30pm as prisoners finished a soccer game. Relatives who were leaving the facility at the end of visiting hours said they heard gunshots. The Guatemalan National Forensic Science Institute said most of the casualties died of stab wounds to the cranium, neck and face. One victim died of head trauma while another was decapitated.
Authorities initially thought the incident may have started due to an attempted prison escape. The theory seemed credible given that, in April, prison officials found a tunnel through which a group of inmates was planning to flee. The route was 80 percent complete. But Penitentiary System spokesman Rudy Esquivel later said that clashes between rival maras [youth gangs] led to the unrest.
Meanwhile, the prisoners’ families camped out overnight around the facility, anxious about the welfare of their relatives. They even tried to find information through journalists who were covering the story. The authorities directed them to the regional hospital morgue to find out the identity of the bodies that had been recovered. By Monday night, officials had identified 16 casualties.
The prison system is just one of the weak points of the fragile Guatemalan judiciary. A recent study from the Center for National Economic Investigations (CIEN) said one of its most significant challenges is overpopulation, with prisons exceeding inmate capacity by 300 percent. Canadá is irrefutable proof of this fact. The facility was designed to hold 600 inmates but, until Sunday, was housing 3,092.
This anomaly has led to corruption. Guatemala has not built a single prison in the last 30 years, and the small budget allocated to construction invariably ends up in the pockets of government employees, working in collusion with inmates who, literally, control the facilities with such latitude that they can withhold food and blankets from new arrivals who do not pay set quotas. What’s even more concerning is that most extortions, kidnappings and murders on the streets are ordered by incarcerated gang leaders.
English version by Dyane Jean Francois.