On the morning of Wednesday, December 7, around 80 armed men broke into a prison located in the state of Guerrero, in Central Mexico. One of the inmates – a certain Samuel N., alias “El Vago” – was liberated. Charged with kidnapping, he had arrived at Coyuca de Catalán prison barely 24 hours earlier.
The armed group arrived at the prison, detained the director, disarmed the guards and took temporary control of the jail, which is run by the state government. According to the State Prosecutor’s Office, everything occurred within 10 minutes.
Local media reports indicate that eight other inmates took advantage of the chaos to escape. The authorities have not confirmed this.
In a statement, the Prosecutor’s Office provided details about the seizure of the prison. Apparently, the criminal group took two of the prison directors hostage while they were going out to buy food for the inmates. So that their superiors would not be harmed, three guards handed over their weapons. With the head of the prison being held at gunpoint, 10 of the 80 attackers entered the facility and located El Vago. They then escaped without a trace. No bullets were fired.
The Coyuca de Catalán prison is located on the outskirts of the city of Altamirano, the regional capital. Hours before the jailbreak, a fire destroyed dozens of stalls in the central market. Several reporters pointed out the possibility that the two events were related. However, the mayor of Altamirano clarified that the origin of the fire was from a candle. A watchman employed by the market also pointed out that the cause could have also stemmed from a fan short-circuiting.
El Vago’s dramatic escape is the latest in a long line of incidents that have afflicted other state prisons. The Mexican penitentiary system lacks adequate surveillance and sufficient personnel, while guards are not properly equipped. This allows violent inmates to use their behavior as a bargaining chip to obtain privileges. As recently as February, a prison riot in Acapulco left 20 police officers severely injured.
Coyuca prison and Altamirano are located in Tierra Caliente – a region that includes municipalities belonging to the states of Guerrero and Michoacán. In October, hitmen gunned down 20 people in San Miguel – a town on the border of the two states – including the mayor and his father. It was the worst massacre to take place in the area in several years. Federal and state authorities announced large-scale operations by the National Guard and the Army to prevent future incidents. But now, just six weeks later, criminals managed to break into a state prison without a hitch.
Shootouts, riots and jailbreaks are indicative of a larger problem: the authorities surrendering in the face of insecurity. For the past 15 years, violence has been on the rise in Mexico, emanating from both gangs and the state.
The Prosecutor’s Office has reported that the escaped prisoner was the leader of a gang of kidnappers, accused of perpetrating at least one kidnapping a few months ago in Chilpancingo, the state capital.
Usually, the authorities immediately release the names of gangs that were involved – including aliases – after such a large-scale criminal operation. However, they have remained unusually quiet as of Wednesday.
The October massacre in San Miguel involved two old criminal gangs: Los Tequileros and the Familia Michoacana. Initially, the authorities blamed the former group for the massacre, as the murdered mayor and his father had ties to the second. But as the days went by, the federal government changed its mind, saying that, in fact, the massacre had actually been the work of the Familia, who were settling a score with their former political allies.
The affiliation of the 80-person group that stormed the prison still remains unclear. The aforementioned gangs – along with the Jalisco New Generation cartel – are all suspects.
According to press reports, in recent years, cells of various gangs have been active in the region, causing dozens of families from mountainous communities in Guerrero to flee their homes due to the violence. The prison break, despite its brazenness, is simply another episode in the climate of fear and lawlessness that continues to reign in rural Mexico.
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