Easy come, easy go: simple truth behind Mexican prison ‘breakout’

Author: By David Usborne

As if the debacle at the prison in Cieneguillas, in the northern state of Zacatecas, was not already embarrassing enough, security camera footage reveals just how little the officers did to stop the fleeing inmates. So shocking was their inaction that all are being investigated for possible involvement.

One tape shows guards watching television as the gate to a cell-block opens to reveal a prisoner followed by other inmates, some with guns. The bored-looking guards step casually aside and are pushed into the cell-block. One prisoner then covers the security camera with a blanket.

The rest of the break-out, during which not a shot is fired, plays out like a bad B-movie on tapes from other security cameras around the prison. All the videos were published first by La Reforma newspaper on its website then released by Ricardo Najera, the Attorney General.

The fiasco is a blow to the government, which is striving to show new fortitude and efficiency in tackling crime and corruption, including the deadly drug wars. It has admitted that at least 11 of the prisoners were high-level detainees from the drugs crackdown. A global alert for their arrest has been issued by Interpol, which has called them a “risk to the safety and security of citizens around the world”.

Mr Najera confirmed that 51 employees at the prison are now being investigated for possible collusion with the perpetrators of the break-out, including its director and all 44 guards who were on duty at the time. Officials also revealed that the prisoners were able to pilfer 23 weapons from the prison’s armoury before fleeing.

Getting out of their cell-block was only the beginning. At about the same time, a fleet of police vehicles drew up to the prison. A guard immediately opens the main gates, apparently without asking for any kind of verification. In fact, the eight armed men who then sweep down the corridors of the complex to where the escaped inmates are waiting are not policemen, even though they are wearing the proper uniforms.

Perhaps most damning are those images that show some of the guards finally running around in a state of great emergency with their weapons finally drawn, but after the escapees are all outside and the fleet of police vehicles, which were also fake, has long disappeared into the night. La Reforma suggests that the guards look like they are acting for the cameras in a “Jim Carrey” style.

The government yesterday confirmed that it was offering large rewards for information that might lead to the arrests of those involved, ranging from $77,000 (£48,000) for any of the inmates, none of whom have been re-captured, to a more generous $230,000 for any of the eight gunmen seen on the tapes.

Mexico has long suffered problems maintaining security at its prisons. President Felipe Calderon has admitted that drug lords sometimes find that being behind bars does not necessarily get in the way of successfully doing business, so he has allowed a record number of extraditions of drugs suspects to the United States, where their incarceration will be more secure. He has also deployed 40,000 troops to try to end the drug wars, which have claimed at least 10,000 lives.

Two prison guards are already serving 19 years for aiding the 2001 escape of Joaquin Guzman, an infamous drug lord widely known as El Chapo, from a prison in Jalisco state.

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