Friday, February 12, 2016

Mexican prison riot highlights cartel rule and human rights violations (Feb. 12, 2016)

Forty-nine prison inmates were hacked, beaten and burned to death yesterday in a riot in Monterrey yesterday. It was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in a system plagued by overcrowding and corruption, reports the Washington Post. Some inmates were burned in cellblock blazes as mattresses and furniture were set aflame. The death toll was the highest from prison violence in years in Mexico.

Families of inmates gathered outside the prison for news of their loved ones, and were kept at bay by riot police, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The episode highlights questions about gang rule, extortion and human rights violations in Mexico's prison system, reports the Associated Press

Many say the Zetas and Gulf cartels run the Topo Chico prison, where people sentenced for minor offenses or even awaiting trial are mixed in with hardened killers. The riot was apparently a result of a clash between the two gangs.

According to a 2014 report by the National Human Rights Commission, Topo Chico was designed to house 3,635 prisoners but held about 4,585 that year, reports the LATimes. 

The national commission documented that inmates marked out "privileged areas" for themselves and their allies, using violence to control the rest of the prison population, reports El Daily Post.

In 2012, 44 inmates were killed and 30 escaped from the prison in Apodaca in Nuevo León.

A 2013 report by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that 65 of 101 prisons surveyed were effectively run by inmates, notes the Washington Post.

The Zetas-Gulf rivalry turned Monterrey into one of the bloodier fronts of the gangland violence that has roiled Mexico since 2004.

The riot marks the first security challenge for Gov. Jaime Rodríguez, who took office in October vowing to curtail corruption and gangland violence in Nuevo León state, which borders south Texas, reports the Wall Street Journal.

"Inmates dominate the prisons, both state and federal," Raúl Benítez, a Mexican security analyst told the WSJ. "This has been a crisis for the federal government since El Chapo’s escape." (See below.)

But given the widespread deficiencies -- overpopulation and lack of supervision -- the question is actually why something like this didn't happen sooner, according to El Daily Post. In fact, the Topo Chico prison has been the site of a couple smaller prison riots over recent years.

The state human rights body put the number of Topo Chico guards at 75. There should be more than a thousand.

The episode comes amidst renewed attention towards Mexico's prison system ahead of a visit by Pope Francis.

News Briefs
  • The pontiff's visit will also include a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe while he is in Mexico. It will likely be the least controversial stop in his visit, according to the Guardian. Catholics believe the virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous farmer at that very site in northern Mexico City – once a temple to the Aztec goddess Tonantzin and now the world's most-visited Marian shrine. He has requested a few minutes alone with "la virgencita," a piece of fabric bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that is possibly the most revered religious artifact in the Western Hemisphere, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Five keys to understand the papal Mexico trip, according to the Associated Press, include the diplomatic faux-pas last year when he warned an Argentine friend of potential "Mexicanization" of the country, and his emphasis on migrant rights at the U.S. border. 
  • The Mexican government is hoping for a much needed boost from the Pope's visit, reports the New York Times. "But the pope’s itinerary also poses a major risk to the government, highlighting at each turn some of the state’s most obvious challenges and failings — poverty, inequality, corruption and rampant violence."
  • Recently recaptured drug kingpin, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán will likely be sent to Brooklyn, N.Y., to face trial on drug-trafficking charges if he is extradited from Mexico, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Jan. 12's post.)
  • Earlier this week the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team released a report that challenged the Mexican government's conclusions over the fate of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students. (See Wednesday's briefs.) The implications are grave for Mexican institutions, according to El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope. "The most important criminal case of the past decade is dependent on the confessions of alleged members of a drug gang and (supposedly) crooked cops, with little or no corroborating physical evidence. Worse still, in this radically important investigation, there are no bodies and there is no convincing theory of motive. If this is the best Mexican institutions can do, their best won’t do. That is truly frightening." 
  • Mexico's peso slid to a new low against the U.S. dollar, yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuela's supreme court has overruled the opposition-controlled congress and granted broad decree powers to President Nicolás Maduro who declared an "economic emergency" last month. Though the National Assembly refused to approve the measure, the court ruled last night that Maduro did not need the body's approval, reports the Associated Press. (See Jan 18's post and Jan. 27's briefs.) According to the court's decision, the emergency is already in effect, granting the president broad authority over the economy for 60 days. Critics of Venezuela’s socialist administration immediately denounced the move as unconstitutional.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales' opponents have accused him of influence-peddling linked to a Chinese construction firm, but the leader rejects the accusations and has invited the country's congress to investigate the matter, reports AFP. Morales is preparing for a national referendum later this month on a constitutional reform that could allow him to be re-elected until 2025.
  • Irish based banana company Fyffes is being accused of serially mistreating workers at plantations owned by subsidiaries in Honduras and Costa Rica, reports the Guardian.
  • Women's rights campaigners worry that Zika-linked miscarriages could lead to a surge in charges against women in El Salvador for deliberate abortion or homicide, as interpreted under the country's draconian abortion law, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's government is preparing a massive  public education and mosquito breeding ground elimination operation. But the country's public health experts say it won't be enough to eradicate the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito, reports the Guardian.
  • The species is called the "cockroach of mosquitos," explains the Wall Street Journal. It bites during the day and hides indoors at night, which means fumigation must be conducted inside homes, which is a contentious practise.
  • Brazil's Health Ministry and the University of Texas agreed yesterday to work together to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A House for Mr Biswas, V.S. Naipaul's 1961 novel set in Trinidad, "an important island in the Caribbean but not a particularly influential one on the world stage," notes Teju Cole in a review in the Guardian. "And yet, this severely delimited context gave VS Naipaul an entire world of experience and feeling on which to draw."

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