Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Violent Escape at Nuevo Leon Prison Exposes Severe Corruption, Overcrowding in Mexico's Jail System

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Violent Escape at Nuevo Leon Prison Exposes Severe Corruption, Overcrowding in Mexico's Jail System

Article excerpt

Another violent drug-related incident in Nuevo Leon state could affect the political fortunes of a top state official, and the ripples from the incident could even have repercussions on the 2012 presidential election. The incident, a violent escape at the Apodaca state prison near the community of San Nicolas de los Garza, also raised concerns about overcrowding and corruption in Mexico's prison system. Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz has come under heavy criticism for lax security at the prison, which may have contributed to a brawl that resulted in the escape of 29 prisoners and the death of dozens of other inmates. The escaped prisoners are believed to be members of the infamous Zetas drug-trafficking organization. The escapees bludgeoned 44 fellow inmates, all believed to be associated with the rival Gulf cartel.

The perpetrators, who apparently left the premises with minimal effort, created a diversion by setting fire to several mattresses, which caused a short circuit in the prison's electrical system. But investigators said the escaped Zetas might have received assistance from several guards and prison officials, including warden Geronimo Miguel Andres Martinez and security chief Oscar Deveze Laureano. Several guards later admitted during interrogations that they assisted with the escape and the massacre and acknowledged receiving bribes from the Zetas.

The murder of the members of the Gulf cartel reflected the power struggle among criminal organizations for control of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, an important staging area for drug shipments to the US. In an interview earlier this year, Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan pointed out that the economic strength of Nuevo Leon, the high standard of living, and the large number of university students made the state attractive for criminal organizations. In addition to the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, the Sinaloa and Juarez organizations are fighting for a space in Nuevo Leon, said the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP).

Heavy political fallout for Gov. Medina, PRI

The incident at the Apodaca prison is a black mark for Gov. Medina, a member of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), who is accused at the very least of failing to implement proper oversight at the prison. But there are some allegations that Medina knew of the Zetas activity and looked the other way. Reports surfaced that the Zetas donated a large sum of money to Medina's gubernatorial campaign in 2009. Medina won that election handily, keeping the seat in the hands of the PRI (SourceMex, July 8, 2009). Some of the allegations came from the Zetas themselves.

"Nuevo Leon is Zetas' territory, and our power is demonstrated in recent developments. Even if you don't like it, we supported [Rodrigo Medina] in the gubernatorial race," said a banner hanging in Monterrey. Zeta leaders Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Trevino allegedly signed the message.

Medina took immediate action to limit the damage by firing warden Andres Martinez, who was originally given the job despite a history of colluding with organized crime. In 2009, Martinez was fired from the Santa Martha Acatila prison in Mexico City on charges that he allowed a group of kidnappers and extortionists to operate from that facility. The governor also fired state public safety director Gen. Jaime Castaneda, replacing him with Gen. Javier del Real Magallanes.

Medina's alleged connections with the Zetas raised strong concerns with the PRI executive committee (Comite Ejecutivo Nacional, CEN), which demanded that President Felipe Calderon and Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire Romero offer their immediate support to the Medina administration instead of criticizing the governor.

"Under these circumstances, the worst thing one can do is undermine the authority of the state government," said PRI president Pedro Joaquin Coldwell. "Our party demands that the federal government set aside its double-discourse, under which it remains silent on this issue while attacking [Gov. …

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