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Reuters/Daniel Becerril
The quiet after the storm.
TOPO CHICO

A riot at a Mexican prison left 52 inmates dead and more than a dozen injured

By Ana Campoy

A confrontation between members of rival gangs, one of them allegedly a member of the Los Zetas drug cartel, sparked a riot Wednesday night (Feb. 10) at a jail in northern Mexico. For 40 minutes, prisoners pummeled each other using bats, sticks, razor blades (link in Spanish) and other sharp objects, according to local officials. Some set fires inside the prison. The fighting left 52 dead and at least 12 injured.

There is no evidence of the use of firearms, and no inmates escaped during the melee, according to Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, governor of Nuevo León, where the riot took place. He said in an interview with Imagen Radio that all of the dead were inmates.

It’s not the first riot at that penitentiary, called Topo Chico. Last year, another battle there resulted in the killing of another Zeta boss (Spanish.) The jail, which is more than 60 years old, holds around 3,800 inmates, nearly double its capacity, according to Rodríguez Calderón. In past years, it has come under scrutiny for overcrowding (Spanish) and alleged criminal activity within its walls.

Those kinds of problems are widespread in Mexican state jails, which house 30% (Spanish, pdf, pg. 13) more inmates than they were built to handle, according to a recent report. But the recent Topo Chico riot is the deadliest reported in recent years, according to a list compiled by EFE news agency.

“We are living a tragedy stemming from the very difficult situation at detention centers,” Rodríguez Calderón said during a press conference Thursday morning.

The fight started around 11:30 pm at the penitentiary, which is in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s largest cities. Inmates then set fire to food warehouses inside the jail. The Mexican Army, along with federal and local police, subdued the riot at around 1:30am, according to the governor.

Authorities identified the leader of one of the warring groups as Juan Pedro Saldivar Farías, known as Z-27.  The head of the other group, Jorge Iván Hernández Cantú, alias “el Credo,” or the Creed, has been identified by other media as a member of the rivaling Gulf Cartel.

Dozens of inmate relatives crowded the entrance of the jail Thursday morning demanding news about their loved ones inside.