At least 13 people have died in a prison mutiny in north Mexico that some witnesses claim was a backlash against an attempted takeover of the prison by the Zetas, highlighting the criminal control and corruption that are pervasive in the penal system.
Trouble at Cadereyta prison in the state of Nuevo Leon erupted when inmates took three guards hostage on October 10, reported AFP.
The situation deteriorated into rioting, with around 250 inmates burning rubbish and mattresses and taking to the prison roof with banners denouncing alleged links between prison director Edgardo Aguilar Aranda and organized crime group the Zetas, reported EFE.
Authorities confirmed that at least 13 inmates died in the clashes, with at least 8 more injured, two of them police officers. However, other reports suggest the number of injured stands at least as high as 25, while the number of dead could also rise.
The authorities responded by sending in 60 police patrols to restore order and state Interior Secretary Manuel González Flores to negotiate with the inmates, according to EFE.
Gonzalez told media that the rioting broke out over prison conditions. However, family members of the inmates say prisoners took action over a plan by the prison director to bring in Zetas members to assert control over the prison, a claim supported by a banner strewn across a wall declaring "We don't want a Z director," stated AFP.
According to EFE's report, the prisoners behind the violence were connected to the Zetas' former parent organization and long-time enemies the Gulf Cartel.
The incident is the second deadly prison riot of the year in Cadereyta, with four dying in disturbances in March.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico's prison system, like many in the region, is underfunded and overpopulated, a situation that has led to prisoners themselves controlling the insides of up to 60 percent of institutions, according to some experts.
When prisoner rule is combined with rampant corruption, the conditions are ripe for organized crime to assert dominance, extorting inmates and controlling the flows of contraband.
SEE ALSO: The Prison Dilemma in the Americas
The Zetas in particular have proven adept at setting up internal criminal networks within prisons, most notably in the case of a penitentiary in the state of Coahuila, Piedras Negras. Investigations have revealed how the Zetas allegedly turned the prison into a base of operations. They used it to dispose of the corpses of an estimated 150 victims, and broke out over 130 inmates. They also manufactured uniforms, bulletproof vests, and modified cars inside the prison to hide drugs and weapons, all in complicity with state authorities.
In another case, prison authorities at Gómez Palacio prison in Durango allegedly allowed Zetas inmates out of prison to carry out murders, including the massacre of 17 people in 2010.
Former inmates speaking to Vice earlier this year detailed how Cadereyta has not previously been subjected to organized crime rule. However, following the protests in March, which were reportedly against new security measures, it is easy to see how striking a deal with the Zetas would be a tempting proposition for the prison director, allowing the authorities to bring new levels of control over unruly inmates, as well as providing riches to the corrupt officials that facilitate their activities.