Latin America
11:01 pm
Mon February 20, 2012

Prison Break Epitomizes Mexican Drug War Woes

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 7:08 am

Officials in Mexico are offering a reward of nearly $1 million for the capture of 30 inmates who broke out of a prison in the northern state of Nuevo Leon on Sunday.

The governor says the inmates staged a riot, during which 44 people died, to create a diversion for their escape.

It was a jail break that epitomized the Mexican drug war: Rival gang members brutally killed each other, corrupt public officials looked the other way, and dangerous criminals went free.

Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, in a news conference Monday, said all 30 of the inmates who escaped are members of the Zetas, and almost all the dead were members of the Gulf cartel.

The riot broke out at 2 a.m. at the Apodaca penitentiary just outside the industrial city of Monterrey.

After about two hours, federal police and Mexican soldiers finally regained control of the building.

Given the timing and manner in which the riot took place, Medina said, it appears some prison authorities were involved in the plot. He suspended the warden along with two of his top deputies and 18 guards.

Medina blamed the drug war for extreme overcrowding at the prison. The facility was at 180 percent of capacity when the violence erupted.

Among the fugitives is Oscar Manuel Bernal Soriano, who is known as el Arana, or the Spider. Bernal, the former head of the Zetas in Monterrey, was serving time for kidnapping soldiers and assassinating a local police chief.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Officials in Mexico are offering a reward of almost $1 million for the capture of 30 inmates. The inmates broke out of a prison in a northern state on Sunday. The governor says the inmates staged a riot to create a diversion for their escape, and 44 people were killed in that riot. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It was a jail break that epitomized the Mexican drug war. Rival gang members brutally killed each other. Corrupt public officials looked the other way, and dangerous criminals went free. The governor of Nuevo Leon, Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, in a press conference yesterday said all 30 of the inmates who escaped are members of the Zetas, and almost all the dead were members of the Gulf Cartel.

The riot broke out at two in the morning at the Apodaca penitentiary, just outside the industrial city of Monterrey.

RODRIGO MEDINA DE LA CRUZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Given the timing and manner in which the riot took place, Governor Medina said, it appears some prison authorities were involved in the plot. Medina suspended the warden of the penitentiary, along with two of his top deputies and 18 guards.

Governor Medina blamed the drug war for extreme overcrowding at the prison. The facility was at 180% of capacity when the violence erupted. Among the fugitives is Oscar Manuel Bernal Soriano, known as el Arana, or the Spider. Bernal was the former head of the Zetas in Monterrey. He was serving time for kidnapping soldiers and assassinating a local police chief.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

INSKEEP: And you hear Jason's reporting on Mexico's drug war right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.