GUATEMALA CITY – A riot started by a group of gang members on Sunday at a youth correctional facility in Guatemala was brought to an end on Monday with three guards killed and four others injured, after security forces stormed the prison to regain control.
The turmoil broke out on Sunday when a group of 26 gang members from Barrio 18 staged a riot at the Central Correctional Etapa II prison in San Jose Pinula, holding seven prison guards hostage, according to the National Civil Police (PNC).
Two of the hostages were killed, and one of them was released by the gang members on Monday, subsequently undergoing an operation due to multiple gunshot wounds.
Authorities entered the facility later on the same day in an attempt to rescue the remaining hostages.
After the rescue operation, one guard died on the way to hospital and two others were injured, according to the official spokesperson.
The increasing levels of “aggressiveness, violence and intolerance” of the youth facility inmates drove the security forces to enter the center by force after negotiations failed, the director of the PNC Nery Ramos said in a press conference, alongside Interior Minister Francisco Rivas.
The officials revealed the rescue operation involved 45 specialized agents, in addition to hundreds protecting the perimeter.
The minister said he did not have information on the number of wounded prisoners as a result of the rescue operation.
He assured the authorities acted “proportionately with the forces that the State gives us to restore order.”
“If they were injured, it was probably because they were against the procedure that was being exercised,” he added.
Asked to comment on the cause of the riot, Rivas said that the investigation was underway and that “the truth will prevail.”
Officers were within the premises to guard the inmates and to investigate the guards’ cause of death.
Some 45 juvenile inmates have been transferred to court for processing.
On Monday, gang members threatened to burn the hostages alive unless their demands were met, including the transfer of their fellow inmates detained at Las Gaviotas center in Guatemala City.
One of the rioters cited mistreatment as the cause of the murder of the first two prison guards, saying “they deserved it.”
The Guatemalan government launched an inter-institutional committee on Monday comprising the PNC, the Attorney General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the Secretariat of Social Welfare, to handle the prison crisis.
The Ombudsman for Human Rights released a report on the country’s four juvenile detention centers in October 2016, which revealed Etapa II as being overcrowded, with poor infrastructure and hygiene.
The report said Etapa II has a 160-inmate capacity.
There were altogether 201 inmates and 23 guards, although when necessary the guards could number 40.
Of the 30 surveillance cameras only 13 were working, and there was hardly one toilet per sector.
In other cases the toilets were “dirt holes” where the inmates had to defecate, urinate and bathe.
Inmates, aged between 13 and 18 years old, had to “adapt the washbasins to defecate and bathe,” the report read.
It recommended the younger and older detainees should be separated “as soon as possible.”
The crisis in Etapa II erupted days after the tragedy at the Virgin of the Assumption Shelter, where a fire killed 40 girls on March 8, among them teenagers who were allegedly victims of sexual and physical abuse.