GUATEMALA CITY – One of the four guards being held hostage by inmates at a juvenile detention facility in the Guatemalan capital made an appeal to authorities on Monday to meet his captors’ demands.
“We are begging and the government doesn’t want to do anything,” Aroldo Muñoz shouted from a window.
“They (officials) say they are working on it, but they give no attention to our lives,” he said. “We are between life and death and the president (Jimmy Morales) is not paying attention.”
Authorities say the mutiny at the Etapa II facility in the Guatemala City district of San Jose Pinula is the work of roughly two-dozen members of the Barrio 18 gang.
The disturbances began late Sunday, when inmates seized seven guards – killing two of them – and set a fire.
One guard was freed by the inmates early Monday, but four remain inside as hostages.
Some inmates tried to escape amid the confusion, but the 250 riot police surrounding the correction resorted to tear gas to force the prisoners away from the perimeter.
Also gathered outside Etapa II are inmates’ families.
The mother of one prisoner criticized authorities for placing members of rival gangs inside the same facility, warning that the practice could lead to “a war among moms and dads.”
Muñoz said that he and the other remaining hostages were well, while urging authorities to act quickly to meet the captors’ demand for the transfer to Etapa II of Barrio 18 members being held at another institution in the capital.
“Bring the rest of our comrades, who are in danger where they are,” one of the captors said from the same window.
When asked by reporters why the inmates killed two guards, the captor said that the prisoners had been suffering daily abuse.
Besides the transfer of their Barrio 18 comrades, the rioters’ demands include conjugal visits and the provision of stoves for cooking, according to Abner Paredes, the head of the children and youth division of the national ombudsman’s office.
Etapa II falls under the authority of the Social Welfare Secretariat (SBS) in the office of President Morales.
The government has created an inter-agency task force to address the crisis at Etapa II, the SBS said Monday on social media.
The riot at the juvenile jail comes less than two weeks after 40 girls and young women perished in a fire at the nearby Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion, a shelter for orphans and other at-risk youth.
The fire at Hogar Seguro appeared to have been started by a group of residents who set mattresses ablaze to protest physical and sexual abuse they were suffering at the shelter, which was run by
The former SBS secretary and deputy secretary and an ex-administrator of the shelter have been arrested, while Guatemala’s main opposition party has filed a criminal complaint against Morales.
Authorities are investigating claims by other shelter residents that the victims of the fire had been locked up as punishment after attempting to flee Hogar Seguro, which was housing nearly double the 400 youths it was built to accommodate.