The March 6, 2005, Higuey fire is the latest in a series of deadly blazes at Dominican Republic prisons. Thirty prisoners died in September 2002 at a La Vega prison after prisoners ignited mattresses. At that time, La Vega, designed to hold 50 prisoners, held 400 men in nine cells. A February 2005 fire caused by an electrical shortage at Santo Domingo's largest prison resulted in one prisoner dying.
The Dominican Republic is notorious for operating overcrowded prisons controlled by prisoners. Some prisons were totally out of the authorities control and were, in effect, operated by armed inmates," said the U.S. State Department in February 2005.
The Higuey incident erupted from rival gangs trying to control the prison. The gang that controls the prison, sells food, cigarettes, and drugs to the other prisoners. The problem began because there were two Higuey people who wanted to control the prison and were extorting 1,000 pesos ($25) from each of us," said injured prisoner José Prichard Silverio.
The Higuey violence started after one prisoner shot and wounded a rival gang member. Dozens of prisoners then began fighting for control of the prison. Guards eventually broke up the fight. Shortly thereafter, prisoners began rioting by setting fire to pillows and sheets.
Although officials said Higuey only housed 148 prisoners, the toll of dead and injured was 159. The dead included two Puerto Rican prisoners.
Source: Associated Press
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