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Mexican Prison Officials Arm and Release Prisoners for Hit Squad Duties

by Matt Clarke

A Mexican prison director, Margarita Rojas Rodriguez, and three other prison employees were detained in August 2010 while their role in arming and releasing prisoners to kill rival gang members was investigated. [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.50].

“According to witnesses, the inmates were allowed to leave with authorization of the prison director ... to carry out instructions for revenge attacks using official vehicles and using guards’ weapons for executions,” said Ricardo Najera, spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office. “Unfortunately, the criminals also carried out cowardly killings of innocent civilians, only to return to their cells.”

In addition to Rodriguez, prison security chiefs Roberto Enriquez Aguayo and Jose Guadalupe Rivas Ordaz, as well as the prison’s assistant director, Francisco Carlos Alberto Uranga Orona, were detained pending an investigation.

The background to the astonishing use of prisoners as hit men is the battle for control of the drug trade in the neighboring northern Mexican states of Coahuila and Durango. In that fight, the Zetas – the indiscriminately violent former enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel – is seeking to overthrow the Gulf cartel. At stake is the lucrative narcotics pipeline into the U.S. via Coahuila, which is opposite the middle of the Texas section of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The prison is located at Gomez Palacio in eastern Durango near the border with Coahuila. Just across the border is Coahuila’s capital, Torreon, where 35 people were killed in three separate attacks on February 1, May 15 and July 18, 2010. The first two attacks were on bars and resulted in a total of 18 deaths. The last, and deadliest, attack was on a birthday party being held at a rented hall at an inn. The revelers had received an invitation to the party via Facebook. Gunmen appeared, spraying the hall with assault rifles and killing 17 people, including women. All three attacks are believed to be related to gang retaliation and committed by prisoners who then returned to their cells.

“The criminals carried out the executions as part of a settling of accounts against members of rival gangs tied to organized crime,” said Najera.

Police recovered over 120 bullet casings from the birthday party massacre. According to Najera, forensic tests matched them to four AR-15 assault rifles assigned to the prison for use by guards.

This “can only be seen as a wake-up call for authorities to address, once again, the state of deterioration in many local law enforcement institutions ... we cannot allow this kind of thing to happen again,” said Francisco Blake, Interior Secretary of Mexico, who promised that the investigation would seek to determine who gave orders for “these cowardly and condemnable acts.”

In late 2006, Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, began cracking down on gangs and government corruption. Since then over 25,000 people have died in gang-related violence in Mexico. The crackdown has also overcrowded Mexico’s prisons, which has resulted in escalating levels of violence – including numerous riots and deaths.

Sources: McClatchy-Tribune News Service,, Associated Press,, CNN

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