The riot occurred early in the morning on February 19, 2012 at a Nuevo Leon state prison in the city of Apodaca near Monterrey, and involved as many as 1,500 prisoners from two cell blocks. Prisoners set their mattresses on fire during the disturbance.
State public security spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano said that while prison officials were counting the dead they discovered that some prisoners were missing.
He noted that the two-hour riot involved the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels, which were once the same organization before splitting in 2010. The rivalry has since turned Monterrey into the epicenter of drug cartel violence in Nuevo Leon.
Members of both cartels were incarcerated at the maximum-security Apodaca prison, though they were usually segregated. Investigators suspected that the guards on duty at the time of the riot might have been involved. All of the guards, along with the prison director, the director of security and a supervisor, were held for questioning.
According to Nuevo Leon Governor Rodrigo Medina, 16 guards confessed to helping around 30 Zetas members escape. Most of the prisoners killed during the riot were members of the Gulf cartel.
Violence between cartel members inside Mexico's prisons – either to gain control or stage escapes, often with the help of bribed prison officials and guards – is routine. But the Apodaca riot was exceptional due to the number of deaths.
In an unrelated incident, on August 22, 2012, armed gang members abducted Fabiola Quiroz Zarate, warden of the Cieneguillas prison in Zacatecas state, from her home. They also took her nephew and a friend who was visiting them. Investigators believe the kidnapping was related to security changes in the prison system, possibly the transfer of 60 prisoners from the Cieneguillas facility to federal prisons.
"The principal line of investigation is that this might have been a reaction or response from organized crime to the operations and actions that authorities have carried out to improve the function of our penal establishments," said state Attorney General Arturo Nahle.
Sources: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
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