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A Prison Riot in an Overcrowded Guatemalan Jail Kills at Least 16

The authorities said the prison was built with the capacity for 600 inmates but currently houses over 3,000.
Photo by Moises Castillo/AP

At least 16 prisoners were killed in a riot in a severely overcrowded Guatemalan jail that began on Sunday afternoon, with the situation reportedly not brought fully under control until Monday.

Deputy Security Minister Helmer Sosa told a press conference on Monday that one of the victims was killed with a firearm and the remaining 15 with knives.

Sosa said that there were 3,088 prisoners in the Granja Penal Canadá facility that was built to house just 600 inmates and is located about 40 miles south of Guatemala City.


The riot began on Sunday afternoon, though the massive police and army operation to quash it was not aunched until well into the night. Local daily El Periódico said one part of the prison was still under prisoner control at midday on Monday.

Deputy minister Sosa said the delay in intervening was caused by the need to avoid a major confrontation between the police and the prisoners. He also told reporters that technology designed to block mobile phone use by inmates hampered the flow of information about what was happening.

"All the dead are prisoners, we have ruled out any guards among the dead," Rudy Esquivel, spokesman for Guatemala's prison system, said on Monday. "The cause was a clash between them, we are still investigating."

Local media reported that the riot started when a group of prisoners attacked gang members they accused of demanding that visiting relatives pay a quota.

Relatives of prisoners wailed outside the jail, and some fainted, as bodies were carried out in black plastic bags bound for the morgue. The names of the dead were not immediately released.

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