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Guatemala: Barrio 18 Gang in Deadly Prison Siege

Bill Weinberg

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At least three guards were killed when riot police were sent in to storm the Etapa 2 juvenile detention center outside Guatemala City, where members of the notorious Barrio 18 narco-gang had seized cell-blocks and taken hostages on Monday.

Riot troops were ordered to take the facility, despite desperate pleas from guards being held hostage. The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that before the bloody climax, hostages had shouted from windows, urging authorities to negotiate with their captors.

“We are begging and the government doesn’t want to do anything,” one reportedly cried. “They give no attention to our lives.”

The inmates rose up to protest harsh conditions at the facility in the suburb of San José Pinula.

There were certainly signs that trouble was brewing. TeleSur reports that Etapa 2 is located near the Virgen de la Asunción shelter for abused teens, where on March 8, a fire broke out under mysterious circumstances related to a resident attempting to flee the facility—leaving 40 girls dead. The conflagration sparked protests against President Jimmy Morales‘ administration and outrage over what has been dubbed state-sponsored “femicide” (mass murder of women).

Ominously, Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre reports that one agent of the National Civil Police is dead and nine wounded in a wave of at least six armed attacks on patrols since the storming of Etapa 2. The attacks are reported from both Guatemala City and its working-class suburbs and the country’s second city, Quetzaltenango. The clearly coordinated attacks point to the possibility of open war between the narco-gangs and the Guatemalan state.

Another sign of the urgent prison crisis in Latin America, the bitter fruit of generations of hardline counter-narcotics policies.

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