San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gang Riots in Guatemalan Prisons Claim Six Lives

GUATEMALA CITY – Six gang members were killed and another 23 injured May 18 during two separate but simultaneous riots in a pair of Guatemalan prisons, penitentiary system officials reported.

Clashes between the youth gangs “Mara 18” (M-18) and the “Paisas” took place inside a jail in the southern city of Mazatenango, and at the Pavoncito Rehabilitation Center in the town of Fraijanes, 20 kilometers southeast of the capital.

In Mazatenango, five gang members died of bullet wounds inside the prison after being shot by members of the M-18. A sixth inmate died of stab wounds later that night at a hospital.

Another 14 inmates were injured in the riot, officials said.

Meanwhile, in Pavoncito, M-18 members tossed a grenade at Paisas gang members, wounding nine.

According to preliminary investigations, the incident took place after members of the Paises tried to attack their rivals.

The convicts in both prisons were brought under control by security forces who, accompanied by the military, surrounded the detention facilities.

Penitentiary System director Alejandro Giammattei said that the leaders of these gangs will be moved to different prisons to avoid any further clashes.

According to one official, in Guatemalan prisons the inmates choose their cellmates, and “that cannot be allowed.”

Giammattei called the situation “tense” and announced an investigation to find out who permitted the entry of firearms and explosives into the prisons.

This was not the first incident of gang riots in Guatemalan prisons.

On May 1, five gang members were injured when a grenade thrown by a rival gang went off inside the prison in Quetzaltenango, 206 kilometers west of the Guatemalan capital.

In August 2005, gang members started simultaneous riots in at least eight prisons around the country, leaving at least 36 dead and more than 60 injured.

According to police, in Guatemala more than 400 gangs have been detected, while the number of gang members is estimated at close to 60,000.

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