A riot that begin at dawn on Friday in a Bolivian prison has culminated in the deaths’ of 31 people, including an 18-month-old child. (The original total reported was 30; as of Saturday afternoon that total had risen to 31 when an inmate died after being taken to the hospital.) 60 other people were injured in the fire that broke out. The Palmasola maximum-security prison that houses 3,500 inmates sits just outside the capital of Santa Cruz, and is the largest prison in the country. Bolivian officials are calling it the country’s worst case to-date of prison violence.
Around daybreak on Friday morning, one of the prison’s two major gangs broke down the cell block wall separating them from their enemies; they then launched propane tanks as flamethrowers into the midst of the sleeping rival gang members. They also used knives, machetes and gas cans to inflict death, according to the prison minister. Witnesses recalled hearing gun shots as well, and bullet casings were found. However, no guns have yet been recovered.
Officials at the prison reported that the majority of the dead were on the second floor of the two-story building, and that the cell blocks involved in the riot were the home of the most dangerous criminals held within Palmasola’s walls’. The bodies of the dead were so severely burned, they are being to taken a local morgue for autopsy in order to determine identity. The prison’s chaplain, Minister Carlos Romero, said, “The victims were trapped in the fire.”
The prisons of South America are known for their corruption, and run, more or less, by the inmates’ themselves. They also allow children to live with their families in the prison until the age of six. As recently as just two months ago, the U.N. pleaded for children to be taken out of Bolivian prisons; at least twelve children were taken from the facility by noon on Friday. They had endured the nightmare taking place around them for about six hours before they were evacuated.
The attacking gang reportedly opened the valves of gas tanks to cause the fiery inferno that ensued. The inmates of Palmasola sleep on straw mattresses, which immediately caught fire, adding to the quick incineration of the prison and its’ inmates.
Maria Inez Galvez, a Human Rights representative who was allowed into Palmasola with her colleagues on Friday morning, reported of the horrors she saw upon entering the facility. Galvez recounted the severely burned inmates still alive, as well as the piles of nude bodies, faces burned beyond recognition. Galvez and her team said that there weren’t even ‘enough police to escort each of the injured to the hospital.’
There have not been any reports yet on the severity of the damage to Palmasola, or what will happen with the other inmates now. Check WebProNews for future updates on this story.