Five people have been apprehended in connection with forced disappearances at the Piedras Negras penitentiary in Coahuila, in which at least 150 people are believed to have been murdered by the Zetas cartel.
An investigation was launched by the state Attorney General’s office in 2012 after a massive prison break of 131 inmates in January of that year and found the cartel used the facility as an extermination camp.
Between December 2009 and January 2012 at least 150 people — kidnapping victims or enemies of the cartel — were taken to the penitentiary where they were murdered and their bodies either incinerated or broken down in tanks of acid under orders of the leadership of the Zetas. The remains were transported out of the penitentiary and disposed of in a nearby river.
The five people arrested have been linked to the disappearance of seven victims whose remains have been identified, but Attorney General Homero Ramos Gloria said the investigation is still open.
The findings have revealed that the drug cartel ruled the prison. “We have received information that this place was governed autonomously by the Zetas,” said a spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office yesterday.
Much of the investigation has relied on the testimony of 42 prisoners who were being held in the jail at the time.
The Zetas allegedly manufactured uniforms and bulletproof vests and modified vehicles for hiding drugs and weapons, all inside the prison. Investigator Juan José Yáñez said earlier this year that Piedras Negras was a hideout and operations base for the gang.
The organized crime research foundation InSight Crime said in January that the case highlights the level of corruption in the penitentiary system and in the Coahuila state government, which was led by Humberto Moreira at the time. His administration blocked the National Human Rights Commission from visiting the prison in 2011.
Arrested in Spain in January on suspicion of money laundering and embezzlement but later released, Moreira has been accused of having links with the Zetas.
In a report last year, the human rights commission claimed that staff at the Piedras Negras jail weren’t properly qualified and that the inmate population lived in overcrowded conditions with poor hygiene and infrastructure.
Since 2012, the penitentiary has had four directors. One, José Antonio Castillo Juárez, was named in April 2013 only to be assassinated days later inside the facility.
Another, Aurora Escobar, was removed from the position after failing her evaluation and trustworthiness exams.
According to the Interior Secretariat, Piedras Negras is the most crowded jail in the state: built for a maximum population of 864, it was 8% over-capacity in January with 934 inmates.