A riot left 16 inmates dead at a central Mexican prison in Cieneguillas. Five other inmates were wounded in the two-and-a-half-hour melee in which inmates fought each other with handguns and knives. 

Mexican security officials stated that the riot broke out at approximately 14:30 hrs local time at the Cieneguillas’ Regional Center for Social Reintegration in the west part of the state of Zacatecas. The prison was placed back under control by 17:00.

Mexican prisons are notoriously corrupted by drug cartel members; they are also overcrowded and violent.

The government didn’t release information on how the riot began, but local media have reported that the cause was a soccer game. Government officials did say that they were going to investigate how the inmates received guns and knives. No guards or police officers were wounded in the riot. 

Ismael Camberos Hernandez, the state security secretary for Zacatecas said to the local media that 15 of the victims were killed in the prison while another died at the hospital. The victims were shot, stabbed and beaten with heavy objects. The wounded inmates were all in stable condition.

After the riot was put down, police found four handguns, one of which was still in the possession of an inmate.

This violence is the latest blow to the presidency of Lopez Obrador who vowed to reduce the violence that has plagued Mexico. Instead, his administration is dealing with record numbers of deaths. 

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Camberos told Mexican media that the guns may have been brought in during visiting hours on New Year’s Eve. He said the prison was searched over the weekend and no weapons were found. “We are waiting for the results of the investigation — this includes the director, senior managers, and commanders — to determine if we are going to remove staff,” he said.

Camberos said that the prison, which was built three decades ago, was constructed when different security issues were prevalent. He also said that the government was trying to modernize the prison.

An initial search of the prison, according to other media sources, yielded 77 bags of marijuana, 18 packages of rice paper, 17 knives, a saw, a 9mm cartridge, three pairs of scissors, nine phones, phone chargers, a phone battery, a memory disk, two hammers, a bottle of liquor and a can of beer jug.

Cieneguillas prison holds about 1,000 inmates including members of five major drug cartels, including the Gulf Cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel, Camberos said. He added that 120 inmates were relocated after the fight in an attempt to stave off further violence.

This incident is just the latest in a long streak of prison violence: In 2016, more than 50 people were killed in a gang fight in the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. In 2017, a fight left at least 28 inmates dead in a prison in Acapulco. And in October of this year, a prison fight ended with six inmates dead in the state of Morelos.