Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas Slaughter: The 1988 Riot and Assault at the Tepic Jail

All seemed normal during visiting hours late in the evening of December 20, 1988. Christmas was approaching and many families made the visits to the Nayarit State Penitentiary "Venustiano Carranza" in Tepic the state capital to visit their loved ones who would sadly spend their holidays in the squalid prison.

The otherwise tranquil visiting time was soon interrupted by a group of inmates brandishing guns. Six men with firearms caused pandemonium prompting the women and children there to flee for their lives. The prison's guards confronted the armed inmates and a shootout ensued. Their escape attempt had failed

273 adults and almost 200 children were now trapped in the prison, as the rebellious inmates took guards, prison staff and the prison's warden Samuel Alvarado Alpizar hostage. Other employees at the penitentiary fled and hid inside offices, stacking tables and file cabinets against the doors to keep the inmates out. Soon about 50 more inmates joined the six armed prisoners and a riot ensued.

The inmates demanded armored cars so they could flee the prison and more weapons. During the 38 hour standoff with Nayarit State authorities, police and army soldiers who surrounded the prison, Warden Alvarado was shot dead, along with 2 other hostages. The morning of December 21st, police managed to free the more than 400 hostages trapped in the prison, using ladders and bringing them out through the prison's administration buildings windows.

As the riot and standoff grew longer, Nayarit State officials declared themselves incapable to deal with the situation and requested aid to Mexico City.

On December 22, 1988 a government plane landed at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, about an hour from Tepic. Inside the jet was the Mexican Federal Police's elite SWAT team Los Zorros (Foxes). Mexico City had sent Los Zorros to quell the rebellion at Tepic jail.

Later that day the 130 men strong Zorros team formed outside the penitentiary and blew open the gates. The team, armed with assault rifles faced off the inmates, and engaged them in a bloody shootout in which the Zorro leading Commander, Jorge Armando Duarte was shot in the forehead and killed by one of the inmates as he tried to negotiate with them into surrendering. The rioting inmates, numbering about 50 were subdued and the remaining hostages were freed.

National and International news crews gathered outside the prison were allowed entry and an NBC crew filmed 5 of the inmates, laying face down and being questioned by the police commando team. Then something strange happened

A hard faced man, one of the Zorro commanders yelled some orders to his men and his group once again assembled outside the prison. Only this time, instead of batons, they were handed machine guns.

"Reporteros y chismosos! A chingar a su madre ! Vayanse!" "News crews and nosy people, get the fuck out of here!" was the harsh command given by the Comandante to the journalists and family members gathered outside the jail after the storming of the prison.

The Zorro team once again entered the Tepic Penitentiary, when all seemed in order and the inmates controlled. Shots were heard.

For about 20 minutes, the cracking of machine guns could be heard inside the prison. When it was over, more than 35 inmates were dead. Bloody and shot up bodies were scattered throughout the now destroyed administration building. Some bodies of the prisoners had marks of execution and the coup de grace. Some showed evidence of having been shot as they fled or as they had been on their knees. The inmates filmed by NBC, subdued and controlled, were among the dead.

Days later, Nayarit state officials denied knowledge of the prisoners filmed alive who would later be found dead. A spokesman for the Nayarit state government said "I cannot explain this to you, no we have no information on the matter". Seemed like no one with authority knew what had happened inside the Venustiano Carranza prison

Prison clerk and hostage Patricia Castillo told reporters after the massacre; "The Zorros entered the prison angry because their commander had been killed. They began shooting indiscriminately".

Weeks later, the men participating in the assault on the prison were reprimanded and some were jailed for their brutal actions.

Vengeance by the Zorros for the death of their commander? Excessive use of brutal force? Senseless agression? Or all of the above? What was known was that nearly 40 inmates had been killed or rather executed on that cold December night in 1988 when Christmastime was stained by blood and bullets at Tepic penitentiary.

The "Zorrazo". "Fox Attack". An event that the victims families or the people of Tepic, Nayarit would never forget.

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