Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Escape of the Century: 21 years later

It was 4 am when a prison guard walking down the halls of the Cereso prison in the resort city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa made a shocking discovery. All the inmates from Module 8 were gone. The alarm was sounded, the warden notified. 4 hours later the news astounded Sinaloa state, Mexico and the world.

97 prisoners had escaped through a narrow tunnel that barely made it five feet out of the perimeteral wall.

All was confusion at the Mazatlan CERESO (Social Readaptation Center in English) the morning of November 14th, 1989. Sometime during the night, ninety seven prisoners had escaped in what was already being dubbed "The Break of the Century" by the Mexican media. Almost immediately, Cuautemoc Conde Garcia, the prison warden, his brother a Judicial Police agent and all of the staff working the night shift was arrested. How had 97 inmates, most of them in prison for drug trafficking charges, had vanished so easily?

Upon inspection they found a small hole in the floor, under a cot inside Cell Number 20. Following the hole and narrow tunnel, they found it led to another opening, mere feet from the prisons walls. Then it was every man for himself, the inmates escaped into the surrounding foliage and hills.

Roadblocks were set up throught Mazatlan and Sinaloa state. One of the escaped was cousin of drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, and others were related to Manuel Salcido Uzeta "Crazy Pig", drug boss of Mazatlan. 2 inmates were quickly recaptured. One was found drunk in the street, beligerently waving a bottle another one was arrested near the jail.

While the inmates sought refuge in the Sierra Madre, Warden Conde Garcia and his brother and other guards were being harshly interrogated at the Attorney General's Offices in Mazatlan. A desk was moved aside at Antonio Rosales de la Garzas office and a board set up on two chairs. On it, Conde and the 25 other guards arrested were tortured using "waterboarding methods". They told Conde Garcia they would drill a hole in his teeth and stick electrical wires to shock him unless he confessed to having being bribed to let the prisoners escape.

At Conde and his brothers home, police confiscated millions of Pesos claiming the brothers had been bribed in other to let the tunnel be built and allowing the escape. Conde vehemently denied this and publicly denounced his torture at the PGR headquarters. He had been shocked with cattle prods in his gums and on his testicles. On November 24, Cuahtemoc Conde attempted suicide by throwing himself off a staircase at the PGR offices. He survived with minor injuries and was taken to the Naval Hospital. There Mexican Navy officials protected him and prevented any further torture.

Months later, Antonio Rosales de la Garza and others were arrested for torture and other charges for the injuries inflicted on Conde and the others. They were sent precisely to the CERESO in Mazatlan.

Months after the escape, reporters for Culiacan newspaper Noroeste visited the prison and the tunnel. Some of the inmates that escaped were fat and robust and could have not fit inside the small openings and narrow tunnel. The reporters alleged that it was all a plot against Conde Garcia, the building of a fake tunnel, the liberation of prisoners through other means, all aimed at destroying Conde, who had been director of the CERESO for a few months. All orchestrated, by unknown Sinaloa state officials.

This claim is also supported by Conde, who to this day refuses to name the officials whom he says are still active politically and have the power "to kill him".

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guillermo Carrillo Arena: Mass Murderer of Thousands

Architect Guillermo Carrillo Arena oversaw many new government projects that would revolutionize the capital city of Mexico in the 60's and 70's.

New projects that would create jobs, aid the poor, and provide shelter for poor and middle class families in Mexico City.

He oversaw the constructions of many tall buildings in downtown Mexico DF and the people were happy with the construction boom that provided so much for the 18 million people who called the valley of Mexico home.

In 1970, the dilapidated Hospital Juarez was renovated and a new 12 story "Hospitalization Tower" was erected on the corner of Jesus Maria and San Pablo streets, near El Zocalo. Built with two wings, it provided 500 more hospital beds, a maternity ward, surgery hall, and a helipad on the roof. This new hospital would provide care for the needy and poor families of the capital.

In the late 60's the huge Nonoalco Tlatelolco Housing Project was built. Huge apartment towers lumbered over ancient aztec ruins and the colonial church of Santiago near the Plaza of the Three Cultures. These housing units provided affordable shelter for working class families, with some towers providing luxury apartments and condos for well off families.
Across from General Hospital, he was a key architect in the ambitious Multifamiliar Benito Juarez housing project. More than a dozen new apartment blocks were built, all for the benefit of the middle class.

Carrillo Arena oversaw projects at the National Medical Center, and the building of Hotels and Condos in the crowded downtown area. He was so successful that he was soon named Minister of the Urban Development and Ecology Secretariat (SEDUE in spanish acronym Secretaria de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecologia) under President Miguel de la Madrid in the early 1980s.

Then on September 19th, 1985 the worst natural disaster to strike Mexico City in modern times, hit.

An 8.1 earthquake rocked the capital city for 90 seconds. Killing thousands of people.

The 12 story Hospitalization Tower at Hospital Juarez completely collapsed, killing patients, doctors, nurses and newborns. Around 500 bodies were pulled from the monstrous pile of rubble.

Two wings of the 14 story Nuevo Leon building at the Nonoalco Tlatelolco housing projects also came crashing to the ground killing more than 400 people, including 5 relatives of famous spanish tenor Placido Domingo

The Gynecology/Obstetrics tower at General Hospital, seven stories in all became a tomb for 100 new mothers, doctors and infants. Countless apartment buildings, hotels and office towers completely failed during the huge quake, which was followed by a 7.5 aftershock the next day.
Across the street the scene was equally devastating at the Multifamiliar Benito Juarez. 3 apartment blocks, the A1, B2, and C3, had completely collapsed, killing, injuring and emtombing dozens of people.

At the ruins of Juarez Hospital and General Hospital, rescue workers found that many of the support beams had unreinforced rebar in them. Many beams didnt even have rebar and most of the materials used were found to be of low quality. The walls in many of the buildings simply crumbled as if made of sand.

Shoddy construction methods, negligence and corruption had led to the failure of many of the buildings designed or whose building was supervised by Minister Carrillo Arena.

Many of the buildings had been weakened and damaged in previous temblor and nothing had been done to repair them. Money granted to make repairs simply "dissapeared.

The public was outraged. Visible corruption and abuse of power by Carrillo Arena and other officials caused the populace and survivors of the mega quakes to rally in the streets and demand his head.

Carrillo Arena attempted to satisfy the survivors needs by creating commisions to investigate and build new housing for those left homeless: only one catch. The housing was not going to be free. Those, left with nothing but the clothing on their back would have to fork over thousands of pesos for new housing designed and provided by the wonderful PRI controlled government.

After much public outcry and evidence of shady deals against him, Guillermo Carrillo Arena resigned as Minister of SEDUE in February 1986.