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Eight dead in Argentine prison riot

/ Source: The Associated Press

Security forces regained control over a riot-torn Argentine prison Friday, officials said, freeing the warden and two dozen guards held hostage during an inmate rampage that left eight people dead.

Police chief Jorge Rodriguez declared on television that hundreds of prisoners surrendered Friday afternoon at the San Martin penitentiary in Cordoba, a provincial city about 450 miles northwest of the capital, Buenos Aires.

Police were still sweeping the last corners of the prison and inspecting inmates, Rodriguez said, but there were no further holdouts after marathon negotiations led to the release of all hostages 24 hours after the inmate rebellion began.

Demands for better living conditions
Reports said the violence erupted over inmate demands for better visitation rights and living conditions, and it erupted while women and children were visiting inmates Thursday.

The rioting started with shirtless inmates climbing to the roof of the prison holding a black-uniformed guard by the neck and threatening to throw the captive to the ground.

Live televised footage showed rampaging inmates wielding knives and clubs while gripping another dazed man in a blood-soaked T-shirt. Shots rang out Thursday as the rioters threw rocks down at police crouching beneath plastic shields. In the violent opening hours, five inmates, two prison guards and a police officer were killed, officials said.

Rodriguez said convicts serving some of the longest sentences, including life in prison, were among the last to surrender Friday. It was unclear whether authorities made any concessions to end one of the worst episodes of prison rioting in Argentina in years.

'Hellish' ordeal
Several women and children in the prison when the violence broke out were caught inside. But a government official, Gustavo Vidal Lascano, said they were among the first to be evacuated safely Friday.

One guard among the first released Friday said he was well despite the “hellish” ordeal of the past hours.

“They didn’t hit me or hurt me in anyway,” said the weary, unidentified man as exited the gates. “Now I just want to go home and get some rest.”

The prison houses about 1,500 prisoners, officials said, though local media reports said it was designed to hold about 900. The complex is a set of drab cement buildings set amid a neighborhood where hundreds of police ringed the site for hours and residents kept indoors.

Prison violence in Latin America remains a concern of human rights organizations. In some recent violence:

—Five inmates were killed and 18 injured Tuesday in a clash between rival gangs at Peru’s Lurigancho men’s prison, where more than 7,000 were being held in a complex designed to hold 1,800.

—Inmates armed with hand grenades and guns rioted at a prison in Venezuela in September, killing at least six inmates.

—In April 2003 in Honduras, 69 people were killed during a prison riot.

—Brazil, hit by frequent prison rioting, suffered 19 dead in February 2001 when an uprising at one prison spread via inmate cell phones to 28 other prisons.