MEXICO CITY — The surveillance cameras captured it all: guards looking on nonchalantly as 53 inmates — many of them associated with one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels — let themselves out of their cells and sped off in waiting vehicles.
The video shows that prison guards only pulled out their weapons after the inmates were well on their way. The brazen escape in May in the northern state of Zacatecas — carried out in minutes without a single shot fired — is just one of many glaring examples of how Mexico’s crowded and cruel prison system represents a critical weak link in the drug war.
Mexico’s prisons, as described by inmates and insiders and viewed during several visits, are places where drug traffickers find a new base of operations for their criminal empires, recruit underlings, and bribe their way out for the right price. The system is so flawed, in fact, that the Mexican government is extraditing record numbers of drug traffickers to the United States, where they find it much harder to intimidate witnesses, run their drug operations or escape.The latest jailbreak took place this weekend, when a suspected drug trafficker vanished from a Sinaloa prison during a party for inmates featuring a Mexican country music band. The Mexican government is considering isolating drug offenders from regular inmates to reduce opportunities for abuse.