TULUA, Colombia: At least 52 inmates were killed and 26 others injured early Tuesday, June 28 after a fire broke out during a riot in a prison in southwestern Colombia, the national agency said. jails.
The tragedy occurred when rioting inmates set fires around 2 a.m. trying to prevent police from entering their compound at the Tulua city jail, said Tito Castellanos, director of the National Penitentiary and Penitentiary Institute (INPEC).
“We treated a total of 26 injured and the death toll is 52,” Cristina Lesmes, head of Valle del Cauca’s health department, said on Twitter.
“We have people in very serious condition with extremely extensive burns,” she said.
Castellanos previously gave the “riot” death toll at 49 with 30 others, including six prison guards, “injured and affected by fire and smoke”.
The prison, which houses more than 1,200 inmates, was surrounded by police and military.
“By setting fire to the mattresses, they hadn’t measured what the consequences could be and unfortunately it happened,” Castellanos told Radio RCN.
He said the fire had been brought under control by firefighters.
In the evening, forensic teams entered the prison to try to identify the bodies.
Outside the prison, dozens of family members gathered in the hope of obtaining information about their loved ones.
A prison official gave an initial list of survivors to those waiting.
“I don’t know anything, INPEC won’t let us in,” Caracol Maria Eugenia Rojas, whose son Luis Miguel Rojas is being held in the pavilion where the riot occurred, told television.
Lorena, who did not give her last name, told El Tiempo newspaper that she spoke to her detained partner at dawn.
“It seems illogical to me that people locked in a building would set fire to mattresses knowing they could have been burned,” she said.
“CAUSED BY A FIGHT”
Authorities initially said they were investigating whether the incident happened as part of an escape attempt, but later said it was a riot.
“This situation was caused by a fight that broke out between prisoners. One of the inmates set fire – he was angry, upset – to a mattress, which caused the fire,” said the Minister of Justice Wilson Ruiz at W Radio.
There were 180 inmates in the section of the prison affected by the fire.
Castellanos praised the efforts of prison guards to control the fire and help prisoners get to safety.
He said that without their intervention “the result would have been worse”.
Outgoing President Ivan Duque sent out a tweet expressing solidarity with the loved ones of the victims.
“We regret the events that took place in the prison of Tulua, Valle del Cauca,” Duque said.
“I have given instructions to clarify this terrible situation. My solidarity goes out to the families of the victims.”
President-elect Gustavo Petro also expressed his sympathy and said on Twitter that there was a need to “completely rethink prison policy” which takes into account the “dignity of prisoners”.
“The Colombian state saw prison as a space for revenge and not for rehabilitation,” added Petro, who won the second round of elections earlier this month and will replace Duque on August 7.
He also referred to a riot at La Modelo prison in Bogota in 2002 that left 23 people dead.
Deadly prison riots are not uncommon in Latin America. In Ecuador, neighboring Colombia, nearly 400 prisoners have been killed in six riots since the start of 2021.
Colombia’s prison system has a capacity of 97,000 inmates but is overcrowded by around 16,000, according to INPEC.
Tulua prison is overcrowded by 17%.