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HomeCentral AmericaGuatemalaGuatemala reclaims prison where gang members had call center, crocs

Guatemala reclaims prison where gang members had call center, crocs

Guatemalan police on Sunday transferred more than 200 gang members from a prison where they operated a call center for criminal purposes, raised chickens and looked out on a crocodile-filled lake. 

Some 400 police were involved in the operation to move 225 members of the Barrio 18 gang out of the prison nicknamed “El Infiernito” or Little Hell, where they enjoyed access to such luxuries as TV sets and fridges, even raising chickens, officials said.

“The prison once again belongs to the country,” Interior Minister Francisco Jimenez announced on X. He vowed the facility would be stripped down and rebuilt as a “real maximum security prison,” vowing: “These are prisons, NOT holidays.”

Images of the facility released by officials showed the inmates even had air conditioning at the prison in Escuintla, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of the capital.

In a previous search, police had disabled a makeshift “call center” from where the gangsters had committed extortion and ordered crimes to be committed. The minister blamed “previous governments” for “handing over control of prisons to criminals.”

The operation came just days after new President Bernardo Arevalo said some areas of Guatemala City were being held “prisoner” by gangs, as the UN called for a stop to the recruitment of minors by criminal groups.

The Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs are fighting in Guatemala over control for territory where they extort money from companies and individuals — killing those who refuse, according to authorities.

Criminal violence claimed 4,361 lives in the country in 2023 — a rate of 25 per 100,000 inhabitants — half of them attributed to gang fighting and drug trafficking.

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