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Only Indigenous Prison in Mexico Is Free from Drugs, Rape, and Corruption

Jose Luis Pardo and Alejandra S. Inzunza - VICE News
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August 16, 2016

The prisoner, who comes from the Rarámuri indigenous group, says the trouble began at a traditional festival that involved downing considerable amounts of the corn-based spirit called tesgüino.

"My cousin arrived at 4am with a caliber 22 gun and began walking towards me," he recalled, asking that his name not be used. "When I felt the bullets inside my body and all the desperation, I turned around and placed a bullet in his forehead. My cousin fell down onto the flames and I pulled him away so he would not get burned. I told another cousin to give word to the sheriff."

The self-confessed killer is now serving his sentence in Mexico's only prison which is populated exclusively by indigenous inmates.

Walking into the Guachochi jail — which is located in the mountains of the northern state of Chihuahua — turns upside down most preconceived notions of Mexican prisons. There are no tell tale signs of overcrowding, domination by internal mafias, endemic corruption, or the underclass of prisoners incarcerated for trivial crimes, that numerous reports have said are the norm for most Mexican prisons.

Instead Guachochi has empty beds and a reputation for being filled with inmates convicted of serious crimes who neither consume drugs nor seek to bribe guards. All of the 253 prisoners are indigenous, most of them with Rarámuri roots, but it is also possible to find primas, tepehuanes, and guarijíos — Chihuahua's other three ethnic groups.

Prison director Juan Martín González says he is proud of the prison, that opened in January 2015, and which he says is mostly populated by people accused or convicted of murder, rape, and assault.

"Most of them did this under the influence of alcohol," he said, adding that much of the violence in the area is also a byproduct of the war between drug cartels.

Indigenous communities in these mountains employ their own traditional justice systems for minor offences, but serious crimes such as homicide and sexual assault tend to be accompanied by pressure from local leaders on alleged perpetrators to go and give themselves up.

Read the rest at VICE News

Photo: Nadia del Pozo/VICE News

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