Guatemala youth detention center riot ends with 4 guards dead

Guatemala’s Interior Minister Francisco Rivas said security forces have taken control and rescued guards at the Etapa II youth detention center following a riot.

Guatemala's Etapa II youth detention center inmates, who attempted to escape, surrender to police officers in San José Pinula, Guatemala, on Monday. Guatemala's interior minister said security forces were able to take control and rescue several guards held hostage "without firing a single bullet." File Photo by Esteban Biba/EPA
Guatemala’s Etapa II youth detention center inmates, who attempted to escape, surrender to police officers in San José Pinula, Guatemala, on Monday. Guatemala’s interior minister said security forces were able to take control and rescue several guards held hostage “without firing a single bullet.” File Photo by Esteban Biba/EPA

Four guards died and three were injured in the 30-hour riot. The riot began when 45 members of the Barrio 18 gang seized control and took guards hostage on Sunday.

On Monday, security forces breached the youth detention center, located in San José Pinula, and rescued the remaining guards. Two guards — including one released earlier due to severe injury — died in a hospital. Two injured guards are in a serious condition, a hospital official said, adding that the guards who died likely died from injuries to the skull.
“Thanks to God and for the timely and efficient action of our Guatemalan National Civil Police,” Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said in a statement on Monday.

Guatemala’s National Civil Police, or PNC, is under high alert following several separate attacks nationwide in which three officers have been killed. Guatemalan officials do not believe the attacks are connected to the riot at the youth detention center.

“I regret the death of the monitors, and of PNC agents,” Rivas said during an interview on Tuesday. “We saved the monitors, without firing a single bullet during the operation. … Saving a life is cause for celebration, because it is our goal.”

In the riot, the detained juveniles set fire to mattresses and attempted to escape the detention center through the roof of buildings after taking guards hostage. The Barrio 18 gang demanded improved conditions, including better food, and that fellow gang members held in the Youth Center for Interim Detention be transferred to Etapa II.

The riot at the Juvenile Center for the Deprivation of Liberty Etapa II follows a fire on March 11 at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter for girls, also in San José Pinula, where at least 40 girls died.

By Andrew V. Pestano