LA PAZ, La Paz Department
A young child was among the 30 people killed Friday when a fight broke out between rival gangs at an overpopulated prison in eastern Bolivia, Interior Minister Carlos Romero said.
The child, believed to be about 18 months, was living with his incarcerated parents in the maximum-security Palmasola prison in the eastern city of Santa Cruz — a facility that houses about 5,000 inmates.
Scores of prisoners were wounded in the fracas, which ended when a fire swept through the building, which houses some 5,000 inmates.
Twenty-nine people died in the prison and one died at a hospital, Romero said at a late Friday press conference.
Prisons director Ramiro Llanos earlier told AFP that “of those hospitalized, 35 of them have very serious injuries.”
The incident began early Friday when a group of inmates broke into a wing of the Palmasola prison to fight a rival group. The riot ended in a huge fire being set off by exploding propane gas tanks.
“The motive of this unrest has to do with internal disputes over the control of space and leadership arguments within the prison,” Romero said late Friday.
He said that inmates who started the fight are “highly dangerous criminals.” Police then presented five people they said were the main culprits. Agents are looking at whether firearms were used, because bullet shells were found at site.
Romero said that 50 prisoners linked to the fight have been placed in solitary confinement, and that he ordered a security crackdown at the country’s other prisons.
At Palmasola there are 4,500 men and 500 women, said Llanos.
“In the area where the fighting took place, there should have been between 150 and 200 inmates, but there were actually some 500 people there,” Llanos told AFP.
Prisons in Bolivia suffer from serious overcrowding. Hundreds of children are forced to live with their parents in jails because they have no other relatives, or because both parents are incarcerated.
Television networks broadcast images of charred bodies and ambulances taking the dead and injured to hospitals, which were overwhelmed by the number of victims.
Bodies were taken to the morgue for autopsies and identification.
Authorities called on local residents to donate blood to help the wounded.