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  • About 2,300 police surged into the Palmasola prison cell blocks before dawn, a week after a riot that was in response to a ban on child visitors.

    About 2,300 police surged into the Palmasola prison cell blocks before dawn, a week after a riot that was in response to a ban on child visitors. | Photo: EFE

Published 14 March 2018

Bolivian prisons have the capacity for 3,730 inmates, but hold more than 15,000, according to the most recent official figures from December 2016.

Police stormed a riot-torn prison in Bolivia early Wednesday, killing six inmates and injuring almost two dozen people, authorities said.

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Deputy Interior Minister Jose Luis Quiroga said the six inmates who died at Palmasola prison were inmates "who resisted the police incursion."

Police said five police officers and 18 inmates were injured in the operation, which was launched to search the prison for weapons and drugs in the wake of a riot.

About 2,300 police surged into the cell blocks before dawn, a week after an uprising triggered by a government order that bars children younger than six from visiting jailed relatives.

Many wives and children live in the prison voluntarily with their inmate relatives. They were allowed to leave before the raid began, Quiroga said.

National Police Chief Alfonso Mendoza said a search turned up "a still to make alcohol, and endless stands for sales of drugs: marijuana, cocaine. There was complete lawlessness in Palmasola." 

Quiroga, whose officers were meant to control the entry of people and goods into the prison, also attributed the uprising to a power struggle among inmates. He said that when police entered the prison, some inmates opened fire, wounding three officers and triggering return fire.

The objective was to regain control over the prison because authorities had determined that inmates were using the prison to plot crimes in the city of Santa Cruz: "It was a successful operation; we have taken control," he said.

Inside the prison, the situation was relatively calm after the operation, but police used tear gas to disperse people who had gathered outside the prison wanting to know the fate of their relatives.

"They've gone in to lynch them, to shoot them, they've gone in to kill them. My husband is inside. I don't know if he is alive or dead," one woman told Fides, a Catholic radio station.

Located in eastern Bolivia, Palmasola houses an estimated 4,000 inmates and is reputed to be one of the most dangerous and overcrowded penitentiaries in the country. It was the scene of an uprising in 2013 that killed15 people.

President Evo Morales vowed after the riot to reform the prison system, lamenting the lack of state presence and overcrowding: 86 percent of inmates are estimated to still be awaiting their trial in "preventive prison."

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