MEXICO CITY - At least 131 Mexican inmates escaped through a tunnel at a prison across from Eagle Pass, Texas, prompting local officials to alert the U.S. border patrol and detain the prison’s director and security chief.
Eighty-six of the inmates from the prison had been charged with federal crimes, Coahuila’s state government said Monday night. Authorities are investigating whether inmates had a firefight with police after their escape, state prosecutor Hector Ramos said on Milenio TV. Police lowered the number of fugitives Tuesday to 131 from 132.
"The state’s combined police forces are carrying out continued operations," Ramos said Monday night. "We’ve alerted U.S. authorities, who immediately deployed border patrol speed boats."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa were to discuss Tuesday in Washington strategies for combating organized crime, strengthening the rule of law and securing the border. The United States has provided Mexico with development aid and crime-fighting assistance through a $1.6 billion program known as the Merida Initiative.
"It’s emblematic of a challenge that Mexico needs to overcome," Stephen Johnson, the director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview. "At some point Mexico needs to join the big leagues and be able to contain its prisoners, process people through the penal system and make it work."
Three female fugitives from the prison have been captured, Milenio reported Tuesday, citing Jorge Luis Moran Delgado, the state’s secretary of public security. The state is offering 200,000 pesos ($15,627) for information allowing the recapture of each prisoner. The prisoners may have escaped through a tunnel dug in the carpentry workshop, the state government said in its statement.
The 22-foot long (6.7 meter) and 3.9-foot-wide tunnel allowed the "prisoners to break out one by one into an empty plot of land," the government said.
More than 47,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon deployed troops to fight drug cartels in December 2006. In February, 37 inmates escaped a penitentiary in Nuevo Leon state with the aid of prison guards and by sparking a riot that left 44 prisoners dead.