Police put end to easy living in Guatemala prison

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The Independent US

One prisoner lived in a two-storey house complete with jacuzzi and guard dog. Others built shops and churches, while some made thousands of dollars renting out space for restaurants. For one inmate, life was so good that he smuggled his son inside the prison to live, even though he had not been convicted of any crime.

Until recently this was a snapshot of the extraordinary life inside Guatemala's Pavon jail, which had been controlled by the inmates for the past decade. But this week the authorities decided enough was enough: 3,000 soldiers and police stormed the jail and confronted the inmates in a gun battle that left seven of the prisoners dead.

"We ran into strong resistance. They had grenades, assault rifles, homemade weapons and Molotov cocktails," Guatemala's national director of prisons, Alejandro Giammatei, told reporters. The inmates had also been armed with automatic weapons.

Pavon jail is located just east of Guatemala City and is home to some of Guatemala's most dangerous prisoners. The day before Monday's raid, the country's main newspaper, Prensa Libre, published an article about the relaxed lifestyle enjoyed by the prisoners. Reporters from the newspaper said they had been able to enter the jail and buy marijuana and cocaine.

But the raid also comes as Guatemala is seeking to win support for its bid for a place on the UN Security Council.

The conditions inside Pavon appear to have been remarkable. The Interior Secretary, Carlos Vielmann, told the Associated Press that the facility had become a den of drugs and crime with the co-operation of the guards, who allowed inmates to control what transpired inside. Such was the organisation in the jail that prisoners even operated a laboratory to produced cocaine.

The prisoners are now being moved to other facilities.