Minimalist report on, apparently continuing fallout from, prison massacre

A gang hit in Vacamonte, the second at this soccer field in less than a month.
Anonymous photo from Twitter.

A report and a reorganization, probably no real solution

by Eric Jackson

Journalism about gangsters is deadly dangerous stuff. Go ask a gang member about the leaders up to whom he looks, which organizations other than those police who are neither bought off nor hired by rivals are “the enemy,” which turf belongs to whom, and… you will very likely disappear. Lawyers and clergy with access tend to be sworn to secrecy. The cops and guards have conflicting interests of their own. When there’s a big rumble the doctors and hospitals who take care of wounded prisoners generally aren’t talkative about the death toll or the condition of the living. Rarely does anyone official mention an inmate by name.

So this reporter has been gleaning newspaper and government press release archives, looking at what other journalists report, scouring social media, reading between the lines in the necro-porn tabloids and awaiting the official report.

Officially? The weapons arsenal — which included a few AK-47 assault rifles, a few more than that 9mm pistols, and a lot of machetes and cutting and stabbing implements — had been there for a long time. As in well-built seven-foot-deep deposits dug into the floor of La Joyita’s Pavilion 14, where members of the Bagdad gang were kept together. The pavilion had galleries within it, each of which could theoretically be locked. But the organization was that a supposedly sufficient number of police outside are in charge of who and what goes in or comes out, but inside there were 564 inmates and only one cop to maintain order.

The reality was, as in many prisons in many parts of the world, that the gangs ran their own parts of the La Joya – La Joyita prison complex. The two main gangs in Panama, Bagdad and Calor Calor, weren’t mixed and it was figured that whatever weapons they may have been hiding, there would not be significant gang wars at La Joyita.

The National Police show off a find in the floor of Pavilion 14. These hiding places, they say, had escaped detection in at least five shakedowns. It was in these cavities that the weapons used in the December 17 massacre were stored.

The upshot at the slammer?

  • There were 13 deaths rather than the 15 originally reported by official sources, and 14 wounded rather than the initial 12.
  • The medical examiner reports the bodies mutilated by many cuts and blows and shots from many weapons, as in a gang rite in which those professing loyalty to the living had to make their marks on the dead.
  • A bunch of prisoncrats and mid-ranking police commanders were suspended and may be fired or even prosecuted. It may be that a lowly corporal gets all the blame. More heads may roll pending ongoing investigations, but evidence may be hard to come by — warning is duly if implicitly served how bad things can turn out for those who rat on Bagdad.

Yes, and the January 8 official report, yet another reorganization is proposed. Legislators will be presented with a proposal to create a Servicio de Seguridad Penitenciaria. We had something like that at one time, and then after some outrageous abuses the job had mostly been turned over to the police.

The biggest upshot may be on the streets, though.  An attempted gangland hit of a Bagdad member took place in the Panama City neighborhood of Barraza three days before the La Joyita massacre, there was a more successful hit in Barraza the day the prison blew up, and since that day there have been at least a dozen other gang-style killings, mostly in the Bagdad stronghold of Arraijan. All the circumstances point to a split or purge in Bagdad, for reasons not explained to those out of the loop. 


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