An amateur video showing inmates in a Mexican prison scrubbing the floor while wearing women’s underwear as their fellow prisoners insult and abuse them has been circulating on social media since mid-March. Our Observer says that this footage, which was filmed in a prison in the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, reveals the human rights abuses that take place within penitentiaries in the country, where power lies in the hands of inmates from drug cartels.

According to CADHAC, a Mexican human rights organisation that is based in Nuevo Leon, this video was first posted on Twitter on March 14, before it was picked up by national media. The France 24 Observers team made the decision to only include blurred screengrabs from the video.

The footage shows three men in women’s underwear – thongs, bras and bustiers – and crawling on all fours while rubbing the floor with rags. One prisoner has had his right leg amputated. He has since been identified as Daniel Gustavo Valencia Treviño, a leader of the Northwest Cartel.

As the three men clean, other prisoners make fun of them, calling them "bitches". Three of the spectators start kicking the men on the ground. Next, the camera pans to show three other naked men, who are also on their hands and knees, scrubbing the floor. A bucket of water sits on the floor next to them.

Screengrabs from the video, blurred by France 24.

The video was recorded – probably by an inmate – in the prison in Apodaca, a town located in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon. While it is impossible to determine the exact date that it was filmed, it was definitely after February 23, which is the date that Valencia Treviño was arrested and jailed.


“There’s a ritual of humiliating and mistreating new arrivals”

Maïssa Hubert works with "Documenta", a Mexican NGO that defends human rights. She often works on issues around incarceration.

Valencia Treviño is the only inmate in the video whose identity can be established. However, it is likely that the other men being hazed are from the same cartel as Valencia Treviño or that they were incarcerated on the same day. In fact, in Mexican prisons, there’s a ritual of humiliating and mistreating new arrivals.

This kind of abuse is even more likely to occur when the prison administration is incompetent and maintains little control, as is the case in Nuevo Leon [Editor’s note: This situation was documented in a report by the National Commission of Human Rights published in 2015].

The inmates caught on film humiliating their fellow prisoners are likely from a rival cartel [Editor’s note: The NGO CADHAC told the France 24 Observers team that there were men from rival groups in this video]. This shines a light on a chronic problem in prisons in Nuevo Leon: prison authorities have difficulty separating the members of rival cartels, even though mixing these groups compromises inmates’ safety. For example, last year, a quarrel between rival cartels in a prison in Topo Chico, Monterrey led to a deadly rebellion in which 49 people were killed.


"It’s the first time that a video documenting the abuse in such a stark manner has been published"

Even if different human rights groups have been denouncing human rights abuses in Mexican prisons for years, it’s the first time that a video documenting the abuse in such a stark manner has been published.

The footage also shows the extent to which inmates run the show behind prison walls. A year after the deadly prison rebellion in Topo Chico, it’s clear that nothing has been done to improve the situation.


“These tensions could have repercussions that extend outside the prison walls”

In response to the video, the Northwest Cartel hung banners all over the state of Nuevo Leon promising to retaliate for the humiliations suffered by its members. This heightening of tensions between cartels could boil over into deadly clashes both inside and outside the prison walls.

It’s only very recently that photos and videos have started emerging from inside Mexican prisons. In January 2017, several damning videos shot in the Reclusorio Norte prison were leaked. These videos showed prison employees acting in collusion with drug trafficking and other illegal activities taking place within the jail. [Editor’s note: In early March, another video emerged showing naked inmates being forced to exercise outside in the searing afternoon heat at a prison in Torreón, in Coahuila state.]

After this hazing video was posted online, three Apodaca prison employees were dismissed for not having alerted their superiors to what was going on. An investigation has since been launched to determine their level of responsibility in the matter. However, authorities did say that these employees had all received threats from organized crime networks.

The Apodaca prison has already come under criticism from the National Commission for Human Rights, a governmental entity. A report published by the Commission in 2015 found that the prison was overcrowded and that the administration failed to prevent human rights violations and to curb the authority enjoyed by certain prisoners. In the report, the state of Nuevo Leon ranked as one of the worst states for these issues.
Article written with
Chloé Lauvergnier

Chloé Lauvergnier , Journaliste francophone