RIO DE JANEIRO — After days of silence, Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Thursday that the killing of 60 inmates in two Amazon prisons was a “dreadful accident” and that public agencies have no clear responsibility because the prison where most died was run by a private company.
Four prisons in the Northern state of Amazonas saw riots Sunday and Monday and one of them suffered the worst bloodshed at a prison of the South American country since 1992, with half of the slain beheaded and several others also dismembered.
“I want to offer my solidarity to the families that had their inmates killed in that dreadful accident that happened in the prison of Manaus,” Temer said at a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Brasilia.
After being ridiculed on social media for his description of the slayings, Brazil’s president responded with a tweet. “Synonyms of the word ‘accident:’ tragedy, loss, disaster, disgrace, fatality,” he said.
Temer also said federal and state authorities were not to be blamed for the killings. “The prison was outsourced and privatized and therefore there was not an objective, clear and defined responsibility of the public agents,” he said.
Brazil’s Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes preferred to blame company Umanizzare for not running the prison properly. “It is obvious to say there was a problem with the company. It is not possible that blades, knives, pieces of metal and firearms get in,” Moraes said in a press conference. “The authorities took every measure to avoid this.”
Umanizzare said in a statement that security and vigilance at the unit are up to the Amazonas state government and that one member of the state’s prison administration secretariat oversees treatment of inmates. The company also blamed authorities for the crowded jails. “It is up for the public authorities to determine how many places will be used in each prison,” the company said.
Claudio Lamachia, the chairman of Brazil’s bar association, disagreed with Temer and Moraes.
“The fact that the prison was run by a third party does not exempt the public agents from surveilling, following up and policing the facility,” Lamachia told The Associated Press.
The Amazonas section of the bar association is suing the state government, accusing it of negligence, and a judge has given state Gov. Jose Melo until the end of the week to respond to the accusation. If courts determine the governor was negligent, he potentially could be ousted.
State authorities say the incident began when local Family of the North gang attacked members of Sao Paulo-based First Command, Brazil’s biggest criminal organization. The two fight over the control of prisons and drug routes in northern Brazil.
Temer also promised to build five prisons to address overcrowding nationwide. He did not detail where those would be placed nor when they would be built.
A total of 184 inmates escaped from Amazonas prisons in the disturbances. Only 65 had been recaptured as of Thursday afternoon, according to police.