NUEVO LAREDO – Since time immemorial, U. S. travelers to Mexico have been cautioned not to drink the water.On the U.S. side of this Mexican border city, however, visitors are also warned to stay out of trouble or, at best, don’t end up at La Loma (The Hill).
La Loma, Nuevo Laredo’s municipal jail, became known to the general public as some kind of landmark for no good reason. La Loma, nevertheless, is no more.
The four-story jail compound, glorified in verse, song and film through time, was demolished Friday, crumbling to the ground in the middle of a residential area from the blasts of 75 kilos of well-placed dynamite.
After a series of siren warnings, Nuevo Laredo Mayor Daniel Peña Treviño pressed the detonator to set off a series of explosions, covering an entire city block with broken concrete and dust. La Loma had occupied a site enclosed by Monterrey, Colima, Arteaga and Gutierrez streets.
The demolition was handled by a Mexican firm named Opexa (Operadora de Explosivos).
“It finally happened,” said Manuel Arevalo, who lived on Monterrey Street about 50 meters from the penal facility that was opened in 1927. It underwent additions in 1954 and 1956. “Before we knew it, La Loma was sitting in the middle of the Colonia Hidalgo neighborhood. They built it right across from an elementary school (primaria).”
Arevalo said residents lived under constant fear because of constant violence in the place as well as jailbreaks. On the other hand, he said, “the neighbors got used to it.”
“Some people around here are going to miss it,” he said.
The man pointed out that some residents fronting the jail, in time, used all or part of the property to operate small stores. In addition, vendors would locate food and drink businesses on the sides of the streets. He said some operated concessions in the building.
He said there were times when wives, sweethearts and other family members would stage protests in front of the place when it became known that the authorities planned to relocate prisoners to other towns to ease the crowded conditions.
“People wanted these inmates kept here so they could visit them or at least bring them food and things,” the man said.
Arevalo said the neighbors have no idea what the local authorities propose to do with the property, adding that La Loma population had been relocated to a larger facility (CERESO No. 2, Centro de Readaptacion Social).
A homemaker told Laredo Morning Times that her daughter went to the school across the street from La Loma and she sent the child to another school “because I was in constant fear that something would happen to her.”
La Loma had a capacity of 250 inmates, but the jail population stood at more than 1,000 for decades. A La Loma official at the scene said the facility held 2006 prisoners in 2006.
“You didn’t want to end up there,” he said. “If some youngster was sent there, you generally had the parents or some friend doing everything possible to get the kid out the place. Some notorious criminals were locked in there. The place was the scene of countless breaks, riots, killings and all kinds of abuse.”
A Nuevo Laredo police commandant, who asked not to be identified, said hundreds of U.S. citizens did time in La Loma through the years. He said a well-known U.S. merchandise smuggler killed an inmate with a knife and got sent to solitary confinement.
“After a series of beatings, the man bribed his way out and went to a downtown restaurant, where he was picked up by a friend from Laredo,” the officer said. “Inmates that could afford it, would pay up front for an individual room. Some paid as much as $5,000 or more for a furnished area with telephone, television, toilet and shower. They would send runners for food from restaurants. If they wanted company, that could be arranged, too.”
A Nuevo Laredo historian, Raymundo Rios Mayo, said La Loma inspired the lyrics for several ballads as well as a motion picture, where actor Rodolfo de Anda played the leading character.
A benefit bullfight, staged in a recreational area in 1979, earned a mention in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The matadors were Raul Salinas Capetillo and Lorenzo Serratos. Capetillo took on the bulls in Mexico under the professional name of El Capete. Serrato performed under the name of El Canario (The Canary). As a result of this event, the two subsequently appeared at a bullring located off Colossio Boulevard immediately east of Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge. Captello and Serratos shared a ‘suite’ at La Loma where they had their bullfighting gear and suits of bright lights (trajes de luz).
Rios Mayo said the schoolhouse (Escuela Cosme Perez) was built in 1944. He said the second jail addition occurred in 1956, adding three stories to accommodate 60 cells designed for three prisoners. He said the improvements were federally funded through La Junta Federal de Mejoras Materiales (Federal Public Works).
Gilberto Brizuela, the last director of La Loma (CERESO I), was the only invited guest at the demolition.