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Mexico: Prisons Opening Maquiladoras

Associated Press
July 30th, 2001

State officials in Tamaulipas say they want U.S. companies to open workshops inside Mexican prisons to help train prisoners for factory jobs.

Manuel del Riego de los Santos, prison director for Tamaulipas, met recently with Reynosa's mayor and a Reynosa-based maquiladora association to sign a formal agreement allowing maquilas to work inside Tamaulipas' 13 state prisons.

"We are initiating a new type of reform," de los Santos said during the meeting. "And we hope to interest more maquilas with these types of agreements.

Reynosa is McAllen's sister city across the Mexican border.

Jesus Vallejo Tamez, director of the maquiladora association Central Empresarial del Noreste, which represents 78 Mexican- and U.S.-owned companies, said five companies are interested in manufacturing inside Reynosa's state-run El Centro de Readaptacion Social, known as CERESO.

Recently, prison laborers refurbished wooden palettes for resale to maquilas and large grocery chains. Ruben Castillo Garza, who will be out of jail in six months, said he will continue working with the Tarimera Tropeos maquiladora when he is released.

"I'm from Monterrey, but I'm going to stay here in Reynosa," he said. "I want to stay with the company as it grows and gets bigger, only I'll be working outside of the prison, thank God," he said, smiling.

In a shaded workshop, three men built handmade doors and carved clocks. The business, called Puertas Rusticas, opened three months ago in CERESO.

Prison director Ignacio Cervantes Jimenez, said that the prisoners wages are fair.

"We don't want to exploit the workers," he said. "We want to be just."

Contreras said he prefers to work because he can send a portion of the money home to Montemorelos to support his wife, who works as a teacher, and two children.

According to Cervantes Jimenez, Tamaulipas Gov. Tomas Yarrington initiated the idea of maquilas working inside the state prisons. He said that the practice has always been allowed constitutionally, but it had never been put into practice.

He said there is no set wage for the prison laborers, but each maquila will negotiate salaries in their contracts.

"I believe this an effective way to reform prisoners," he said. "They get to use their minds productively and develop new skills."

Maquila association director Jesus Vallejo Tamez said it was a positive situation for everybody.

"This is the first time we are breaking the paradigm," he said. "The prisoners are making a contribution to society and they can provide money to their families."

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