At least 41 inmates were killed in central Honduras on Tuesday morning after a riot erupted in the country’s only women’s prison, one of the deadliest hotbeds of violence in the country’s long-troubled prison system.
Most of the victims were burned, while others were killed, said Yuri Mora, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, who added that the death toll is expected to rise as investigators scour the Támara detention facility. , near Tegucigalpa, the capital.
While the cause of the violence was unclear, the prison was the scene of an ongoing conflict between feuding gangs.
« We are dismayed by the loss of life, » Julissa Villanueva, deputy security minister and head of Honduras’ prison system, said at a news conference. The country’s penal system, she said, has been « hijacked » by organized crime.
Tuesday’s death toll makes the episode the deadliest prison riot in the Central American country in years. At the end of 2019, there were nearly 40 gang members killed in the clashes in two men’s prisons on the same weekend.
The murders have grown in recent years in the women’s prison, where several inmates were strangled or stabbed during clashes between female gangs of two rival criminal organizations: the 18th Street gang and the MS-13 gang.
The country’s president, Xiomara Castro, said he was « shocked » by the deaths and vowed to take « drastic steps » to hold responsible officials accountable.
The riot was « planned by gangs in full view of law enforcement, » he tweeted, without elaborating.
The MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, longtime rivals that originated in the United States, have fomented violence in Honduras and neighboring countries for decades.
Struggling to contain them, Ms. Castro has declared and extended a state of emergency since December, suspending some constitutional rights and allowing security officers to arrest people they believe may be associated with gangs.
The pattern is similar to a much more aggressive approach in El Salvador, where a government crackdown on gang violence has sent murder rates plummeting, even as civil rights groups say it has led to mass arbitrary arrests. , extreme overcrowding in prisons and torture.
Honduras’ strategy to deal with gangs has led to a decline in violence this year, the national police said, though not as strong as in El Salvador.
And extortion by gangs, « a major cause of insecurity, migration, displacement, loss of freedom, » according to Ms. Castro, remains a significant problem. A recent relationship from the local chapter of Transparency International concluded that 8.4% of Honduran households continue to face extortion, only a slight decrease from 9% last year.
Violence is not uncommon in prisons in Honduras and other Central American countries, where overcrowded facilities filled with members of rival gangs provide fertile ground for unrest.
A 2021 Human Rights Watch Honduras report he stated that « overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, poor sanitation, beatings, gang violence and killings of inmates are endemic in prisons ».
Honduras’ National Women’s Penitentiary for Social Adjustment held about 800 inmates, about double its capacity, according to a government official.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in 2020, registered « several violent events » in Honduran prisons, including the women’s facility, « where no violent deaths had been reported before. » Some of these incidents « were allegedly perpetrated with firearms and other prohibited items, » the commission said.
Contraband, including alcohol, drugs, pistols, machine guns and even grenades, has been found inside the prisons, according to Honduran authorities. Local news reported that some detainees bribing officials to be able to smuggle weapons into prisons.
In April, the Honduran government unveiled a plan to tackle corruption within the prison system and try to crack down on violence, including by ensuring that inmates are not armed and isolating those with ties to gangs and organized crime.
Tuesday’s deadly riot was « the product of a direct attack by organized crime against the actions we are deliberately taking, » Ms Villanueva told reporters, referring to the push against Ms Castro’s gangs.