Gang behind massacre of 41 women in Honduran prison, officials say

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Inmates have complained for weeks of being threatened by gang members at a women’s prison in Honduras. The gang carried out these threats, massacring 41 women, many of whom were burned, shot or stabbed to death.

President Xiomara Castro said Tuesday’s riot at the prison in the town of Tamara, about 50 kilometers northwest of the Honduran capital, was “planned by maras (street gangs) with the knowledge and the consent of the security authorities”.

Castro pledged to take “drastic measures”, but did not explain how inmates identified as members of the Barrio 18 gang were able to bring guns and machetes into the prison, or move freely in a nearby cell block and slaughter all the prisoners there.

Video clips presented by the government from inside the prison showed several pistols and a pile of machetes and other edged weapons that were found after the riot.

Sandra Rodríguez Vargas, assistant commissioner of the Honduran prison system, said the attackers “removed” the guards from the facility – none appeared to have been injured – around 8 a.m. Tuesday, then opened the doors of a adjacent block of cells and began massacring women there. . They started a fire that blackened the cell walls and reduced the bunks to twisted piles of metal.

Twenty-six of the victims were burned to death and the rest were shot or stabbed, said Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Honduran Police National Investigation Agency. At least seven detainees were being treated at a hospital in Tegucigalpa.

The riot appears to be the deadliest at a women’s detention center in Central America since 2017, when girls at a shelter for troubled youth in Guatemala set fire to mattresses to protest rape and other abuse in the overcrowded facility. Smoke and fire killed 41 girls.

The worst prison disaster in a century also occurred in Honduras, in 2012 at the Comayagua penitentiary, where 361 inmates died in a fire likely caused by a match, cigarette or other open flame.

There were plenty of warnings ahead of Tuesday’s tragedy, according to Johanna Paola Soriano Euceda, who was waiting outside the Tegucigalpa morgue for news of her mother, Maribel Euceda, and sister, Karla Soriano. Both were on trial for drug trafficking but were held in the same ward as the convicted.

Soriano Euceda said they told him on Sunday that “they (Barrio 18 members) were out of control, they were fighting with them all the time. It was the last time we spoke.

Another woman, who would not give her name for fear of reprisals, said she was waiting to hear from a friend, Alejandra Martínez, 26, who was being held in the ill-fated Cell Block One for robbery.

“She told me the last time I saw her on Sunday that the 18 people from (Barrio) had threatened them, that they were going to kill them if they didn’t deliver a relative,” she said. .

Gangs sometimes require victims to “hand over” a friend or relative by giving the gang their name, address, and description, so that law enforcement can then track them down and kidnap, rob, or kill them.

Officials described the killings as an “act of terrorism” but also acknowledged that the gangs had essentially taken over parts of the prison.

Julissa Villanueva, head of the prison system, suggested the riot started because of recent attempts by authorities to crack down on illicit activity inside prison walls and called Tuesday’s violence a reaction to measures “that we take against organized crime”.

“We will not back down,” Villanueva said in a televised speech after the riot.

Gangs exercise extensive control inside the country’s prisons, where inmates often set their own rules and sell banned products.

They were also reportedly able to smuggle guns and other weapons, a recurring problem in Honduran prisons.

“The problem is to stop people from smuggling drugs, grenades and firearms,” ​​said Honduran human rights expert Joaquin Mejia. “Events today show that they were unable to do so.”

Meanwhile, the grim task of trying to identify the bodies, some badly burned, continued.

“The forensic teams removing the bodies confirm that they counted 41,” Mora said.

Waiting for news was torture for many families of detainees. Dozens of anxious and angry parents gathered outside the rural prison.

“We are here dying of anguish, of pain…we have no information,” said Salomón García, whose daughter is being held at the facility.

Azucena Martinez, whose daughter was also being held at the prison, said “there are a lot of deaths, 41 already. We don’t know if our relatives are also in there, dead.

Tuesday’s riot could increase pressure on Honduras to emulate the drastic zero-tolerance, no-privilege prisons set up in neighboring El Salvador by President Nayib Bukele. While the crackdown on gangs in El Salvador has resulted in rights abuses, it has also proven hugely popular in a country long terrorized by street gangs.


AP writers Elmer Martínez in Tamara, Honduras, and Maria Verza and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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