Gang behind killing of 41 women in Honduran prison, officials say
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Inmates had been complaining for weeks that they were under threat from gang members in a women’s prison in Honduras. The gang carried out these threats, killing 41 women, many of whom were shot, killed or stabbed to death.
President Xiomara Castro said Tuesday’s prison riot in the town of Tamara, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of the Honduran capital, “was planned by Maras (street gangs) with the knowledge and approval of security authorities.” .”
Castro promised to take “dramatic measures”, but did not explain how inmates identified as members of the Barrio 18 gang could get guns and machetes into the prison, or move freely into a cell block to side and kill all the prisoners.
Video clips provided by the government from inside the prison showed several pistols and a handful of machetes and other bladed weapons found after the riot.
Sandra Rodríguez Vargas, deputy commissioner for Honduras’ prison system, said the attackers “took away” guards at the facility – none appeared to be injured – around 8 a.m. Tuesday and then reopened the gates to the adjacent cell block and they started murdering women there. They started a fire that left cell walls blackened and the bunks reduced to piles of metal.
Twenty-six of the victims were shot to death and the rest were shot or stabbed, said Yuri Mora, a spokesman for Honduras’ national police investigative agency. At least seven prisoners were being treated at the Tegucigalpa hospital.
The riot is believed to be the deadliest at a Central American women’s detention center since 2017, when girls at a shelter for troubled youth in Guatemala set fire to mattresses to protest rape and other ill-treatment at the facility dense Smoke and fire killed 41 girls.
The worst prison accident in a century also happened in Honduras, in 2012 at the Comayagua prison, where 361 prisoners died in a fire
There were plenty of warnings before Tuesday’s tragedy, according to Johanna Paola Soriano Euceda, who was waiting outside the morgue in Tegucigalpa for news about her mother, Maribel Euceda, and her sister, Karla Soriano. Both were on trial for drug trafficking but were held in the same area as convicted prisoners.
Soriano Euceda said that they had told her on Sunday that “they (Barrio 18 members) were out of control, they were fighting with them all the time. That was the last time we spoke.”
Another woman, who did not want to give her name for fear of reprisals, said she was waiting for news about a friend, Alejandra Martínez, 26, who was held in Cell Block One, which was unfortunate, on robbery charges.
“She told me the last time I saw her on Sunday that the (Barrio) 18 people had threatened them, that they were going to kill them if they did not turn their relations over,” she said.
Gangs sometimes ask victims to “turn in a friend or relative” by giving their name, address and description to the gang, so that rapists can track them down and kidnap, rob or killing
Officials described the killings as an “act of terrorism,” but also acknowledged that gangs had largely controlled some parts of the prison.
Julissa Villanueva, the head of the prison system, suggested that the unrest started because of recent efforts by authorities to crack down on illegal activities within prison walls and called Tuesday’s violence a response to movements “we are fighting organized crime. “
“We will not go back,” Villanueva said in a televised address after the riot.
Gangs have extensive control within the country’s prisons, where inmates often set their own rules and sell banned goods.
They appeared to be able to smuggle in guns and other weapons, a recurring problem in Honduran prisons.
“The issue is to prevent people from smuggling drugs, grenades and guns,” said Honduran human rights expert Joaquin Mejia. “Today’s events show that they have not been able to do that. “
At the same time, the hard work continued in trying to identify the bodies, some horribly burned.
“The forensic teams that remove bodies confirm that they have counted 41,” said Mora.
Waiting for news was torture for many families of prisoners. Dozens of worried, angry relatives gathered outside the rural prison.
“We are here dying in agony, in pain … we have no information,” said Salomón García, whose daughter is a prisoner at the facility.
Azucena Martinez, whose daughter was also in prison, said, “many are dead, 41 already. We don’t know if our relatives are in there too, dead.”
Tuesday’s unrest could increase pressure on Honduras to report the large, inhumane prisons set up in neighboring El Salvador by President Nayib Bukele. While El Salvador’s crackdown on gangs has led to rights violations, it has also been popular in a country long plagued by street gangs.
AP writers Elmer Martínez in Tamara, Honduras, and Maria Verza and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.