The president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, swore in this Wednesday as the new Minister of Security the until now director of the National Police, Gustavo Sánchez. This is the first measure by the government after a riot at a women’s prison near the capital Tegucigalpa that left 46 inmates dead. The bodies of all the victims have not yet been handed over or identified.
The number of women killed by a riot at the Women’s Center for Social Adaptation (Cefas) increased to 46, according to the spokesman for the Honduran Public Ministry, Yuri Mora. The prison tragedy, one of the worst in Honduran history, occurred due to the rivalry between the two main gangs operating in the Central American country: the 18 Gang against Mara Salvatrucha inmates.
The massacre was committed with firearms and blades, the cause of the death of most of the inmates. Many others died burned by the fires that occurred in the fight.
Authorities have also revealed that several women members of the gangs in conflict set fire to the corpses after the killings.
The conditions of the corpses of the 46 inmates have made it difficult to recognize the bodies, which causes the anxiety of the families to know the fate of the women deprived of their liberty.
Relatives of the victims have gathered since yesterday in front of the penitentiary center, as well as in the main public morgue of Tegucigalpa to demand that public officials publish a list of the victims of the incident. The situation in the morgue deteriorated to such an extent that the workers reported that they were running out of space to receive the remains of the victims.
Relatives of the victims demand the truth
Ángel García, 34, arrived at the morgue on Wednesday to find his wife and two sisters among the victims, questioning how authorities allowed this to happen in a country with a history of deadly prison incidents.
“Everyone passes the ball…everything goes unpunished,” Garcia said. “It is unfair that we are suffering from corruption.”
The families consider that corruption in the Honduran prison system and the negligence of the authorities are the main causes of the tragedy in Cefas.
The country’s president herself, Xiomara Castro, acknowledged through her Twitter account that “the riot had been planned by gang members with the knowledge of the guards” and added that she will take “drastic measures.”
One of these first measures was the proclamation of a new Minister of Security, Gustavo Sanchez.
Sánchez, with 34 years in the service of the Honduran Police, said on social networks that he assumes this position “with great responsibility” and that he “promises total dedication.”
A responsibility that will involve reinforcing security in prisons and reducing corruption. The firearms and blades used by the gangs entered because of corrupt guards, according to Xiomara Castro.
Castro was blunt in stating that the riot was “planned by street gangs with the knowledge and acquiescence of the security authorities.”
The survivors and family members report that in a chilling way, the gang members were able to equip themselves with prohibited weapons, brush up against the guards and attack; even carrying padlocks to lock their victims inside, ostensibly to burn them to death.
The intensity of the fire left the cell walls blackened and the beds reduced to twisted heaps of metal.
Juan López Róchez, chief of operations of the National Police, acknowledged that “a group of armed people entered the cell block of a rival gang, closed the doors, opened fire on them,” without the authorities acting in time.
Miguel Martínez, a spokesman for the Ministry of Security, said the attack was recorded by security cameras, until the moment the gang members destroyed them in what he described as a “planned” attack.
“You can see the moment when the women overpower the guards, rendering them defenseless and taking their keys,” Martinez said.
Historical security problem in Honduras
Gangs in Honduras have long fought for control of the drug trafficking and extortion industries, and the bloody conflict has made the country one of the most dangerous in the world with very high national homicide rates.
Since December, the government of Xiomara Castro has implemented a state of emergency, following the model followed by neighboring El Salvador, which suspends some constitutional rights and allows security forces to detain people they consider associated with crime.
Leading the government to conclude that the riot was likely a reaction to the government’s crackdown in recent months against corruption within prisons, Julissa Villanueva, director of the prison system, said Tuesday, describing the riot as a “terrorist attack “.
This is not the most serious incident in a Honduran prison. The worst prison disaster was in 2012, at the Comayagua men’s prison, where 361 male inmates died in a fire possibly caused by a match, cigarette or some other open flame.
With Reuters, EFE, AP and local media