TEGUCIGALPA – At least 18 inmates died on Sunday in a clash between rival gangs inside a prison near Tegucigalpa, bringing to 36 the number killed in two outbreaks of prison violence in 48 hours.
Inter-Institutional National Security Force (Fusina) spokesman Jose Coello confirmed to reporters the death of the 18 inmates – raised from an earlier 16 – in the prison located in the municipality of El Porvenir, in Francisco Morazan department.
Two other prisoners sustained knife injuries and were taken to the Tegucigalpa School Hospital, where one of them reportedly died, which has yet to be confirmed by the authorities.
The killings, the second incident in 48 hours in Honduran prisons, occurred despite an intervention commission taking over the prison last week after the government declared a state of emergency in the penitentiary system.
On Friday, another 18 inmates were killed and more than a dozen wounded in a shootout in Tela jail, in Atlantida department.
The intervention commission Sunday said that the two incidents seek to prevent authorities from imposing control over the country’s prisons.
“These violent actions are an escalation of the criminal world to try to prevent the... commission of the National Penitentiary Institute with Fusina from imposing the necessary controls in the country’s prisons,” said authorities in a statement.
The statement added that the police and military authorities had “immediately” been able to regain “order and control” of the prison due to the “prompt action” of Fusina personnel assigned to the prison.
The government’s security coordinator Luis Suazo claimed that these types of crimes were planned by criminal groups.
“One of the criminal groups has resolved to try and reverse this process (prison intervention by the commission),” launched last week, the senior official said.
He added it was a strategy of these criminal groups to “get the attention” of human rights organizations.
Hugo Maldonado of the Honduran Committee for the Defense of Human Rights told reporters he felt “broken” after the fresh outbreak of prison violence, the second in 48 hours.
“Enough of all this death,” Maldonado said, adding that a confrontation between gang members is the main hypothesis for the incident.
Maldonado called on the international community to help the Honduran government train prison guards since there remain questions over their potential involvement in facilitating illegal activities inside prisons.
Made up of some 30 jails, the Honduran prison system has some 22,000 inmates, when their maximum capacity is 8,000, and less than half of the prisoners have been convicted.
Prisons in the country are considered “time bombs,” because of overcrowding, infrastructure problems and the number of prisoners in preventive detention.