TEGUCIGALPA – Honduras is facing a crisis in its penitentiary system after riots at two prisons left 37 dead, killings attributed to groups seeking to prevent government intervention in the country’s prisons, a situation amid which a local organization has called for the support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The two incidents, in which more than 10 other inmates were injured, occurred at a prison in the town of El Porvenir, near Tegucigalpa, where on Sunday 19 prisoners died and at a prison in Atlantida province, where on Nov. 30 another 18 inmates were killed.
Special teams are investigating the causes of the two massacres, Public Ministry spokesman Yuri Mora told reporters.
To avoid a similar situation, agents with the National Interinstitutional Security Force (Fusina) on Monday occupied the prison in La Ceiba.
The assistant director for the Center for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT), Alba Mejia, told EFE that the situation in Honduran prisons is “chronic.”
In her opinion, the lack of attention paid to the penitentiary system by various Honduran governments is the main cause of the recent massacres in the prisons, given that the authorities “have not been kind enough or cared enough to serve the (inmate) population.”
“What’s happening is the result, as the saying goes, of: He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind,” Mejia emphasized.
Honduran authorities should provide a public service in prisons “with efficiency and excellence,” considering a prisoner to be “a human being who needs to be recognized as such” so that “he reacts with respect to others,” she said.
However, Mejia said that when prisoners are treated “as social waste and trash,” they react violently.
The CPTRT is proposing the creation of a commission of “high credibility” that would be coordinated by the IACHR so that the National Penitentiary Policy, launched in 2015 by the United Nations Development Program, can be implemented, she said.
“The safety of those of us outside (the prisons) depends on the safety of those who are inside,” Mejia said.
The CPTRT assistant director, who is also a defender of human rights, said that the intervention of the military and politicians in the prisons “has not caused anything” so far, but she added that the “lack of attention” being paid to the prisons “is going to continue.”
“Nobody can deny that organized crime exists within the prisons, that there is weapons and drug trafficking and extortion, but all these phenomena are the responsibility of those who run the prison system,” she said.
Mejia went on to say that “the worst is happening right now” in the prison system, which includes about 30 prisons around the country.
The forces of order on Monday attributed responsibility for the two massacres to criminal groups seeking to avoid the intervention in the prisons ordered by the Juan Orlando Hernandez government last week.
“The events on the weekend are part of a specific pattern used by the criminal organizations,” Col. Jose Gonzalez, the director of the Intervention Commission of the National Prison Institute, told reporters.
He added that the criminal groups have “tentacles, which infiltrate and are embedded in different systems.”
Inmate riots and massacres are frequent occurrences in the Honduran prison system, which is considered by a number of organizations to be a “time bomb” because of overcrowding and the other inhumane conditions in which the prisoners live, all of which is acknowledged by Honduran authorities.
CPTRT director Juan Almendarez said that the deaths of inmates are the result of the “total militarization” of the prison system.
He told EFE that the introduction of weapons into the prisons is the result of “corruption (and) impunity” that has prevailed within the prison system.
He emphasized that Honduran prisons “are monitored” by the military, adding that the country’s security forces have “failed” to guarantee the safety of the inmates, with the situation “worsening” due to progressing infrastructure problems.