Eighteen people were killed in Sunday afternoon violence between prisoners at a jail in central Honduras, less than two days after another 18 died in unrest at a separate facility, a military spokesman told local media.
The spokesman for the combined national security force known as Fusina released a list of names of the 18 dead and two injured, saying that “firearms, knives and machetes” were used in the clash in El Porvenir prison north of the capital Tegucigalpa.
The violence followed overnight unrest earlier in the weekend at a facility in the northern port town of Tela that killed 18 inmates and wounded 16 others.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, grappling with a recent wave of prison killings, had ordered the army and the police on Tuesday to take full control of the country’s 27 prisons, which are badly overcrowded with some 21,000 inmates.
On Saturday, top military officer General Tito Livio Moreno indicated that the military would be deployed in 18 penal centers identified as “high risk.”
Hernandez announced the crackdown after the killings on December 14 of five members of feared gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) by a fellow detainee at the high-security prison in La Tolva, east of Tegucigalpa.
That came just a day after Pedro Idelfonso Armas, the warden of El Pozo — the country’s main high-security prison, in the western city of Santa Barbara — was shot dead in the south of the country.
The Ministry of Security had suspended Armas shortly before that amid an investigation into his presence during the October 26 killing by prisoners of Magdaleno Meza, a drug kingpin whose confession and notebooks linked him to a brother of the president, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez.
– Drug trafficking, gangs, violence –
Meza’s account books were entered as evidence in the New York trial of Hernandez, who was subsequently convicted on four counts of drug trafficking. He faces sentencing — possibly for life — in January.
President Hernandez condemned the conviction of his younger brother, saying it was based on “the testimony of confessed assassins.”
A video circulating on social media shows the 52-year-old Armas talking with Meza when prison guards opened a locked gate, allowing a dozen inmates to burst in and stab and fatally shoot the drug trafficker.
In addition, a lawyer who had represented Meza and other members of the Valle Valle drug cartel, Jose Luis Pinto, was killed in an attack on December 9 in a town northwest of Tegucigalpa.
Honduras has been plagued by drug trafficking, gangs, poverty and corruption.
It suffers from one of the highest homicide rates in the world outside areas of armed conflict, having registered 41.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.
To fight this scourge, Hernandez created a military police force financed by a new tax, and built special prisons for gang members.
The sky-high crime rate has been a key factor behind a wave of migration toward the United States, notably by minors who say they fear being forced into gangs.