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Deadly Prison Riot in Honduras

46 women died after a riot broke out in a Honduran prison on Tuesday. 

Members from the notorious Barrios 18 gang had been threatening inmates for weeks prior according to relatives. Inmates were slaughtered by gang members who proceeded to open fire and use machetes to slay them. Survivors were locked in cells and doused with a flammable liquid to be set on fire. 

“A group of armed people went to the cellblock of a rival gang, locked the doors, opened fire on them,” said Juan López Rochez, the chief of operations for the country’s National Police.

The attack took place in Tamara, a city approximately 30 miles northwest of the capital Tegucigalpa, and Honduran President Xiomara Castro said the riot was "planned by maras with the knowledge and acquiescence of security authorities." Maras are gangs that originally formed in the United States and spread to Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Gang members were able to smuggle weapons in and brush past the guards without issue. They carried locks with them to make sure their targets would not be able to escape once they were trapped. 26 victims died in the fire, the remainder were shot or stabbed. After the fire was put out, the walls of the cells were blackened and the beds were nothing but pieces. 

18 pistols, an assault rifle, two machine pistols and two grenades were smuggled into the prison and recovered after the attack. 

Castro is unable to explain how the gangs were able to infiltrate the prison so easily and move throughout the cells so freely, calling the attack “monstrous”. According to initial statements, the doors of the cell block were reportedly left open. 

“I will take drastic measures,” Castro said in a Tweet

Guards were “removed” from the facility at 8 a.m. said Sandra Rodríguez Vargas, the assistant commissioner for Honduras’ prison system. Officials are calling the riot a “terrorist attack” and have acknowledged the fact that gangs ruled some parts of the prison. Gangs control portions of the country’s prisons and inmates make their own rules as well as sell goods and trade information. 

“The issue is to prevent people from smuggling in drugs, grenades and firearms,” Honduran human rights expert Joaquin Mejia told the Associated Press. “Today’s events show that they have not been able to do that.”

The head of the Honduran penal system, Julissa Villanueva, believes the reason behind the riot was in response to the government’s recent attempt to crackdown on gangs both in and out of prisons. 

Tuesday’s riot appears to be the worst tragedy in the Central American region since a 2017 incident at a female detention center. The center served as a shelter for troubled youths in Guatemala and young girls set fire to their mattresses to protest the rapes and mistreatment taking place. 41 lives were lost as a result. 

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