41 Women Die In Grisly Riot In Honduran Prison That President Blames On ‘Mara’ Gangs

Police guard the entrance to the women's prison in Tamara, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Tuesday, June 20, 2023. A riot at the women's prison northwest of the Honduran capital has left at least 41 inmates dead, most of them burned to death, a Honduran police official said. (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez)


— A grisly riot at a women’s prison in Honduras Tuesday left at least 41 women dead, most burned to death, in violence the country’s president blamed on “mara” street gangs that often wield broad power inside penitentiaries.

Most victims were burned but there also were reports of inmates shot or stabbed at the prison in Tamara, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said Yuri Mora, the spokesman for Honduras’ national police investigation agency.

At least seven female inmates were being treated at a Tegucigalpa hospital for gunshot and knife wounds, employees there said.

“The forensic teams that are removing bodies confirm they have counted 41,” said Mora.

Local media interviewed one injured inmate outside the hospital who said prisoners belonging to the feared Barrio 18 gang burst into a cell block and shot other inmates or set them afir

Honduran President Xiomara Castro said the riot was “planned by maras with the knowledge and acquiescence of security authorities.”

“I am going to take drastic measures!” Castro wrote in her social media accounts.

Dozens of anxious, angry relatives gathered outside the prison; located in a rural area about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the capital.

“We are here dying of anguish, of pain ... we don’t have any information,” said Salomón García, whose daughter is an inmate at the facility.”

Julissa Villanueva, head of the country’s prison system, suggested the riot started because of recent attempts by authorities to crack down on illicit activity inside prisons and called Tuesday’s violence a reaction to moves “we are taking against organized crime.”

“We will not back down,” Villanueva said in a televised address after the riot.

Gangs wield broad control inside the country’s prisons, where inmates often set their own rules and sell prohibited goods.

The riot appears to be the worst tragedy at a female detention center in Central America since 2017, when girls at a shelter for troubled youths in Guatemala set fire to mattresses to protest rapes and other mistreatment at the badly overcrowded institution. The ensuing smoke and fire killed 41 girls.

The worst prison disaster in a century also occurred in Honduras, in 2012 at the Comayagua penitentiary, where 361 inmates died in a fire possibly caused by a match, cigarette or some other open flame.

Tuesday’s riot may increase the pressure on Honduras to emulate the drastic zero-tolerance, no-privileges prisons set in up in neighboring El Salvador by President Nayib Bukele. While El Salvador’s crackdown on gangs has given rise to rights violations, it has also proved immensely popular in a country long terrorized by street gangs.