Honduran prison fire

From the March-April 2012 issue of News & Letters:

World in View

Honduran prison fire

The Comayagua national prison fire may have started accidentally, but the horrific result—at least 360 deaths—was anything but accidental. With the fire raging, prisoners remained locked up for half an hour. The Comayagua fire chief said that prison officials ini­tially stopped firefighters from entering, citing security protocol.

The prison was grossly overcrowded. Indeed, the entire criminal justice system in Honduras is out of control. With narco-traffic and gangs at unprecedented levels, the response of the government has been a mili­tarization of the police, with the army often taking the lead. Hundreds of youth have been killed by security forces, and thousands have been locked up on suspicion of gang activity.

Many of those in prison have been waiting months and months to be tried. More than 50% of the Comay­agua prisoners were never convicted, only imprisoned. And now hundreds have died. Thousands of relatives have lost loved ones, families are devastated. Their suf­fering will continue long into the future.

These events cannot be separated from the 2009 right-wing coup which deposed the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya and resulted in the current de facto regime of President Porfirio Lobo. A deepening militarization of Honduran society has been taking place under the cover of fighting crime. Social protest, and not alone gang-related activity, has been criminalized, including numerous assassinations of so­cial activists involved in peaceful resistance.

—Eugene Walker

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