Tegucigalpa, Jun 27 (EFE).- The director of Honduras’ Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) provided assurances on Tuesday that the institution’s takeover of the country’s violence-ridden prisons is being conducted with respect for the inmates’ human rights.
Amid criticism from rights watchdogs and concerns that Honduras is copying El Salvador’s controversial anti-gang crackdown, Col. Fernando Muñoz said all actions are being carried out in keeping with “normal procedures.”
He added that there is no comparison between Honduras’ operation – dubbed “Faith and Hope” – and the measures applied in El Salvador and urged human rights defenders to let the PMOP do its work.
Muñoz said officers were continuing the interventions that began Monday at three prisons: two of them located near Tegucigalpa – the National Penitentiary; and the Women’s Center for Social Adaptation (CEFAS), where 26 women were killed during a prison riot on June 20 – and another located in the southern town of Moroceli.
“Let the human rights (organizations) do what they have to do. That’s what they pay them for, but let us work,” Muñoz said.
He added that the PMOP, in compliance with President Xiomara Castro’s orders, will recover control of the 25 penitentiaries that make up Honduras’ prison system.
Several of those correctional facilities have been controlled for many years by gangs known as “maras” that are involved in drug trafficking and other organized crime rackets.
Muñoz, who was unable to specify how long the prisons would be under Military Police control, said antennas and other communication systems outside the three occupied prisons will be dismantled if the companies that installed them do not take that action themselves.
The intervention at the National Penitentiary began on Monday with the takeover of a wing housing members of the Mara-18 gang, who were moved to a prison patio with their hands behind their backs and handcuffed. The inmates were barefoot and dressed only in short pants.
Muñoz said Monday that rifles, handguns, ammunition clips, munitions, cellphones and other supplies were found in that wing and that presumably similar arsenals of weapons will be found in other wings controlled by the M-18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs.
The prisoners were seated on the floor in the patio under the watchful eye of the PMOP officers in an operation reminiscent of those carried out at prisons in El Salvador, where a long-running state of emergency has entailed the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allowed police to detain tens of thousands of suspected gang members without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.
One day after the massacre at the CEFAS correctional facility, where 23 women were shot or stabbed to death and 23 others burned to death in a fire inside the prison amid clashes between rival gangs, Castro ordered the PMOP to take control of all of Honduras’ prisons for at least one year.
Over that time, the PMOP must “recruit and train” at least 2,000 new prison guards, as required by law, Castro said on June 21. EFE