UPDATE: Details emerge on Honduras prison fight that left more than 40 women inmates dead

Honduras women's prison fight Members of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) take control of the Women's Social Adaptation Center (CEFAS) prison in Tamara, 25 km north of Tegucigalpa, on June 26, 2023. The government announced last week that military police would assume control of Honduras's 21 prisons for a period of one year starting July 1, as well as train 2,000 new prison guards after a vicious battle between rival gangs left at least 46 women dead in a prison near the capital Tegucigalpa. | Credit: Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

On June 20, a confrontation broke out between rival gangs at the Women’s Center for Social Readaptation (CEFAS) in Tamara, a town near Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where dozens of inmates lost their lives.

The massacre was carried out by women belonging to the so-called “Barrio (neighborhood) 18” gang, who shot, stabbed, and set fire to the inmates of another criminal organization known as “Mara Salvatrucha.”

The Mexican newspaper El Universal explained the meaning behind the terms: “In Central America the word ‘mara’ is used colloquially for a gang; ‘salva’ refers to El Salvador; and ‘trucha’ (trout) is a slang term meaning ‘intelligent’ or ‘clever.’”

After what happened, the president of the country, Xiomara Castro, fired the minister of security, Ramón Sabillón, and assured that “drastic measures” will be taken.

The president tweeted she was “shocked by the monstrous murder of women in CEFAS, planned by gangs in full view and tolerance of security authorities. My solidarity with the relatives.”

The Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13) and Barrio 18 are widespread criminal organizations mainly in countries such as Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Both gangs originated in Los Angeles.

Its members, often identified by full-body tattoos, commit crimes such as rape, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder.

The number of women who died is yet to be fully determined. 

In a June 20 statement, the public prosecutor’s office of Honduras said there were 41 dead. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (OHCHR), there were 46. 

The bishop emeritus of San Pedro de Sula in Honduras, Ángel Garachana Pérez, spoke of even higher numbers than those confirmed by officials.

The Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa’s prison ministry demanded that the authorities clarify “this cruel event” and that “answers be provided for what happened.”

In addition, the bishop demanded that security be reinforced in prisons so that “it works effectively and in an appropriate manner.”

In a June 25 tweet, Pope Francis said: “I have been very saddened by what happened a few days ago in the women’s penitentiary center in Honduras. I pray for the deceased and their families. May the Virgin of Suyapa help hearts to open up to reconciliation and fraternity, even within prisons.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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