18 prisoners were killed in a gang fight on Sunday at the El Porvenir penitentiary in east Honduras, less than two days after another 18 died from gang fights in a facility in the Carribean coast town of Tela.
Guns, knives and machetes were used in a riot that broke out as prisoners were reportedly having a meal.
How did the government respond?
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s announced on December 17 that the Honduran Armed Forces had been placed in charge of the country’s 27 prisons, all of which are reported to be seriously overcrowded with approximately 22,000 inmates.
Hernandez’s decision to put armed forces in control of the prisons followed the killings on December 14 of five Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members by a fellow inmate in La Tolva.
The announcement also came a day after Pedro Idelfonso Armas, the warden of the “El Pozo” maximum security prison in the western city of Santa Barbara, was shot dead.
Is MS-13 behind the prison riots?
Honduran Assistant Security Minister Luis Suazo says MS-13 is responsible for the riots last week.
“We have information that the MS is behind this and gave the orders to carry out these attacks. The ones who started the attacks was, in all of the cases, MS members,” Suazo said.
According to the Associated Press, Suazo declared that the emergency decree had broken the bonds that the gang and prison officers had established.
Many prison officers had previously allowed the gang to operate illicit businesses inside the prisons.
What is MS-13?
MS-13 is an international criminal gang that was formed by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1970s and 1980s in Los Angeles, California. The gang now has a strong presence in the U.S., Europe and Central America.
According to Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, there are between 8,000 to 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the U.S. and Europe and 50,000 members in Central America.
A crackdown of MS-13 operations in Long Island last week resulted in 96 members being charged for various crimes, including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, drug trafficking, weapons possession and gang violence.
These charges came after a two year investigation by state and federal authorities that thwarted half a dozen or more murder plots by MS-13.