Central America: 13 dead in Honduran prison fire
13 dead in Honduran prison fire, as Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli approves mining ban in indigenous territories of Ngäbe-Buglé.
13 dead in Honduran prison fire
A prison fire in Honduras broke out Thursday after armed inmates from rival gangs began fighting each other at the San Pedro Sula penitentiary, officials said.
‘What provoked this incident was a dispute between rival gangs,’ said police Chief Walter Amaya.
Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla confirmed reports of the fire at the prison, which was built for 800 inmates but currently houses almost three times that number (2,250).
At least 13 people were killed, one of which was decapitated and his head tossed onto the prison entrance.
Police commissioner Yair Mesa said the riot was peacefully brought to a halt.
‘The uprising has been put down without the need to fire a single shot,’ Mesa said from the prison.
According to the police commissioner, most of the victims perished due to burns or asphyxiation, but the bodies were consumed by the flames to such an extent that the exact cause of death was impossible to determine at this point.
The second largest city in the country, San Pedro Sula is known for its high rates of gang violence.
In 2004, 107 inmates died in a prison fire at the San Pedro Sula prison.
Thursday’s incident came just six weeks after another deadly blaze killed 361 at the Comayagua prison, north of the nation’s capital. Since then, overcrowding and dire prison conditions across Honduras have been in the limelight.
‘Everybody has known for some time that the authorities have no interest in the prisons. They are a time bomb that will continue to explode,’ said Bishop Rómulo Emiliani of San Pedro Sula, who acted as a mediator during the riot.
According to the London-based International Center for Prison Studies, in 2008 Honduras’ prison population had an excess of 38 per cent.
In 2010, the organization also estimated that 50.1 per cent of prisoners nationwide were pre-trial detainees, and that the country had an incarceration rate of 154 per 100,000 inhabitants, almost twice that of Honduras’ world leading homicide rate.
In the prison fire at Comayagua a month and a half ago, more than half of the victims had never been brought before trial.
President Ricardo Martinelli approves mining ban in Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca
Also on Thursday, after heated negotiations between indigenous communities and the Panamanian government President Ricardo Martinelli amended the nation’s Mining Code by signing Bill 415 into law, now known as Ley 11 (Law 11).
Ley 11 bans mining and protects water and environmental resources in the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, an area spanning 7,000 square kilometers and composed of provincial-level indigenous territories in western Panama.
A fine ranging from US$10,000 to US$100,000 will be applied upon infringement of Ley 11′s articles.
The country’s national assembly approved the bill on 22 March, after 45 days of negotiations according to President of Panama’s Legislative Commission of Commerce Raul Hernandez.
Within the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca lies Cerro Colorado, one of the world’s biggest undeveloped copper deposits.
Other important deposits – which have recently made mining the country’s leading exporter – were not affected by the mining ban.
These include the gold-rich Molejón mine and the US$4.3 bi Cobre Panamá project, with an estimated annual production of 255,000t copper, 90,000oz gold, 1.51Moz silver and 3,200t molybdenum.
Although Hernandez claimed the bill would benefit both the Ngäbe-Buglé and the country and negotiator and tribal chief Silvia Carrera said peace had now come to the region, Ngäbe-Buglé leader Toribio Garcia told reporters they ‘wanted a law to ban all hydroelectric and mining within the region’.
In effect, while Ley 11 cancels 25 mining concessions in the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, hydroelectric projects will still be permitted pending approval from the national, regional or local assemblies and authorization from the natives (Article 6).
Article 7 enumerates the economic benefits of future hydroelectric projects in the area, including the allocation of 5 per cent of royalties to a social development fund (Article 8 ) for the Ngäbe-Buglé communities; and that 25 per cent of all specialized and non-specialized labour developing the projects shall be Ngäbe-Buglé.