Honduras has announced plans to build a high security prison on an unpopulated island in the Caribbean Sea off the country’s eastern coast. The Swan Island project would become the Western Hemisphere’s only island prison. Honduran officials say they plan to use the prison to house the country’s most violent criminals.
In the past, Honduran President Xiomara Castro promised to solve gang violence through reforms to the government and criminal justice systems. Now, she plans to create an island prison capable of holding 2,000 people. The island is over 240 kilometers off the coast.
Island prisons used to be common in Latin America, with owner countries including Brazil, Chile and Colombia. However, riots, poor conditions and prison escapes led to their closing. In 2019, the final island prison closed, a property of Mexico.
Officials in Honduras say the new prison will help stop violence. But, critics say island prisons fail to deal with the root of the problem.
Tiziano Breda is a Latin America expert at Italy’s Instituto Affari Internazionali. He said that new prisons are “…quite useless if you don’t first regain control of the others you already have.”
Last month in Honduras, 46 women were killed in a prison fight that involved guns, knives and fire. It was one of the worst incidents in the history of women’s prisons.
In answer, President Castro said she would “take drastic measures” and put an end to the gangs that have terrorized Honduras for years.
José Jorge Fortín, the head of Honduras’ armed forces, told the Associated Press that the only way to communicate with the island prison is by satellite. He said the government thinks this will make it difficult for gangs inside the prison to organize crime and violence.
Fortín did not say how much it would cost or how long it will take to build the prison.
The neighboring country of El Salvador has already taken a strong position against gangs. One in every 100 people there is a prisoner. The nation’s president says gang members represent 30 percent of the prison population in El Salvador.
Rights activists have accused that country’s government of abuses in its justice system. But, El Salvador has seen sharp drops in violence and citizens increasingly support the system.
“If another country has done something well, why not copy it?” Honduras’ Fortín said.
But, Tiziano Breda says this way of thinking moves the country away from changing policies that could make long-term differences.
Honduras’s security policy “has become even more reactive and short-sighted, mimicking what’s going on in El Salvador to contain damage to their public image,” Breda said.
However, these ideas are supported by many Hondurans, including scientist Said Santos. He said, “…ending the crime problem once and for all here in Honduras would be ideal for this country.”
Others are expressing environmental concerns about the new prison plan. Scientists say they worry the project will damage the island’s highly diverse ecosystem. Last week, the Honduran Biologists Association called the prison a “threat” to nature.
Lucky Medina is Honduras’ secretary of natural resources and the environment. He told the AP that the prison will be built in unity with nature. Officials will follow environmental protection measures, he said.
I’m Dominic Varela.
The Associated Press reported this story. Dominic Varela adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
gang – n. a group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends
drastic – adj. extreme in effect or action
mimic – v. to copy closely
ideal – adj. having no flaw; perfect
diverse – adj. differing from one another
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