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Latino Daily News

Thursday February 16, 2012

International Outcry Over Honduras Prison Fire, President Vows Full Investigation

The fire that killed more than 300 inmates at the Comayagua prison farm in central Honduras will be investigated with full transparency and “international observation,” President Porfirio Lobo said Wednesday.

The fire may have killed more than 350 inmates based on the number of prisoners who failed to respond when a roll call was conducted, officials said.

The death toll may be about 357, prosecutor’s office spokesman Melvin Duarte told Efe, but Security Secretary Pompeyo Bonilla said 272 deaths had been confirmed.

“We will conduct an investigation to determine what caused this sad and unacceptable tragedy, and find out who is responsible,” Lobo said in a nationwide address carried by radio and television stations.

Bonilla has been instructed to suspend the officials in charge of the Comayagua prison farm, the president said.

The officials who run the prison system at the national level will also be suspended “to guarantee a totally transparent investigative process,” Lobo said.

“This is a day of deep sadness for Honduras, we deeply regret what happened and I want to express my support for the families of our countrymen who lost their lives at the Comayagua prison,” the president said.

Several inmates injured in the fire were taken back to the prison Wednesday after being treated at hospitals.

Officials have not said how many inmates were hurt in the fire, but media reports put the number at about 30, with most suffering burns and fractures when they jumped from the prison’s roof to avoid dying in the blaze.

Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, meanwhile, has asked the chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Dinah Shelton, to send a delegation to the Central American country and to issue a report on its findings, the hemispheric organization said in a statement.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Security Secretariat spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia told reporters the blaze was “apparently started by a short-circuit,” .

The prison housed 853 inmates, which was well above the facility’s capacity, Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio said Wednesday.

The blaze started around 10:55 p.m. Tuesday, Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia told Efe.

Flames spread through one of the two cell blocks at the prison, located about 80 kilometers (some 50 miles) from Tegucigalpa, Mejia said.

Fires and other incidents at Honduran prisons have resulted in a large loss of life on several occasions in the past decade.

A fire on May 17, 2004, killed 107 inmates at the prison in the northern city of San Pedro Sula.

Officials blamed structural problems at the prison, a common situation in the Central American country’s penitentiaries, for the blaze.

A total of 66 inmates and three women, including a minor, died in a riot on April 5, 2003, involving gang members and common criminals at the El Porvenir Prison Farm, located near the Caribbean city of La Ceiba.