Contractor for Honduran “Super Prison” to be Unveiled

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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The Ministry of Defense, alongside the Honduran military, will decide on which contractor will build the nation’s newest “super prison” on Friday amid a crackdown on crime in the country. The construction of the super prison was announced in June alongside a slew of new measures with the intent to clamp down on organized crime.

A Struggle to Restore Order

The prison, which will be built on the “Swan Islands,” is planned to hold a maximum of 2,000 prisoners in an effort to address the country’s prison overcrowding issue, which currently holds 19,500 prisoners within a system designed to hold approximately 13,000. The prison on the Swan Islands will act as a maximum security prison, cutting off gang leaders from mainland Honduras in an attempt to limit their influence throughout the country while imprisoned. The government further plans to construct a second prison in the country’s eastern state of Olancho; this prison is expected to hold 40,000 prisoners and has commonly been compared to El Salvador’s Terrorist Confinement Center (CECOT), which also fits 40,000 convicts.

Both Honduras’ new prison and El Salvador’s CECOT face a similar background regarding the purpose of their construction. In El Salvador, CECOT was constructed to hold a large influx of convicted criminals amid President Nayib Bukele’s nationwide crackdown on organized crime, notably focusing on criminal organizations such as the Los Angeles-born MS-13 and Barrio-18 gangs. Honduras has enacted similar measures, empowering the military to tackle soaring crime through the designation of criminal entities as terrorist organizations, a strategy which has been implemented across Latin America including in Ecuador and El Salvador.

Imprisoned convicts in El Salvador’s Terrorism Confinement Center. (Photo – Gladys Serrano/El Pais)

Honduras’ war against crime began in 2022 following President Xiomara Castro’s declaration of a national state of emergency amid an intense rate of violent crime, with 34 murders per 100,000 people, establishing the country as the second most violent in Latin America behind Venezuela, which stood at 40 per 100,000 according to InSight Crime. This rate has long been established in Honduras, with the murder rate previously standing at 66 per 100,000 in 2014, with a slight decrease through the years, making it, on average, the most dangerous country in all of Latin America.

These high crime rates were under the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández, the former president of Honduras from 2014-2022 and has largely been attributed to the former president’s role in Honduras’ criminal underworld. Hernández was sentenced to 45 years in prison in May following the revelation the former president colluded with major drug traffickers to smuggle over 400 tons of cocaine into the United States. Hernández portrayed himself to the court as a fierce opponent of drug trafficking, pointing towards his cooperation with American authorities and a number of extraditions of key leaders within the country’s criminal underworld to the US.

Juan Orlando Hernández leaving a meeting at the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. (Photo – Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Despite these claims, court documents revealed that Hernández instead chose to extradite figures who threatened his control of the smuggling of narcotics through Honduras. Prosecutors delved further, stating that the former president had been active within the drug trade since 2004 at the earliest, taking millions of dollars worth of bribes in order to strengthen his political career which successfully led to his promotion from the Deputy of the Lempira Department to the presidential office.

Despite Hernández’s contribution to Honduras’ criminal underworld, the homicide rate within the country remained on a downwards trend since his ascension to power in 2013. A number of theories regarding this decrease have been suggested, with the most notable remaining a favorite for governments across Latin America. This theory claims that Hernández organized a number of under the table deals for criminal organizations within Honduras, a common strategy of presidents across Latin America who aim to reduce violent crime within their countries.

Xiomara’s State of Emergency

President Xiomara’s aforementioned state of emergency in 2022 followed hot on the heels of El Salvador’s own declaration. Despite similar methods having been undertaken, Honduras still suffers from a massive homicide rate. In comparison, El Salvador’s actions have led the nation to become one of the safest in all of Latin America with a homicide rate lower than even the United States. This is not where the similarities end, as both El Salvador and Honduras targeted the same two gangs, MS-13 and Barrio-18. Both gangs trace their own lineages to Salvadoran refugees who fled the Salvadoran Civil War which raged from 1979 to 1992.

Analysts claim Honduras’ failure to tackle the endemic crime within the nation is because of political struggles, rampant corruption within the police force, and underfunded police. These issues within Honduras only worsened in 2011 after the government launched a number of investigations against police across the country in an effort to crack down on corruption. These “purges” led to a dramatic drop in the police force, with 6,000 police officers being removed from their positions, according to La Prensa. Many of these officers were accused of aiding drug traffickers, even acting as hitmen for criminal organizations.

Current President of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, at a press conference. (Photo – Inti Ocon/Getty Images)

After these purges, the Honduran government never made efforts to rebuild the country’s law enforcement, severely hindering any attempts to crack down on crime in the future. This issue continued through Xiomara’s state of emergency and combined with Honduras’ mountainous geography made hunting down criminals near impossible.

It was these operational issues that led to an increase in a number of crimes throughout the state of emergency. Extortion, which once was largely confined to urban centers of Honduras, began to expand throughout the countryside affecting more Hondurans in regions once relatively peaceful. Furthermore, at least two more extortion gangs began operations amid the state of emergency, according to InSight Crime.

As Honduras continues to struggle to bring peace and security to citizens across the country, the construction of two new prisons is certain to help alleviate the nation’s overcrowding issue, while the Swan Islands prison will be vital in tackling criminal elements within the country by limiting the outside influence that imprisoned gang leaders still wield.