Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another ghastly record for Honduras

 Honduras made the international news for yet another horrific record: the world's deadliest prison fire in a century. On the night of February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a fire broke out in a prison in the city of Comayagua. The inmates were trapped and 358 were burned to death.
I find this news incredibly disturbing for various reasons. First of all because I can’t think of anything worse than being trapped in a burning building. Secondly, because this should have been prevented. A fire in a prison is nothing new in Honduras. In 2004, more than a hundred inmates died during a fire in the penitentiary in San Pedro Sula. The taxi driver who broke the news to me shrugged his shoulders and said: “Oh, this happens every year….” It does. The prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. The situation is medieval and far from corrective. This is no news at all. With a 250% occupancy of most prisons, it is no surprise that this has happened, whether it was caused by a short circuit or by an inmate setting fire to his mattress. But the fact that it is no surprise doesn’t make it less of a tragedy.
What I find most disturbing of all is the reaction of the people. The press is all over the case, of course, and newspapers brought out extra editions covering the fire with horrendous pictures of carbonized bodies. People all over the country were shocked. But another reaction also surfaces: “Good riddance”. If you read La Prensa or any other Honduran newspaper on-line, you’ll find some severe reactions from the public: “I wish this would happen in every prison”, or “They deserved it…”, and: “A good way to get rid of delinquency…”
A few people express their condolences to the family members of the perished inmates, others blame it on bad politics, but most people seem to think these prisoners had it coming.
That doesn’t surprise me, but it does shock me. I can understand the feeling of satisfaction for another man’s tragedy, especially living in a country where there is so much violence, deliquency and so little justice. But thinking “good riddance” also shows a lack of respect and humanity that so typically characterizes many of the delinquents themselves.
About half of the perished prisoners never had been charged, let alone convicted. For certain, not a single prisoner was sentenced to death, since capital punishment does not exist in Honduras. Not to mention burning to death…
Thinking that this tragedy is a solution is just as much of a tragedy.

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