Death of 46 women under Honduran state custody. Who is responsible?

The death of 46 women in the National Female Penitentiary for Social Adaptation (Penitenciaría Nacional Femenina de Adaptación Social – PNFAS) exposed the poor decisions of the State in the face of a prison crisis that had already sounded alarms. The Xiomara Castro Administration improvised an intervention in the penitentiary system which, according to the Vice Minister of Security, Julissa Villanueva - who presided over the intervention - had insufficient time to make the necessary changes coupled with lack of action by the National Police, hindered the intervention that lead to the tragic outcome that had been predicted. With the remilitarization of the penitentiary system as a response, there are those who fear that the masterminds who benefited from the chaos in the PNFAS will never be known.

Text: Jennifer Avila and Allan Bu

With reporting by Fernando Silva

Photography: Jorge Cabrera y Fernando Destephen

Translated by: Amy Patricia Morales


“Do you know anything about Sayda?” asked a distressed voice that was interrupted by a louder and equally distraught voice shouting, “check if Fatima Leticia is on that list” and then came more voices clamoring for information “Please, find out about Ingrid Celeste” “And of Mayra, do you know anything?” “Look for Blanca Lidia on the list”, “we know nothing about Sara Escalante, please help us”. 


The above scenario played out countless times on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 in front of the main gate of the National Female Penitentiary for Social Adaptation (PNFAS), located in Támara, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, 36 hours after a riot and subsequent fire that left 46 women dead following what Honduran authorities say was an armed attack by members of the Barrio 18 gang against the section where women who belonged to or were affiliated with MS-13 were held.


Maria González arrived early at the Támara prison the day after the tragedy, to ask the authorities about her daughter Dunia Raquel Gonález. They responded saying they had no information, and sent her to the Forensic Medicine building in Tegucigalpa. Where, upon waiting two hours, was told that they too had no information and sent her back to the PNFAS. “They sent me back to the Penal center and that’s where I had came from, they don’t let you in and are not sharing the list of who is there, they only tell us that if they are not on the list it means they are fine, they said they’ll call us,” Doña Maria tells us.


Like Doña Maria, hundreds of people arrived at the gates of the PNFAS with the intention of seeking assurance that their relatives are fine. Despite being told that nothing had happened in most of the sections of the penitentiary center, at the gates you continued to hear voices asking for Fatima, Ingrid or Sara. “We want to see them,” says Ulda, who on June 20th had traveled from Salama, Olancha, and had already waited 36 hours for news at the prison gates. She had already heard dozens of times that there were no deaths in the section where her daughter was, but she wanted to see her, to be sure, because she did not trust a State that failed to protect 46 inmates.

Familiares de las víctimas de la penitenciaría femenina de Támara esperan noticias de sus familiares en un espacio habilitado con sillas . Foto CC/Fernando Destephen.
Relatives of the victims of the female penitentiary in Támara await news of their relatives in a space set up with chairs. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen.

“All they say is that they are fine, but I want to see her. I understand the situation and know that they, as the authorities, are doing something for those alive and that it is a responsibility. We are worried because what happened could have an aftermath and what’s worse is that they’d told us that some don’t appear on the list nor are inside, which is why they are doing a recount, so imagine, how can I remain calm? said Ulda, who did not give up with the little information she’s been given, arriving the next day at the gates of PNFAS asking for information about her daughter, “Look, they could take a photo of them and there would be no more doubt or people waiting out here” she expressed. 

As of July 7th of 2023, 18 women who had died at PNFAS had yet to be identified. They were to be identified through DNA tests like fingerprints and odontograms. This process involves the forensic odontologist cross-referencing information with the family. If all details match, the doctor then authorizes the release of the body.


Issa Alvarado, spokeswoman of the Forensic Medicine Directorate, told Contracorriente two days after the assassinations that the time to identify a person through a DNA test depended on the quality of the sample collected, “it is not an immediate process, but there are professionals working to give a prompt response to the relatives,” she said.


In the press release 18-2023,  the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (Conaprev) recommends “publishing the names of women who have died in PNFAS in order to reliably determine the corresponding individualization, thus avoiding cruel treatment for family members and practices that contribute to impunity”.


Conaprev also recommended that the integrity of the women survivors of the violent event be protected by seeking relocation alternatives to safeguard their lives and integrity, as well as that of the administrative and custodial staff working in the penitentiary. So far, access to the prison is restricted, however, unofficial sources have told Contracorriente that the women identified as the perpetrators of the riot are living in the same space with the survivors.


The failures that triggered the tragedy


The government of the first woman president in the history of Honduras had just begun and the emergency in the penitentiary system was already being decreed, this unfolding within the context of the demilitarization of public security that the president had promised during her campaign. On March 1, 2022, the Council of Ministers declared a State of Emergency in the Penitentiary System through Decree PCM-03-2022 which states “that as a result of the militarization of the country’s Penitentiary System, the levels of violence within the prisons have increased” and explains that the riots that had previously occurred in the prisons responded to a dynamic of organized crime that worsened with the military intervention perpetrated by the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.


Although they do not say it, the doubts of Ulda and other families are consistent with how erratic the new government has been in its approach to obtaining control of the jails and prisons. Following the initiation of the demilitarization process within the penitentiary system, the government was shaken by four simultaneous riots on April 8, 2023.  In response, President Xiomara Castro appointed the Vice Minister of Police Affairs, Julissa Villanueva, as coordinator of an intervention in the prison system.


The process that failed, and which according to Villanueva, was not her fault but rather the result of a series of factors pointing to the responsibility of former Security Minister, Police General Ramon Sabillon, and the director of the National Police, now Security Minister Gustavo Sanchez. These failures led to the Military Police of Public Order (Policía Militar del Orden Público – PMOP), a force created by former President Juan Orlando Hernandez and heavily questioned for its legality and human rights violations, taking control of the penitentiary system after the government dissolved the intervention order led by the vice minister. Villanueva considers this a step backwards.

Familiares de privadas de libertad de la penitenciaría femenina de Támara esperan noticias de sus parientes. Foto CC/Fernando Destephen.
Relatives of inmates of the female penitentiary of Támara await news of their relatives. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen.

There were signals ignored that could have prevented the death of 46 women under state custody. Apart from the prison riots, a source told Contracorriente about the existence of a report on the Támara penitentiary that reached the hands of Vice Minister Villanueva a week before the tragedy, which indicated that there were signs of a possible attack between inmates in sections 1 and 4. In addition, relatives of inmates and human rights defenders who entered before the tragedy, reported that it was necessary to separate women belonging to rival gangs because there were already threats and a hostile environment. The vice minister spoke in the national media that she received preliminary reports, but did not know that they were about the women’s prison and in an interview with Contracorriente, she said that she did not receive such a report and that she had visited the PNFAS before and did not see the supposed signs that such a tragedy would occur there.

“I told the president that this was the first prison that needed to be intervened, that this was the prison that should serve as the model of the penitentiary system because this is the government of the first woman president,” said Villanueva, sitting in her office at the Security Secretariat, surrounded by a police structure she does not trust..

There are official documents that support that the government knew about the time bomb in the prisons and whose responsibility was placed on the intervening commission. In literal e) of Article 6 of PCM-04-2022 with which a State of Emergency was declared, it is established that persons deprived of liberty were to be classified. “The National Police, within the framework of the temporary Intervention of the Penitentiary System, will have the following functions: […] e) To classify the existing penal centers and the population held in them, taking into account the architectural designs of the centers and the criminological profile of the person deprived of liberty, based on the technical studies of dangerousness.” 

But, just two months before the tragedy, Villanueva’s oversight commission concentrated power, replacing the director of the National Penitentiary Institute, Commissioner General Otoniel Castillo Lemus, whom former Minister Sabillón had appointed in the transition of the penitentiary system from the military to the police. She also unauthorized the directors of the penitentiary centers to carry out any procedures. However, the Vice Minister assures that she has all the evidence that she did everything she could in only a month and a half and that it was General Sabillón, the former Minister of Security, who failed to quickly mobilize the police to act on the commission’s plans.

“I was the president of the commission, I had power to remove Castillo Lemus, we set him aside as a transitional measure because we were going to intervene with the same police, Dr. Villanueva has another way of working. We would have had a different outcome if they had followed our work, I did not remove him because he was corrupt but because I had to limit him,” explained Villanueva and added that the circular stating that all procedures had to go through the supervision of the commission was made because there were many irregularities in the issuance of letters of release and transfers. “A judge would send a letter of release and immediately they had to be released. And we stopped that because there were irregularities and corruption so they at least had to show me the letter of release, I reviewed many. There was a letter of release that said it ordered the urgent release of a man with three names and who did they want to release? Cholo Houston who was usurping identities. Who stopped the release? Only us and we knew the pressures and threats”. 

On June 27, 2023, after Villanueva’s departure from the commission and with the military-led intervention, MS13 ringleader alias Cholo Houston was found in the maximum security prison “La Tolva” in Morocelí, despite the fact that he was registered in the general prison in Támara.

Now on the outside, the vice minister views with concern the military intervention in the penitentiary system and assured that the root evil, corruption, is not being prioritized.

The vice minister said that she herself helped in the drafting of the decree that gave life to the commission and that she took it upon herself to develop a contingency plan after the incidents that took place in different prisons in the country, “it was a call to challenge”, she said and justified that there was no time to make the plans, because there was pressure from the prisons but also because within the police itself there was corruption and interests in everything failing even before it ever began. “This is a monster of corruption that we had in front of us, police, military, organized crime. In our intervention all the transfers cost money, and I began to find system corruption, in the transfer of tortillas, of the meat, of the food […]”.

Contracorriente spoke with a source close to the penitentiary system who asked for their identity to be protected. Regarding the remarks made by Villanueva after her dismissal from the commission, the source assured that what is carried out in the penitentiary centers is a very complex job and emphasized that, prior to the commission, they were trying to manage the inmates in a different way.

“They did not have the tact or the delicacy with which this problem of the penitentiary system should be handled with, only those who work there know how they have to deal with these processes, but I do not know what motivated the inmates of the National Female Penitentiary for Social Adaptation [PNFAS] to do these things. Before, there was no problem of fights or deaths; there was an attempt to manage the penitentiaries differently. With the National Institute of Professional Formation [INFOP] we got training, even with CONDEPOR [National Commission of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation] a course for soccer coaches, they even played between sections. We were on the right track,” said the source.

Familiares de la víctimas de la penitenciaría femenina de Támara, esperan afuera del Centro De Medicina Legal Y Ciencias Forenses por noticias de las autopsias. Foto CC | Jorge Cabrera.
Relatives of the victims of the female penitentiary of Támara, wait outside the Center of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences for news of the autopsies. Photo CC | Jorge Cabrera.

Furthermore, regarding the same accusations of corruption and links between the police and organized crime that Villanueva mentioned, the source said that “it is strange that she, being at the head of the National Police, expresses herself in this way because if she knows that someone is bad, she has the authority to sanction and refer them to the Police Disciplinary Affairs Directorate [DIDADPOL], so I don’t know why she expresses that when she has the command and can make changes. If I had the power I would make the reports and put them in the prosecutor’s office. But she must have her reasons, I don’t know what she wants to gain.”

But Villanueva now spoke out and said she is aware that she is “sitting on an anthill”, said she receives constant death threats and refuses to be the scapegoat in the middle of this crisis, because all her actions and requests for quick intervention in both Támara and PNFAS were ignored by the police. 

We wrote to General Ramón Sabillón and Security Minister Gustavo Sánchez to arrange an interview, but by the time we finished publishing this piece, they had not responded to our messages. 

“We were going to start with the women. I had been to PNFAS many times, it was not something new to me because I was always interested in it since I was director of Forensic Medicine [in the previous government]. We could not go beyond governance orders because that was up to the police, to Castillo Lemus, I went to see what the conditions were like, the kitchens, the clinics, the educational activities, the comprehensive work and the plan for identification. I asked the dentist to take dental samples from the inmates for their oral health and for the identification,” said Villanueva, but she also assured that she never saw the tensions that would culminate into the massacre. 

“No, I swear I didn’t see [that there were any threats in PNFAS]. I got right into the heart of where [banda] 18 was, where MS was, Dr. Villanueva never looked at it as a problem of two rival gangs, we were simply looking for the integration and classification of the inmates according to their crimes, not according to their gang affiliation. When they told me that I was going to do it, I had to set priorities and the first one was the recovery of governance, disarmament, studying overcrowding, ensuring that all of them are in an adequate place and I made juvenile offenders and the women of PNFAS a priority. Because the table of cooperants -who support me- understood that we needed this”, she said.

Villanueva assured that she had the support of the U.S. Embassy and that she had already brought experts from Israel and Mexico to ensure the success of the intervention through the creation of prison intelligence units. She also added that she did not ask the Salvadoran government for advice because she is a human rights defender and because the cooperators were against repressive processes such as those being carried out by the neighboring government in its penitentiary system. Even when Carlos Marroquin – director of Reconstruction of the Social Fabric in El Salvador and who has been singled out by the U.S. government as one of the articulators of the Salvadoran government’s alleged negotiations with the gangs – visited the son of the Honduran president to advise on this issue, Villanueva was not invited.

After the tragedy at PNFAS, all eyes fell on the commission. Villanueva insisted that, although she did not believe that the women’s prison would be the site of the prison tragedy that marked the course of security policy in Honduras, for her they were a priority, but there was a boycott.

“Women are not the top priority, and I heard the pressures: Bam, bam, bam, bam, in Morocelí, Bam, bam, bam, bam, in Ilama. Who was speaking up for the women? There wasn’t a fear of them being killed; it was just a typical concern regarding the gang separations. I called for a simultaneous intervention in Támara, PNFAS, and Ilama, but I was informed that the police lacked the resources, the muscle, and logistical support,” she remarked.

La viceministra de Seguridad, Julissa Villanueva muestra los informes que preparó durante su breve paso como inventora del sistema penitenciario. Foto CC/Fernando Destephen
Vice Minister of Security Julissa Villanueva shows the reports she prepared during her brief stint as head of the penitentiary system. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen

Villanueva added that she knows that people have said that the commission was not doing anything and asked, “Who were the ones hesitant and unprepared? The police, as they faced pressure concerning public and prison security, while the demilitarization process was underway, preventing the military from entering”, she explained.

An image that circulated and was used by the authorities to ultimately determine that the Gang 18 started the riot in the PNFAS depicts a woman dressed in black holding a gun,  with an insignia of The Punisher. She was identified by police sources as “La negra suicida” of the Shadow Park Locos clique of the Gang 18. This image initially placed the sole blame of the tragedy on the gang, and the National Police since then has indicated that they are investigating 12 individuals associated with the incident for their involvement in the massacre.

But the PNFAS was a time bomb and it exploded.

It is not known who brought in the weapons in or how, but a source close to the penitentiary system told us that, “there are so many ways to bring in a weapon and the inmates have so much time to think about how to bring in illicit things, there is even talk of drones, a drone that can move up to 20 liters of gasoline, sometimes the authorities lend themselves to this but it is strange because we had a national force of penitentiary centers so for something to enter it had to pass through there, so I do not know how they could get around that”.

Vice Minister Villanueva was the person who published the photograph of the alleged gang member carrying a gun on her Twitter account. She said that this was a way to put pressure on the police, since she had been calling them to act since six in the morning when they began to receive information about the shooting in the PNFAS, but they were not quick enough. “If they had arrived earlier, maybe they would not have burned them,” she said.

“Who is to blame for all this? the fights between them where they had already planned to kill each other because of their gang problems? Or “ Who was interested in all this? I had already replaced the corrupt people in Támara, I had already changed the director, the deputy director, the money savings accounts, I was already neutralizing them, they began to say that they were going to kill me and then the death of the PNFAS girls, I have never been a woman who cries or is afraid, but here I was afraid,” she said. What did I do wrong? My dedication was 100% unwavering and real, here everything failed except Dr. Julissa Villanueva”, she said.

The threats

Doña María’s daughter, Dunia, called her on a Friday, four days before the assassinations. It was a short call. She asked about the family and the welfare of her two daughters, ages 7 and 9. Although the conversation was not extensive, the lady noticed her daughter was worried, “She was not very happy, she told me that they were being threatened, but she did not tell me more. She wanted to get out of there, and how? She couldn’t”, she said.

There are other references of threats among inmates. Delma Ordóñez, president of the Association of Relatives of Women Deprived of Liberty, shared in a Twitter space organized by Contracorriente that during a visit to the PNFAS weeks before the tragedy, she sat on the bed of an inmate, mother of seven children and terminally ill. Behind bars and with anguish, she revealed to Delma that she was desperate to get out of prison to support one of her daughters who needed an operation; her desperation was despite the fact that in two months she would have the benefit of parole. “I have to get out of here to help my little girl,” she told her. She is no longer able to be reunited with her daughter; she is one of the 46 women who was killed in PNFAS.

As Delma spoke with the inmate, she mentioned to the others that after her visit, she was going to do an interview with a television channel.  One of them said “How will she go like that?” The cell was then transformed into an impromptu beauty salon, where the human rights defender got her hair and make-up done.

While they did her hair, the women shared that they were afraid. They told her that every day they heard screams, “Bitches, get out of here, this is our territory”. Delma described a scenario that helps to understand why that Tuesday, June 20, became a tragedy.

Familiares de las víctimas de PNFAS en Tamara lloran al recibir los cuerpos de sus parientes. FotoCC | Jorge Cabrera.
Relatives of PNFAS victims in Támara cry as they receive the bodies of their relatives. CC Photo | Jorge Cabrera.

Before the assassinations, the PNFAS housed 914 inmates, 103 of whom lived in Section 1, where the women who allegedly belong to MS-13 are held; the rest of the prison is for the common population and members of Barrio 18. “That section of the prison is controlled by Barrio 18, so most of the inmates who are not affiliated with any gang go there [sympathize with Barrio 18], because they have no other choice,” said Delma.

A source confided anonymously that among the June 20 victims were some 28 women who did not belong to the MS-13 even though they were in Section 1. “They were in that section not because they belonged to the gang but because they live in areas controlled by the MS. The majority of women who are linked to this gang are not involved,” they said and later explained that on many occasions they are detained together with their partners, simply because they are with them when they are arrested. They also said that the same thing has happened with sisters and mothers who are linked to criminal organizations and are arrested because of their family relationship with a gang member and because they were present at the time of the arrest. 

“The majority of those who died simply lived in those sections [controlled by MS-13] and others forced by necessity moved into those sections to sell drugs,”  they mentioned.

The time bomb

Honduras’ prisons have long been the reign of corruption and terror. The tragedy at PNFAS has not been the only one in the prison system. In 2003, in the prison of El Porvenir, Atlántida, 66 people were killed in a riot. In 2004, 107 inmates lost their lives in a fire in the San Pedro Sula prison, for which the State was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). In February 2012, 360 died in a fire in the Comayagua prison. Deaths because of fights and fires in prisons, all occurred in National Party governments that carried their security policies under the banner of the “iron fist”.

During the administration of the Nationalist President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who faces trial for drug trafficking in the United States, there was violence in prisons and military intervention. For example, in the Tela prison 18 inmates were killed in 2019 and in the same year, in El Porvenir, Francisco Morazán, another 19 died. According to figures from the National Commissioner for Human Rights (Conadeh) some 1,050 inmates died violently in the national prison system between 2003-2023.

According to Jenny Almendarez of the Center for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel and Inhuman Treatment (CPRTRT), there are currently 19,400 inmates, 63% of whom are in judicial arrears, that is, awaiting sentencing. In addition, according to Delma Ordóñez, the country’s prisons are 143% overcrowded, meaning their capacity is overflowing by more than 10,000 inmates. None of this is new, just as death is not new, nor is the iron fist or militarization as a reaction.

During the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández, the military assumed roles that extended beyond their initial functions including leading agricultural promotion and extra roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2019, during Juan Orlando Hernández’s second term, the military, through the National Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA), assumed control of the penal system after the murder of Nery Sanabria, alias Magdaleno Meza, a drug trafficker who apparently possessed a notebook with information linking the president’s brother, Antonio Hernández, who was convicted in the United States for drug trafficking.

Miembros de la Policía Militar del Orden Público (PMOP) en la presentación de las armas, munición y dinero encontrado el primer día de requisas en la penitenciaría, Marco Aurelio Soto de Támara. Foto CC | Jorge Cabrera.
Members of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) during the presentation of weapons, ammunition and money found on the first day of searches at the Marco Aurelio Soto de Támara penitentiary. Photo CC | Jorge Cabrera.

Delma Ordóñez, president of the organization of relatives deprived of liberty, is convinced that the military should not administer the prisons and even recalled that this was one of her “strong” requests when this administration began. For her, the demilitarization of prisons at a national level was a necessity because she considers that it was when the military was in charge that the greatest number of human rights violations against the inmates occurred.

The human rights defender recalled that during the military control of the prisons she received several complaints. For example, in the Tela prison, the director owned the grocery store inside the prison and family members were not allowed to bring in any products, they could only enter with money and buy everything from the director’s store. She added that in Támara, the directors had a pig farm and that there were times when some inmates were taken to work in the houses or farms of the prison guards, “and there is evidence of all this, the question of the day is how to trust”, said Delma.

At the outset of the current administration, it appeared that the military was reducing its presence, at least in the public’s perception. However, this was not the case, as its budget remained substantial, reaching 10,662 million lempiras for 2023, a notable increase of 1,300 million compared to the previous year, making it the third-largest budget allocation, following the Health and Education departments. Even the National Congress, led by a board of directors sympathetic to the Libre Party, authorized the purchase of five helicopters for the Armed Forces.

And now, everything became clear—the military, who had previously been removed from the penitentiary centers, returned as if they were the solution to an ancient problem, and manifested severe symptoms on Saturday, April 8, with four simultaneous riots in El Porvenir, La Tolva, Central Penitentiary of Támara, and El Pozo in Ilama, Santa Bárbara.

Un policía militar observa el culto en una iglesia evangélica en el barrio Villanueva de Tegucigalpa, durante un operativo de rutina. Foto CC/Fernando Destephen.
A military policeman observes worship at an evangelical church in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, during a routine operation. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen.

After the simultaneous riots in four prisons, President Castro, via Twitter, wrote: “I know about the efforts of the Police and the Security Secretariat in reducing homicides and corruption, but I am going to intervene vigorously in the prisons. 12 years (144 months) of looting and collusion with drug trafficking, gangs, gangs and public and private organized crime, does not get fixed in 12 months”.

And that is the intervention that Julissa Villanueva fleetingly presided over and that she narrates at times as a series of terror. “The first thing that happened was that I was going to need about 2,000 people for that and from where? From the National Police and we had to have a plan and the first thing I said to them is that we have to make a plan: yes, doctor, but we have to make time, analysis, you are going to need cars, bathrooms, logistics […] I asked for the plan to intervene in the women’s prison and they told me no, that it was not so important because they are not so violent,” she said.


She also assured that the police said that they could not carry out the necessary searches in the prisons on Saturdays, Sundays or Mondays, because, “On those days there are soccer games and people are in the streets, and that they could not reduce their attention to the citizens in order to put two thousand active police officers in PNFAS or in the other prisons”. 

The Commission presented a plan to recruit new penitentiary agents and the cooperators were supporting her in this, according to Villanueva. “They sent me 1400 police officers on loan for the prisons and they were all a bunch of irregulars, some of them purged, others who had committed faults, there was not a single clean one, they were sent to the prisons for punishment”, she explained, and that is why she tried to clean house first. 

Villanueva assured that she had already set up penitentiary intelligence and they gave her information, they told her what was happening in Ilama, who the corrupt people were that were smuggling weapons, “and I had that information written down. But from PNFAS  I had never been given any information, I swear, otherwise I would have intervened immediately,” she said.

The searches carried out by the commission under Villanueva’s leadership were televised. The vice minister says that this was not a “reality show” strategy, but one of transparency, since she discovered that the police were not opening the coffers until she arrived to supervise. She even says that the police left her alone on several occasions inside the Ilama prison and that she even thought that they had led her into a trap to kill her.

“They should investigate me because I have documented my entire processes and everything they did not do. I am not responsible for a structural problem, I only had a month and days to be working with good success. I complied with the president’s order, Dr. Villanueva did everything in her power, we are facing a monster of corruption and organized crime, my life is in danger, here we are sitting in the anthill,” she said.

Now she sees the military intervention of the prisons, and sees the images of the Minister of Defense and nephew of the president who together with military police destroyed weapons found inside the prisons, “I would never have allowed that” said Villanueva, arguing that they are destroying key evidence to determine the origin of these weapons that could reach important authorities. 

“I am not stupid and I will not be anyone’s scapegoat or denigrate my professional image because when I went on assignment I did it and I can prove it, whether this was premeditated or not, it was to stop me,” she said.

Familiares lloran en el velorio de una de las víctimas de la penitenciaría femenina de Támara, Francisco Morazán. Foto CC/Jorge Cabrera.
Family members mourn at the wake of one of the victims of the female’s penitentiary in Támara, Francisco Morazán. Photo CC/Jorge Cabrera.

Searching through the ashes

In Section 1, where the riot occurred, was Doña María’s daughter. When, on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 21, she arrived at the gate of the PNFAS to get news, the communications officer read a list in which Dunia Raquel was mentioned. According to that listing, her daughter was injured at the Hospital Escuela. Doña María heard the name and almost ran away. “She is my daughter,” she repeated as she walked away.

Hours later, Doña María was at the Forensic Medicine offices. She had gone to the Hospital Escuela and was not allowed to enter the hospital, nor was she given any information. An acquaintance of the family assured her that Dunia was not hospitalized, contrary to the official version of the PNFAS. 

In Forensic Medicine, her daughter’s name appeared on a list that was posted in an information center that had been improvised through the installation of a tent, overseen by two young university students. Doña María concluded that the women on the list had been declared dead.

When we asked about Doña María’s daughter, the young men responded that this was not an official list, that these were names of people who were being sought out by their relatives. Doña María searched all day for her daughter without success.

“Well, tomorrow I am going to get up early to go to the hospital,” said Doña María, a place she had not yet visited. Her anguish had increased because she had seen on television that only two women were alive from  Section 1, but in reality this was false information, since 103 inmates were held in Section 1.

Doña María, the woman who looked for her daughter in forensic medicine, PNFAS and the Hospital Escuela, could not find her in any of these institutions. Days later, she received information that her daughter was alive, but as of this writing, she has not been able to see her and continues to ask “how is my daughter”. Meanwhile, in an office of the Secretariat of Security, Vice Minister Julissa Villanueva says over and over again: “I could have done many more things if they had let me work”.

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Journalist, co-founder, and editorial director of Contra Corriente. Winner of the LASA Media Award 2020.

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