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03TEGUCIGALPA1309 2003-06-06 18:19:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tegucigalpa
Cable title:  

HONDURAN COMMISSION ASSIGNS RESPONSIBILITY FOR LA

Tags:   PHUM PGOV SNAR KCRM KJUS ASEC ELAB PINR HO 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 001309 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, DRL/PHD, DRL/IL, INL/LP, INR, AND DS
DOL FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/06/2013
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SNAR KCRM KJUS ASEC ELAB PINR HO
SUBJECT: HONDURAN COMMISSION ASSIGNS RESPONSIBILITY FOR LA
CEIBA PRISON INCIDENT: SECURITY FORCES AND PRISON "TRUSTIES"

REF: A. STATE 138274

B. TEGUCIGALPA 861

C. 02 TEGUCIGALPA 1755 (ALL NOTAL)

Classified By: Political Section Chief Francisco Palmieri;
Reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).



1. (SBU) Summary: A Special Commission of the Honduran
National Council for Internal Security (CONASIN) has issued a
report assigning responsibility to GOH security forces and
prison "trusties" for the majority of the 68 deaths that
occurred in an April 5 incident at the El Porvenir prison,
located just outside the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba,
Honduras. Sixty-one of the dead were gang members from Mara
18, one of Central America's largest gangs. President
Ricardo Maduro is seeking U.S. and UK assistance for a
further investigation of the events. Post has brought in a
retired U.S. law enforcement investigator through the Police
Assistance Program to assist the Internal Affairs Unit of the
police to further investigate the incident. End Summary.

CONASIN Ad-Hoc Commission's Report


--------------------------





2. (U) On April 5 prison riot in the El Porvenir (The Future)
prison, located just outside the Caribbean port city of La
Ceiba, Honduras, left 68 dead (65 men and three women) and
approximately 40 wounded (ref B). Immediately following the
incident, President Ricardo Maduro ordered an investigation
into the deaths by an ad-hoc commission of the Honduran
National Council for Internal Security (CONASIN). Members of
the Commission include: Andres Pavon, President of the
Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras
(CODEH); Dinora Aceituno, Secretary General of the
Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH, which is affiliated
with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU)); Jorge Gomez, a businessman and representative of
the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP); and Ana
Pineda, Deputy Human Rights Commissioner. (Note: The Human
Rights Commission later withdrew from the commission and is
conducting a separate investigation. End Note.) The ad-hoc
commission was commissioned on April 9 and delivered its
completed report May 9 to CONASIN, in accordance with the
30-day timeframe it was given.



3. (SBU) Post obtained a copy of the report, which was also
leaked to the press before it was presented to President
Maduro, that details the Commission's conclusions after
investigating the incident. It is not clear who leaked the
report, but Maduro is said to be quite upset that it
happened. In addition to the Honduran press, the contents of
the report were included in wire service reports and an
article in the New York Times, leading the Department of
State to draft contingency press guidance (ref A).



4. (C) PolOff has met with Pavon and Gomez, and spoke by
phone with Aceituno and Pineda. All four are good contacts
of the Political Section. PolOff also visited the prison May
15, and was given a tour by the new warden. The report
begins by severely criticizing the GOH's combined handling of
the incident, criticizing the Preventative Police and the
district attorney for not adequately securing the crime
scene, the General Direction of Criminal Investigation (DGIC)
for shoddy initial investigative work, and the forensic
doctor for moving the bodies without first conducting a
preliminary inspection. Visits to the prison the day of the
incident by VIPs, including President Ricardo Maduro and
Minister of Public Security Oscar Alvarez, undoubtedly caused
further contamination of the crime scene, commission members
told PolOff. (Note: Other reports indicated that the crime
scene had already been cleaned up prior to their arrival.
End Note.) The report harshly criticizes the role of the
prison's "trusties," non-gang member inmates who enforce
discipline within the prison. (Note: It appears to Post be
to a prime example of "the inmates running the asylum." End
Note.)



5. (C) The CONASIN report notes incredulously that there was
an agreement signed March 7 between the "trusties" and gang
member prisoners, drafted on the warden's computer, that
outlines when and where drugs can be smoked (only in the gang
members cell blocks). One commission member went so far as
to speculate to PolOff that the Honduran north coast
Atlantida drug cartel may have had a role in instigating the
April 5 incident to assert control over the lucrative drug
trade at the prison. In a May 28 lunch with PolOffs, Gomez
said that the GOH planned to change some of the report,
something that was proved true when the final version of the
report was released June 3. Pavon denounced the changes,
which the GOH claims were necessary to not prejudice ongoing
investigations, and accused the GOH of softening the wording
and trying to cover up the security forces' responsibility in
the incident. Gomez told PolOff that the final version does
not alter the fundamental conclusions of the CONASIN
Commission.

The Events of the Day


--------------------------





6. (U) As reported in ref B, initial press reports indicated
that a riot broke out around 10 a.m. shortly after visiting
hours, when a scuffle between inmates turned deadly after
Mara 18 gang members produced pistols and a number of
machetes and attacked non-gang member prisoners. According
to press reports, regular prisoners then reportedly
brandished weapons of their own and proceeded to attack Mara
18 members. The facility is a prison farm where both
convicts and suspects facing various felony charges are held.



7. (SBU) The investigative report's account of the events
differs greatly from those initial press reports. In the
CONASIN report, GOH security forces and "trusties" are held
responsible for the majority of the deaths and injuries.
According to the report, which is based on the Commission's
investigation drawn from testimony of unnamed witnesses
(including inmates), information from GOH authorities, and
two site visits to the prison, the incident began at 9:55 am
on April 5. Mara 18 gang member Mario Roberto Cerrato, AKA
Boris, allegedly shot and killed Jose Alberto Almendarez, the
vice president of the "trusties", and wounded Jose Edgardo
Coca, the president of the "trusties" and a corrupt ex-cop.
Although numerous accounts appear to confirm this was the
proximate cause of the ensuing violence, the gun allegedly
used by Cerrato was never found (nor were any of the other
alleged firearms supposedly used by gang members). Another
gang member known as "Danjers" then assaulted and killed
non-gang member Angel Emilio Gutierrez. At this point the
Penitentiary Police apparently intervened supported by a unit
of the Fourth Infantry Battalion of the Honduran Army).



8. (SBU) At some point during this scuffle the report states
that Penitentiary Police started firing from towers at the
corners of the prison. (Pavon told PolOff that he speculates
that this firing may have disoriented policeman on the ground
who then thought that gang members were firing weapons,
leading police on the ground to fire upon gang members.)
Dimas Antonio Benitez, a penitentiary policeman on the
ground, took the pistol of Deputy Warden Oscar Reinery
Sanchez, who was in charge of the prison at the time of the
incident due to the fact that the warden was not there. The
report states that Benitez then shot and killed gang member
"Danjers," while "trusty" Jose Quintanilla beat and shot to
death Cerrato, thus leaving the two gang members who
allegedly started the incident dead. The "trusties" then
forced the rest of the gang members back into their cell
blocks (two and six). There were an estimated 70 gang
members and 180 non-gang members.



9. (SBU) According to the CONASIN report, instead of ending
with five people dead, the violence escalated. The report
states that fifteen minutes into the incident the chief of
the Preventative Police from the Department of Atlantida
(which includes the city of La Ceiba) arrived with a
detachment of police in response to a phone call from the
prison. The report states that the gang members in cell
block two then left their cell block with their hands in the
air, while "trusties" blocked the exit from cell block six.
Four "trusties" named Santo Aguilar, Yobhany Banegas, Javier
Solis, and "Sonarriba" then set fire to cell six, leaving the
gang members inside trapped in the bathroom of the cell block
trying to avoid the fire which was fueled by mattresses. The
report alleges that the police did not remove the obstacles
that blockaded the exit from cell block six. According to
the report, a policewoman shot at four gang members, and a
policeman in a Cobra Unit (specially trained police) shot a
gang member in flames who managed to exit cell six despite
the obstacles.



10. (SBU) The report alleges that the Atlantida police did
not attempt to resolve the situation peacefully, but rather
shot indiscriminately at gang members, and allowed "trusties"
to beat, stab, and kill gang members who were trying to
surrender. The report states that 17 of the 19 gang members
injured suffered either gunshots or beatings in the back of
their heads or necks. During the melee at least one Cobra
policeman was injured.



11. (SBU) When the chaos ended, 68 people were dead. Many
had multiple wounds from one to three different types of
weapons. According to the CONASIN report:
-- 27 had been shot to death
-- 17 had been beaten/stabbed to death
-- 24 had been burned to death



12. (U) Of the 68 killed:
-- 61 were members of the Mara 18 gang
-- five were non-gang member prisoners
-- three were female visitors (two of those were ages 14-16)



13. (U) Many of the gang members had been transferred to the
La Ceiba prison from Tamara Prison, the principal Honduran
prison located outside of Tegucigalpa (ref C). The report
criticized conflicting provisions in the Code of Criminal
Procedure and the Law of Rehabilitation of Criminals with
regard to transfers of inmates from one prison to another by
prison authorities. The surviving gang members have since
been transferred to a prison in Tela, up the coast from La
Ceiba. The La Ceiba prison has been repaired, with little
sign of what happened April 5, other than a lack of
mattresses.

Multiple GOH Investigations Into Actions of Security Forces


--------------------------



--------------------------





14. (SBU) To date, only Deputy Warden Sanchez is under
arrest. By all accounts his handling of the incident was
disastrous. From panicking so much that he reportedly called
the Roatan Fire Department (located on a Caribbean island) to
ask them to call the La Ceiba Fire Department for assistance,
to letting another policeman take and use his pistol, to
generally providing no leadership to end the incident with as
little violence as possible, Sanchez appears to have failed
on many levels. The Public Ministry (led by the Attorney
General), the DGIC, and the Internal Affairs Unit of the
police, are all investigating the incident to determine what
charges should be bought against members of the security
forces or prisoners.

15 (U) PolOff attended a June 5 briefing by the Public
Ministry that outlined similar preliminary conclusions to the
CONASIN report and had grisly forensic details from the
autopsies of the victims. The Public Ministry's
investigation in continuing, and no specific security
officials were named as responsible in the briefing, but
officials did recommend that any prison police and/or
"trusties" involved in the incident should be immediately
transferred from the prison. Pavon noted at the briefing,
and the Public Ministry concurred, that despite Maduro's
order to end the "trusty" system the prison had not yet done
so due to a lack of trained personnel to replace the
"trusties." Maduro has stated that the GOH will prosecute
any member of the security forces found to have been involved
in human rights abuses during the incident.



16. (SBU) The report, which will be used in all of these
investigations, recommends that GOH authorities conduct
ballistic tests to determine, if possible, which units of the
police and/or military were responsible for which gunshots.
According to the report, while not alleging that all of these
security forces took part in the shooting, units of the
following security forces were at the prison for part or all
of the incident:
-- Penitentiary Police
-- Army Fourth Infantry Battalion (based in La Ceiba)
-- Preventative Police (reportedly accompanied by Navy and
Air Force soldiers who conduct joint patrols with the police
as part of Maduro's crackdown on Honduras' extremely high
crime rate)
-- Tourist Police
-- Cobras (specially trained police) - their presence is
disputed by some GOH officials

Maduro Asks for FBI; Post Brings In Retired Investigator


--------------------------



--------------------------





17. (SBU) Maduro publicly asked for the assistance of the
FBI and Scotland Yard to further investigate what happened.
(The child advocacy NGO Casa Alianza has meanwhile asked for
Scotland Yard to assist the GOH to investigate over 1,600
extrajudicial killings of children and youth over the last
five years.) As there were no American citizens involved in
the prison incident, and it does not directly affect U.S.
national security, Post does not believe that an
investigation by the FBI (or any other USG law enforcement
agency) is warranted. However, Post has brought in a retired
U.S. law enforcement investigator, through the INL Police
Assistance Program, to assist the Internal Affairs Unit of
the police to further investigate the incident. Post
facilitated the travel of Minister Alvarez to Puerto Rico to
gain insights from the FBI and Puerto Rican Police on
internal affairs investigations. Maduro also called for a
250 million lempiras (USD 14.7 million) investment in
upgrading Honduran prisons, but to date has not asked for USG
assistance in this effort. The lack of funds in the GOH
treasury is likely to hamper any attempt to fulfill that goal.



18. (C) Comment: While not publicly criticizing the report,
some GOH officials have privately cast aspersions on the
report as either one-sided or taking all critical statements
as fact, as well as noting that it was not done by
professional investigators. While true that none of the
commission members are professional investigators, Post notes
that the GOH has been happy to use CONASIN investigative
commissions in the past, including one made up of the same
commission members, to investigate other controversial police
episodes. The GOH has also used these reports to buttress
its decisions and defend its actions in the past. The most
difficult questions remain unanswered, including:
-- 1) why did the gang members suffer such a disproportionate
amount of the fatalities if they were contained in two jail
cells?
-- 2) what did the security forces at the prison do to
minimize/prevent casualties in their actions?
-- 3) why hasn't the GOH arrested/suspended anyone beside the
Acting Prison Warden?
By its decision to use an ad-hoc CONASIN Commission to
investigate this incident, the GOH has painted itself into a
corner, leaving little choice but to support the report
publicly.



19. (C) Comment continued: Instead of criticizing the
report, Maduro is now instead calling for U.S. or UK
assistance in conducting further investigations of the
incident. Unfortunately, the poor handling of the crime
scene, and that fact that the jail has been repaired and the
bodies buried, could make it extremely difficult for even a
professional investigation to accurately determine what
happened in detail. Nevertheless, Post believes that U.S.
assistance to the Police Internal Affairs Unit will aid
Honduran efforts to better understand what happened during
the riot. End Comment.
Pierce