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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03TEGUCIGALPA1742 2003-07-23 22:29:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tegucigalpa
Cable title:  

HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON LA CEIBA PRISON MASSACRE

Tags:   PHUM PGOV SNAR KCRM KJUS HO 
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEGUCIGALPA 001742 

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/06/2013
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SNAR KCRM KJUS HO
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON LA CEIBA PRISON MASSACRE
FAULTS POLICE, ARMED FORCES, AND PUBLIC MINISTRY

REF: A. TEGUCIGALPA 861

B. TEGUCIGALPA 1309

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



1. Summary. (SBU) On July 9, Human Rights Commissioner for
Honduras, Ramon Custodio, presented the results of the
Commission's investigation into the April 5 massacre of 68
prisoners at the El Porvenir Prison, located outside of the
Caribbean port city of La Ceiba. The report supported
allegations that elements of the police and military were
involved in the deaths of prisoners, charging that security
forces executed unarmed gang members who attempted to
surrender to authorities (Reftel B). The report states that
the 25 individuals who burned to death (23 Mara-18 members
and 3 female visitors) witnessed the execution of other
inmates who had surrendered, and thus, may have chosen to
remain in their burning cells, rather than face summary
execution. The report alleges that prior to the arrival of
military and police forces, only 10 of the 68 deaths had
occurred. It charges that nearly all of the remaining deaths
can be attributed to police and military forces.
Furthermore, the report implicates the police in a cover-up
of the executions committed by military and police units,
while also faulting the Public Ministry's shoddy forensics
testing and mishandling of the crime scene. End Summary.



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



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The Violence Begins


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2. (C) According to the report, the violence began when
between five and ten Mara-18 gang inmates brandishing
firearms, shot and killed several prison "trusties" (non-gang
member inmates charged with enforcing discipline in the
prison). (Note: The report suggests as a possible motive
for the attack, that gang members may have sought retribution
for a prison raid on April 3 in which trusties and prison
security confiscated 4 machetes, 16 knives and 8 firearms
from cells 2 and 6, where gang members resided. "Trusties"
and prison security authorities then sentenced gang members
to 48 hours of solitary confinement. The report notes that
the gang members were released from isolation the morning of
the massacre. Furthermore, the report also places blame on
an unauthorized transfer of 30 Mara-18 inmates from a federal
prison at Tamara to El Porvenir on February 6, 2003, which
may have disturbed the balance of power between gang and
non-gang members, leading to conflict. Separately,
conventional wisdom here is that this importation was a
showdown between different prison elements over control of
the drug trade in the prison.)



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


Police, Military Forces Arrive, Chaos Ensues


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





3. (C) The report contends that when prison security units
arrived, only five individuals had been killed. Shortly
after prison security deemed the area under control, numerous
different police and military forces arrived, including the
Preventive Police Special Forces (COBRA), elements of the
First Battalion of Marine Infantry, Tourist Police, prison
police, and members of the Fourth Infantry Battalion, who
were apparently confronted by a mob yelling for the police to
kill Mara-18 gang members. According to the Commission's
report, security forces entered the prison and opened fire on
unarmed gang members and either condoned or encouraged the
remaining trusties to kill those gang members who lay wounded
throughout the prison courtyard. Subsequently, the
"trusties," set fire to the cellblocks where the majority of
gang members resided. Some witness testimonies indicate that
kerosene from the prison kitchen was used to ignite the fire,
while others point to the use of gasoline.



4. (C) The report further contends that police and military
authorities then ordered inmates in cellblocks 2 and 6 to
surrender. The prisoners surrendering, who were unarmed and
with hands in the air, were then summarily executed by armed
security agents, who have since alleged that they were
following orders from "trusties." Autopsy reports confirm
eyewitness testimonies that police units were responsible for
the deaths of unarmed prisoners. Direct testimony also
exists implicating a COBRA in the killing of an unarmed,
wounded man.



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


25 Burn to Death, Others Executed


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





5. (C) The report states that, according to witness
testimonies, most of the gang members were not involved in
the violence and voluntarily returned to their cells once
shooting began. Gang members who retreated to their cells
left cellblock doors open with the exception of cell block 6,
whose door was partially obstructed, trapping prisoners
inside. The report suggests that many of the remaining
inmates witnessed or heard the executions of those who had
surrendered, and subsequently chose to remain in their
burning cellblocks, rather than face execution. 22 inmates
and 3 female visitors burned to death as the fire consumed
two contiguous cell blocks.



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



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


Crime Scene Contaminated, Investigation Incomplete


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



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





6. (C) According to the report, the integrity of the crime
scene was compromised by prison "trusties" and police who
moved bodies and "tampered" with evidence prior to the 11AM
orders from Commissioner Henriquez not to contaminate the
crime scene. Additionally, the report outlines a litany of
criticisms of the Public Ministry's investigation. Bodies
prematurely removed from the crime scene were left to
decompose in the heat for days before being analyzed by
forensic experts. Limited forensics testing was conducted to
determine the cause of death of most victims, and no analysis
was done of the carbon dioxide levels in the blood of the
deceased (to determine if the cause of death was fire). Most
of the bullets were not removed from the bodies of the
deceased. Consequently, without the requisite forensic
analyses, x-rays or comprehensive ballistics tests, the exact
cause of death of most victims was never adequately
determined.



7. (C) The autopsies that were conducted largely document
external, rather than internal lesions, indicating only a
superficial examination of the bodies. To date, 15 bodies
remain in the San Pedro Sula morgue and have yet to be
officially identified, nor has any fingerprint testing been
employed as a means of identification. According to the
report, ballistics investigators failed to identify the types
of arms used during the riot, and thus, were unable to
determine the exact cause(s) of death.



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



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


Public Ministry Faulted For Incomplete Investigation


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



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





8. (C) The report also directed criticism at the Public
Ministry for its failure to execute a swift, thorough and
proper investigation. The report urges the Public Ministry
to expedite the four cases it has developed against specific
individuals involved in the violence and to clarify the
charges it intends to bring against the individuals.
Additionally, the report calls for new ballistics tests,
autopsy reports and asks the Minister of Security to present
prosecutors with a complete list of all individuals present
during the killings. Additionally, the report recommends a
revamping of the discipline system in the prison and the
elimination of the role of prison "trusties." The report
asks police to identify the trusties killed and investigate
all of the parties involved. Finally, it criticizes the
Director of MOPS Special Preventative Services for ordering
the premature and unauthorized relocation of Mara 18 gang
members from the prison to other prisons on February 6.



9. (C) Comment. The Honduras Human Rights Commission is a
well respected institution that works closely with Post on a
number of issues. The Commission's findings support the
Honduran Internal Security Council's May 9 report that
assigned responsibility to GOH security forces for the vast
majority of the deaths at El Porvenir prison on April 5. The
Commission's report, however, arrives at much more damaging
and far-reaching conclusions, including the identification of
the specific military units that were involved. It remains
to be seen exactly what corrective and prosecutorial measures
the GOH plans to pursue regarding the incident, apart from
the mere window dressing of changing the prison warden.
Unfortunately, the extreme unpopularity of gang members, who
are seen by the Honduran public as the source of much of the
violence plaguing Honduras today, is unlikely to evoke
broader public outcry on human rights grounds. End Comment.
Palmer