Honduras rolls out widespread gang crackdown

U.N.'s COP28 climate summit in Dubai

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -Honduran authorities announced a slate of measures on Friday intended to cut down on organized crime, including the construction of a new prison, collective trials and terrorist designations for gang members.

President Xiomara Castro said in a late-night television address that security forces should be deployed to "urgently execute interventions across parts of the country with the highest incidences of gang crimes, such as murders for hire, drug and firearm trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and money laundering."

The measures echo the mass trials and "mega-prison" pioneered by President Nayib Bukele in neighboring El Salvador, measures that have drawn ire from rights groups alleging abuses but which have lowered the country's murder rates and won him widespread popularity.

Honduran government leaders announced plans to immediately build a prison to hold some 20,000 in the sparsely populated area between the eastern departments of Olancha and Gracias a Dios. This would massively expand the country's current prison capacity, which holds some 20,000 inmates across 25 prisons in overcrowded conditions.

The authorities also said the Honduran Congress must reform the penal code so that drug traffickers and members of criminal gangs who commit specific crimes, such as those listed by Castro, are designated as "terrorists" and face collective trials.

Hector Gustavo Sanchez, who heads the national police force, said a list of "intellectual authors, leaders and gang members" was being distributed and that the immediate arrest of those on the list was being ordered.

Operations will also be launched to locate and destroy plantations growing marijuana and coca leaf - the key ingredient in cocaine - as well as centers being used to process illegal drugs.

Honduras declared a state of emergency in December 2022, suspending parts of the constitution as it sought to crack down on a rise in crime it attributed to gangs.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Kylie Madry and William Mallard)