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Honduras cracks down on gangs after the country was engulfed in violence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president of Honduras is ordering a crackdown on gangs.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The government released images showing police going cell to cell in jails, moving prisoners around and searching. They've also thrown up roadblocks in the streets and made mass arrests.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta is covering all this from his base in Mexico City.

Eyder, good morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What led to this crackdown?

PERALTA: Just had a gruesome week. It started with a gang attack on a women's prison just outside the capital, Tegucigalpa, and that left 46 women dead.

INSKEEP: Wow.

PERALTA: Some had been burned to death, others shot, others stabbed. The president, Xiomara Castro, said that the attack had been planned by gangs but, she said, quote, "under the watchful eye and with the approval from prison authorities." And then this past weekend, more carnage. At least 20 people were dead, including 13 people when a gunman opened fire at a pool hall.

INSKEEP: OK. So how is the government trying to root gangs out?

PERALTA: So, look, they had tried to get this violence under control in the past. At the end of last year, they suspended some civil rights in some parts of the country. But then we had all this violence. And after the attack on the women's prison, President Xiomara Castro promised, quote, "drastic measures." And now we know what she meant by that. Police, as you said, have set up roadblocks. They've announced a curfew, and they're working their way through the prisons. They've confiscated knives and grenades and assault rifles.

And police have released videos showing inmates just in their boxers being lined up outside. They're being made to cower. And all you see is this mass of tattooed flesh. And those images are almost exactly what we've seen in El Salvador. They've gone after their gangs viciously. They've suspended their civil rights. They've tortured the gang members, and they've kept them in overcrowded prisons. And Gustavo Sanchez, who is the director general of the police in Honduras, gave a speech that seems to promise more of this. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUSTAVO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So he's saying that in the next few days, they will send a proposal to Congress to declare any gang member a terrorist. And, of course, that's the same thing El Salvador calls its gang members.

INSKEEP: I remember some of your amazing reporting from El Salvador on some of the extreme measures the government has taken there, even though many people did support those extreme measures. Honduras is going for the same thing?

PERALTA: Yeah. I think there's no doubt that that is exactly what's happening but in a limited way. El Salvador has fully suspended certain civil rights, and they've done so for over a year. But Honduras has only done it for parts of the country. So they seem to be crawling toward El Salvador. And I think that's why it's important to watch these developments, because the security situation is in a pretty dire way in a lot of Latin American countries. So, I mean, of course people see the human rights abuses that are happening in Salvador. But a lot of analysts I've spoken to say that people are so sick of crime that they're willing to sacrifice democracy or personal freedoms if it means that they can sleep easy at night.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOETT'S "LAST NIGHT ON RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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