A video recorded in a Panama prison showing inmates holding weapons casts new doubts on the state of the country's prison system.
The footage, allegedly shot in Panama's "La Joyita" (The Little Jewel) prison in the city of Pacora, shows inmates boasting high caliber weapons, reported Panamá América (see video below).
The video, which authorities believe was recorded in December 2016 but circulated on social media in April this year, led President Juan Carlos Varela to order a police raid on La Joyita on April 5, which he personally supervised. The strike, reportedly conducted by some 1,000 officers, targeted the penitentiary's ninth pavilion, where high-level criminals and gang members are detained.
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While authorities allegedly only seized half of the weapons shown in the video, the raid also reportedly led to the seizure of drugs and ammunition. The 12 convicts featured in the clip were all identified, brought before President Varela, and eventually transferred to another prison, known as "La Gran Joya" (The Big Jewel), a high security penitentiary also in Pacora.
"The presence of weapons in the country's prisons is something we will never accept, and today we are cleaning La Joyita," President Varela told Telemetro on April 6.
InSight Crime Analysis
The clip recorded in La Joyita sheds light on the abysmal state of Panama's prison system, and the free reign inmates enjoy in some penitentiaries, thanks to the complicity of corrupted officers.
Admittedly, this was not the first incident involving firearms in La Joyita. Already in 2014, an inmate was killed during a shootout, which left four other convicts injured, reported Noticias Terra. And in June 2015, six inmates escaped from the penitentiary.
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More worrying still, the prison's director said the cameras inside the penitentiary do not work properly, and that convicts can easily access their mobile phones and coordinate criminal activities from behind bars.
But while Varela's government faces pressures to toughen security measures in some prisons, others have pointed their fingers at the inhumane treatment received by convicts.
In 2015, Panamanian Ombudsman Lilia Herrera published a damning report highlighting alleged human rights abuses suffered by the criminals detained in Punta Coco, a maximum security prison on the Isla del Rey island. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – CIDH) has asked the government to transfer Punta Coco's inmates to a "place that complies with the international living standards for prisoners," reported Panamá América.
But Varela was clear that the recommendations will not be followed.
"Punta Coco will stay open. I'd rather face criticism than put the security of Panamanian citizens at risk," the President was quoted by Noticias Terra as saying.