Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 39: Five Killed in Prison Battle between Barrio 18 and MS-13 in La Tolva Prison, Honduras
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker
At least five persons were killed and another 39 injured in a prison riot between Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). The riot—which involved deployment of grenades and AK-47s—began at approximately 0800 hours (8:00 AM) in the ‘La Tolva’ maximum security prison in Morecelí, El Paraiso near Tegucigalpa in eastern Honduras.
Key Information: “Cinco fallecidos y 36 heridos deja reyerta en La Tolva.” La Tribuna (Honduras). 17 June 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/06/17/cinco-fallecidos-y-36-heridos-deja-reyerta-en-la-tolva/:
Cinco fallecidos y al menos 36 heridos es el resultado de la reverta ocurrida este jueves a eso de las 8:00 de la mañana en La Tolva, Morocelí, El Paraíso, según confirmó el portavoz del Ministerio Público de la ciudad de Danlí.
Según fuente fidedigna en el lugar habrían más muertos, ya que el ataque ocurrió luego de la explosión de una granada de fragmentación seguida de una ráfaga de disparos en los módulos donde se encuentran pandilleros de la 18 y de la mara Salvatrucha MS-13.
Key Information: “¡‘Guerra’ entre ‘mareros’ presos deja tres muertos y 39 heridos!” La Tribuna (Honduras). 18 June 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/06/18/guerra-entre-mareros-presos-deja-cinco-muertos-y-39-heridos/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter:
MOROCELÍ, El Paraíso. El lanzamiento de una granada de fragmentación desató una “guerra” campal que ayer tarde dejaba entre tres a cinco muertos y 39 heridos entre miembros de la pandilla 18 y de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), presos en la cárcel de máxima seguridad de “La Tolva” o “El Pozo II”, en esta jurisdicción.
Como parte de los reportes preliminares, se indicó que, durante la refriega suscitada entre los reclusos, de ambas agrupaciones de asociación ilícita, se utilizaron fusiles AR-15, AK-47 y pistolas calibre nueve milímetros, además de una granada, y bombas lacrimógenas por parte de cuerpos de seguridad en busca de aplacar los ánimos y retomar el control en el reclusorio.
Eran las 8:30 de la mañana y algunos familiares llegaron a dejar medicinas y alimentos para parientes privados de libertad cuando escucharon la fuerte explosión de una granada de fragmentación, lanzada supuestamente por la pandilla 18 a una cancha de fútbol donde jugaban los rivales y eso originó el enfrentamiento.
Key Information: Marlon González, “At Least 3 dead in prison riot in eastern Honduras.” Associated Press. 18 June 2021, https://apnews.com/article/honduras-prison-riots-prisons-34437a0fdef6ce5fc30cb7f5d57a773b:
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — At least three people were killed Thursday when gunfire erupted inside a maximum security prison in eastern Honduras, according to an official in the federal prosecutor’s office who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The incident occurred around 8 a.m. in the prison in Moroceli, El Paraiso, known as “La Tolva,” or “The Hopper.” It holds members of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. It was not immediately clear if all of the dead were prisoners. The same source had earlier said there were at least five dead, but later lowered it to three and released their names.
The three victims were all members of the MS-13 gang, the source said. Two were killed by the explosion of a grenade and one by a bullet wound…
…The capital’s Hospital Escuela admitted 15 wounded prisoners and one guard, who had been shot in the leg, said hospital spokeswoman Juliett Chavarría. Other prisoners were routed to another hospital nearer the prison.
Key Information: At least 5 killed, 39 injured in gang brawl in Honduras prison.” Reuters. 17 June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/least-5-killed-39-injured-gang-brawl-honduras-prison-2021-06-18/:
At least 5 inmates were killed and 39 prisoners and guards were injured on Thursday in a brawl between gang members at a high-security prison in Honduras, judicial authorities said.
The three-hour confrontation, involving live ammunition and at least one grenade, began when members of the Barrio 18 gang entered a section for members of the rival Mara Salvatrucha 13 gang in the La Tolva prison east of Tegucigalpa.
The facility houses more than 1,500 inmates, according to authorities…
…Prisons in Honduras that have been under military control since the end of 2019. They are the site of frequent violence between the country's two largest street gangs as well as organized crime gangs.
Third Generation Gangs Analysis
Between three to five persons were killed in a prison battle between Barrio 18 and MS-13 in La Tolva prison, in Morocelí, El Paraíso, near Tegucigalpa. The battle started with a fragmentation grenade allegedly thrown by Barrio 18 members at MS-13 inmates playing football on a soccer field about 0800 hours (8:00 AM). MS-13 members retaliated shortly afterward, attacking a Barrio 18 module with AK-47s and fragmentation grenades. Up to 39 injuries have been reported as a result of the incident.
MS-13 module attacked by Barrio 18 with AK-47s and grenades. Source: Contracorriente,Twitter, 17 June 2021, https://twitter.com/ContraC_HN/status/1405731809556525066?s=20.
In the aftermath of this incident—that news reports characterized as a ‘blood bath’—prison authorities also discovered an AK-47 and pistols in a Barrio 18 module. In addition to the deaths, at least 30 (and up to 39) were injured, including two Policía Militar (military police) officers and a member of the Policía Penitenciara (corrections officers).
Five killed and 36 injured in La Tolva Riot, Source: Diario La Tribuna, Twitter, 17 June 2021, https://twitter.com/LaTribunahn/status/1405642670869938177?s=20.
Extreme prison gang violence is an unfortunate feature of Latin American prisons. This situation is especially acute where two rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, regularly bring their street battles into the prison system. In an August 2020 report, InSight Crime analyst Victoria Dittmar noted that three Barrio 18 gang members were strangled at the same prison: La Tolva. This incident reinforces concerns about insecurity and ungovernability in the Honduran prison system and corrections systems throughout Central America.
Weapons and other contraband are frequently smuggled into prisons by visitors and prisoner transferees as well as corrupt correctional and support staff as a component of the illicit prison economy. Even in states with high political capacity, such as the US, narcotics, cell phones, and other contraband continually make their way into the penitentiary system.
In states with low political capacity such as Honduras and other Central American countries, the use of assault rifles and grenades during prison riots are not uncommon. For instance, MS-13 members attacked guards in July 2020 with six assault rifles, five pistols, and multiple grenades in the Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara in Honduras. Earlier in December 2019 in La Joyita jail in Panama, three AK-47s and five pistols belonging to gang members were seized following an outbreak of facility violence in which thirteen prisoners were killed. Even earlier in November 2015, AK-47s were used in a Guatemalan jail riot by the prisoners, resulting in multiple deaths. Given the increasing sophistication and coercive ability of third generation gangs, it is expected that the use of military-style weaponry by incarcerated gang members in Central America will continue if not escalate.
"At least 5 killed, 39 injured in gang brawl in Honduras prison.” Reuters. 17 June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/least-5-killed-39-injured-gang-brawl-honduras-prison-2021-06-18/.
“Cinco fallecidos y 36 heridos deja reyerta en La Tolva.” La Tribuna (Honduras). 17 June 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/06/17/cinco-fallecidos-y-36-heridos-deja-reyerta-en-la-tolva/.
“¡‘Guerra’ entre ‘mareros’ presos deja tres muertos y 39 heridos!” La Tribuna (Honduras). 18 June 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/06/18/guerra-entre-mareros-presos-deja-cinco-muertos-y-39-heridos/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter.
Victoria Ditmar, “Honduras Unable to Curb Rising Violence Inside Prisons.” InSight Crime. 20 August 2020, https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/honduras-rising-violence-prisons/.
Marlon González, “At Least 3 dead in prison riot in eastern Honduras.” Associated Press. 18 June 2021, https://apnews.com/article/honduras-prison-riots-prisons-34437a0fdef6ce5fc30cb7f5d57a773b.
 This 2005 riot occurred in El Hoyon prison, Guatemala. In that riot, MS-13 killed 23 members of Barrio 18 using firearms, knives, and hand grenades. The riot occurred as part of a co-ordinated campaign against at least seven Guatamalan prisons that killed at least 31 inmates throughout the correctional system. See “At least 31 killed in Guatemala prison gang war.” Accociated press via NBC News. 18 August 2005, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna8964074.
 In English, the title reads: “Brawl left five dead and 36 injured in La Tolva.” The text reads” “Five deaths and at least 36 injured are the result of the brawl that occurred this Thursday at about 8:00 in the morning in La Tolva, Morocelí, El Paraíso, as confirmed by the spokesman for the Public Ministry of the city of Danlí.” … “According to a reliable source, there would be more deaths in the place, since the attack occurred after the explosion of a fragmentation grenade followed by a burst of shots in the modules where gang members of the [Barrio]18 and the Salvatrucha MS-13 gangs [mara] are found.”
 In English, the title reads: “‘War’ between imprisoned ‘gang members’ leaves three dead and 39 wounded!” The text reads: “MOROCELÍ, El Paraíso. The launch of a fragmentation grenade unleashed a pitched ‘war’ that yesterday afternoon left between three and five dead and 39 wounded among members of the gang [Barrio] 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) imprisoned in the maximum security prison of ‘La Tolva’ or ‘El Pozo II,’ in this jurisdiction.”… “As part of the preliminary reports, it was indicated that, during the skirmish between the inmates, from both illegal association groups, AR-15, AK-47 rifles and nine-millimeter pistols were used, as well as a grenade, and tear gas canisters on the part of security forces in search of appeasing the spirits and retaking the control in the prison.” … “It was 8:30 in the morning and some relatives came to leave medicine and food for relatives deprived of liberty when they heard the loud explosion of a fragmentation grenade, supposedly thrown by the 18 gang at a soccer field where the rivals played and that originated the confrontation.”
 The text reads: “At the La Tolva maximum security prison, located in the municipality of Morocelí in the department of El Paraíso, members of pandilla (gang) 18, armed with AK-47s and fragmentation grenades, attacked the Mara MS-13 medium security module at around 8:00 a.m.”
 “Reyerta entre mareros deja tres mareros y 30 heridos; una Granada explotó en La Tolva.” La Prensa (Honduras). 17 June 2121, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1471661-410/reyerta-tres-muertos-30-heridos-granada-exploto-celdas-la-tolva.
 The text reads: “Five deaths and at least 36 injured is the result of the brawl that occurred this Thursday at around 8:00 in the morning in La Tolva, Morocelí, El Paraíso.”
 Victoria Ditmar, “Honduras Unable to Curb Rising Violence Inside Prisons.” InSight Crime. 20 August 2020, https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/honduras-rising-violence-prisons/.
 An in depth assessment of Latin American prison violence is found in “The Prison Dilemma in the Americas.” InSight Crime. 16 February 2014, https://insightcrime.org/investigations/the-prison-dilemma-in-the-americas/. That report contains five chapters (case studies), including discussion of MS-13 and Barrio 18 competition. Contributors to the series include Steven Dudley, James Bargent, and Juan José Martínez D’Aubuisson.
 See “In Honduras, ‘Gangs Effectively Control the Prisons.’” World Politics Review. 14 January 2020, https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/28469/how-gangs-effectively-control-honduran-prisons.
 John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker, and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht. “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 29: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Attacks Honduran Prison Guards with Grenades and Assault Rifles.” Small Wars Journal. 31 July 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-29-mara-salvatrucha-ms-13-attacks-honduran-prison.
 “Panama jail violence: 13 killed in AK-47 gang shoot-out.” BBC News. 18 December 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50835995.
 “At least 16 prisoners killed in Guatemala jail riot.” Reuters. 30 November 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/guatemala-prison/at-least-16-prisoners-killed-in-guatemala-jail-riot-idINL1N13P0PC20151130.
For Additional Reading
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds. Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2020.
John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker, and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht. “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 29: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Attacks Honduran Prison Guards with Grenades and Assault Rifles.” Small Wars Journal. 31 July 2020.
Anibal Serrano, “Eighteenth Street: The Origins of ‘Barrio 18.’” Small Wars Journal. 30 August 2020.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13: A Law Enforcement Primer.” FBI National Academy Associate. March-April 2018.
Paul Rexton Kan, “Busted: The Micropower of Prisons in Narco States.” Small Wars Journal. 5 December 2016.