[Representational image] Andy Sacks/Gettyimages

Honduras intends to construct the Western hemisphere's sole island prison colony, where it will send its most-feared gang members, adopting a strategy similar to neighboring El Salvador's tough stance on addressing murder, robbery, rape, and extortion.

Previously, Honduras's progressive president had pledged to tackle gang violence by implementing systemic reforms within governance and the criminal justice system.

President Xiomara Castro's new plan involves the construction of an isolated prison on the Islas del Cisne archipelago, situated 250km (155 miles) off the coast.

The facility is designed to accommodate 2,000 gang leaders, and this measure is part of a broader crackdown in response to the gang-related massacre of 46 women in a prison.

Island prisons were once widespread across Latin America, with facilities present in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

These prisons often became the subject of filmmakers' and authors' fascination due to deadly riots, harsh conditions, and daring prison escapes. However, the last island prison in Mexico closed its doors in 2019.

In Honduras, authorities are placing their bets on revisiting this historical approach, hoping it will help curb the rising wave of violence. Nonetheless, skeptics argue that such moves are merely symbolic gestures and do not effectively address the underlying root causes of the endemic violence in the country.

They emphasize the need for comprehensive measures that tackle the societal issues fueling gang activity and crime.

"A new prison is quite useless if you don't first regain control of the others, you already have," said Tiziano Breda, a Latin America expert at Italy's Istituto Affari Internazionali. "Criminal gangs have shown throughout their history that they can adapt."

Last month, a harrowing incident occurred within one prison, where 46 women lost their lives in a brutal fight among gang members. The victims faced a horrific fate, with many being subjected to gunfire and hacked to death with machetes.

Some inmates were locked in cells, where they were drenched in flammable liquid and burned. This appalling event marks one of the worst atrocities to ever take place in a women's prison in recent memory.

In response to this tragedy, President Castro pledged to take decisive actions and enforce strict measures against the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs, which have been a source of terror in the country for years.

The government's plan involves building a prison on the Islas del Cisne archipelago, where communication can only be facilitated through satellite connections.

Jose Jorge Fortin, the head of Honduras' armed forces, explained that this approach is aimed at preventing gang leaders from running their criminal operations from within the prisons.

The remoteness of the island will also make escape extremely challenging, as it takes approximately a day to reach the Islas del Cisne by boat from the mainland.

The hope is that these drastic measures will help curb gang-related violence and improve overall security within the country.

"It's the farthest away they can possibly be, so these gang leaders feel the pressure once they're on the island," Fortin said. "The idea is that they lose contact with everything, contact with all of society ... and they can really pay for their crimes."

The images mirror those from neighbouring El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has imprisoned one in every 100 people in the country, throwing thousands into a "mega-prison."

Sharp dips in violence in El Salvador have spurred on a sort of populist pro-Bukele fervour across Latin America.

"If another country has done something well, why not copy it?" Fortin said. "We're not going to let this ... atmosphere of terror go on."

The selected prison site on the Islas del Cisne archipelago has remained largely uninhabited and has held the status of an environmentally protected territory for over thirty years.

However, this pristine natural area is now facing significant concern as it is poised to become the location of the proposed prison, Al Jazeera reported.

The Honduran Biologists Association recently issued a statement expressing their worries about the potential environmental impact of this facility on the island.

They view the prison as a serious threat to the island's rich biodiversity, where lush landscapes and vibrant blue waters teem with diverse forms of life.

The development raises important questions about the balance between addressing security issues and preserving precious ecosystems in the region.

"A prison is incompatible with the ecosystems, species, scenic beauty and climate conditions of the archipelago," the organisation wrote.

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