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Little Change In Honduras Prison Where 362 Died

By ALBERTO ARCE

JUTICALPA, Honduras (AP) â¿¿ On the 14th day of each month, Jesus Garcia joins other relatives to hoist a cardboard coffin and carry it in a macabre procession down a road to the prison where two cousins died with 360 other inmates in the worst prison fire in at least a century.

It's their way to demand justice in the deaths of Antonio and Franklin Garcia, who were among many left locked in their cells as fire raced through the wooden barracks on Feb. 14 last year, and the handful of guards on duty ran for their lives.

"We go to the jail, in a symbolic procession with a casket, to ask for justice, but we get no answers," Garcia said. "We go to the minister of human rights and she passes it along to the president and he passes it along to the first lady, but then nothing gets done."

A year after the fire in Comayagua, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Tegucigalpa, the investigation remains open and prosecutors have filed no charges. The burned cells and electrical system are still being repaired.

While the government created a new agency told to replace the police in the prisons with specially trained guards, social workers and doctors, the three-person commission that started working last week was given no budget and has no office, according to its director, Agusto Avila.

Even the inmate who was the hero of the fire, finding keys and freeing hundreds of men, was never pardoned as President Porfirio Lobo had promised. Honduran law forbids commuting a murder sentence, so Marco Antonio Bonilla is still serving his time, working in the prison infirmary, where he was awakened that night by the screams of inmates as they were devoured by flames.

"There was no mechanism to extinguish fires, no evacuation plan. The firefighters were not allowed to get there quickly and the guards, instead of acting appropriately, only fired shots in the air, supposedly because that is the established procedure in case of escapes," said government human rights prosecutor German Enamorado, who led the investigation for the Attorney General's Office.

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