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Updated 09/23/2008

MISF associate producer tours U.S. with new film on gang violence and government corruption in Honduras

MISF organizes screenings in effort to raise awareness of Honduran gang issues among policy makers

Honduran filmmaker and MISF Associate Producer Oscar Estrada has been visiting U.S. and Central American cities to screen "El Porvenir," his new film about the brutal slaying of scores of gang members at a Honduran prison. A screening of the film, along with a related book reading, co-hosted by MISF Media on July 22 in Washington, D.C., marked the launch of an effort to bring issues of gang violence in Honduras to the attention of policy makers.

About "El Porvenir"

On the morning of April 5, 2003, news broke of a violent clash between members of the Mara 18 gang and common prisoners at the El Porvenir penal farm in La Ceiba, Honduras. When the fighting was over, 69 people, mainly gang members, were dead—most of them shot, stabbed, beaten or burned.

Although prison officials initially claimed that the Mara 18 had initiated the violence and set the deadly fire in their cellblock, subsequent evidence revealed that the conflict was a premeditated massacre in which prison authorities were actively involved in the execution of unarmed gang members.

In "El Porvenir," survivors and families of the victims tell the story of what happened that day and of their subsequent struggles for truth and justice. Using the tragedy as a springboard, the film also explores the broader issue of gangs in Honduras. While members of Honduran society agree it is a problem in need of a solution, the roots of the problem and the means to solve it aren't easy questions to answer.

"El Porvenir" is a Spanish-language film, with English subtitles available. To learn more about the film, including information in Spanish, and to view a trailer, visit the El Porvenir Facebook page. You can also listen to an interview with Estrada (in Spanish) on KPFK radio in Los Angeles.

About the director

Oscar Estrada is a Honduran film and radio producer who works with the Honduran organization Arte Acción. He has written several screenplays for narrative films and documentaries, which have been produced in Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras and New York. Estrada splits his time between Honduras and the U.S., where he is an associate producer for MISF Media. He holds a degree in film and screenwriting from the International Film and Television School in Havana, Cuba, and is currently pursuing a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

More about the El Porvenir massacre and lawsuit

El Porvenir is a low-security penal farm, where many prisoners are not convicts but rather are awaiting trial in the country's overwhelmed court system. On the day of the massacre, the prison was filled well beyond its capacity. Three months earlier, about 80 members of the Mara 18 were transferred to the facility, sparking tension that authorities apparently took advantage of in the execution of events on April 5.

An independent report commissioned by President Ricardo Maduro shortly after the massacre revealed that prison guards had smuggled weapons into the prison prior to the massacre; that, after the fighting began, other prisoners barricaded Mara 18 members in their cellblock and set it on fire while police stood by; and that police opened fire on gang members attempting to escape the flaming cellblock. The report noted that no firearms were found among the victims.

 On June 4, 2008 the Sentencing Tribunal of La Ceiba handed down 21 guilty verdicts to police and military personnel involved in the massacre at El Porvenir. Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce declared it “an historic verdict" that shows that justice "is advancing so that there will be no impunity." However, Bertha Oliva, coordinator for the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, which helped victims’ families manage the case, noted that the verdicts fell short of historic because “those giving the orders were not convicted.”

While the exact sentences have not been decided, some of those convicted face up to 740 years of prison. In addition to the 21 guilty verdicts, 12 others were exonerated of any wrongdoing, and 17 more are still pending trial because they are currently on the run from the law.

"Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras"

Some U.S. screenings have featured anthropologist Adrienne Pine reading from her new book, "Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras." Through an examination of three major subject areas—violence, alcohol and the export-processing (maquiladora) industry—the book explores the daily relationships and routines of urban Hondurans and presents a portrait of a culture buffeted by the forces of globalization and inequality.

Adrienne Pine is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. For more information about the author and her book, go to her Web site, read an interview with the author published on Upside Down World, or listen to an interview on KPFA radio in Berkeley, Calif.

Screening dates

"El Porvenir" debuted in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on June 29 and toured throughout the United States in July and August, with stops in Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; Washington, D.C.; New York, N.Y.; Philadephia, Pa.; and Chicago, Ill. MISF Media co-sponsored the Boston and D.C. events, the latter in collaboration with the Washington Office on Latin America and the National Center for Refugee & Immigrant Children. The film is currently screening in Honduras and will be shown in cities throughout Central America, with more U.S. screenings planned for later this year.