Panama: Fire in Youth Prison Sparks Controversy

The Panama national police have written another controversial chapter in the administration of the current government of Ricardo Martinelli. The site Kaosenlared [es] reports what has happened:

7 menores recluidos en el Centro de Cumplimiento de Menores resultaron seriamente quemados, 5 de ellos de gravedad, en un incidente ocurrido este domingo 9 de Enero.

Los menores reclamaban que tenían más de 8 días sin agua, producto de la crisis del suministro de agua potable en la ciudad capital. Más de 8 días sin bañarse ni tomar agua.

Una de las celdas se incendia y los menores imploraban a los policías que los auxiliaran. Los policías no actuaban y hasta se mofaban del sufrimiento de los jóvenes.

The 7 locked-up minors in the correctional facility for juvenile offenders were burned seriously, 5 of them gravely, in an incident that happened this past Sunday January 9th.

The juveniles complained they went without water for 8 days, a by-product of the potable water supply crisis in the capital city. More than 8 days without washing or drinking water.

One of the cells was set fire and the juveniles implored the police to help them. The police didn't act and even made fun of the suffering of the young men.

The situation has caused all types of reactions, more still after the death of three of the young men. For its part the police are trying to defend themselves and explain what happened, and on the other side the Panamanian people are divided between those asking for heads to roll among the facility's guards and those that justify the police actions.

Gloribeth Sinclair (@glorisin) shares on Twitter:

NO puedo ser tan justa con mi opinion sobre los presos quemados (menores) si ellos NO son justos con las personas que han matado u robado!

I CANNOT be fair in my opinion of the burned prisoners (juveniles) as they were NOT fair to the people that they murdered or robbed!

For her part, Natasha Pineda (@natashaP12) shows her disgust of the police actions.

Aun no creo lo inhumanos que fueron esos policias con los menores de edad! Ya van 3 muertos y siguen en cuidados 4 mas ¿y el cambio?

I still don't believe how inhumane the police were to those minors! Already 3 have died and 4 more remain in critical care. And for what?

Susana Merina Lezcano in her blog Sin mordazas [es] debates the same worry of many Panamanians, the idea that those boys weren't precisely saints as the families and media attempt to portray them, but that despite that, no human being deserves to be treated that way:

Los familiares de los reclusos dicen en televisión cosas como “el no era malo, solo lo agarraron con una metralleta”, como dijo la abuela del primer muchacho que murió tras este fuego. Es como si la realidad de estas personas estuviese tan distorsionada que no tienen consciencia de qué tan malos son los pasos que siguen sus hijos, o su entorno está tan podrido que para ellos es normal que un niño tenga un arma.

The families of the inmates say on television things like “he wasn't bad, they just caught him with a submachine gun,” as the grandma said of the first young man that died after the fire. It is as if the reality of these people has been so distorted that the families are no longer aware of how bad the path their sons were on was, or their environment is so twisted that for them it is normal that a boy would have a gun.

Susana adds to these thoughts that the same reasons that brought those young men to be in jail are the same ones that brought the police to the point that they acted the way they did:

¿Que los guardias del centro actuaron de forma inhumana? No podemos esperar otra cosa, si muchos de estos guardias provienen de los mismos barrios que los infractores que custodian, y al igual que ellos, crecieron influenciados por el mismo sistema corrupto donde un celular vale más que una vida.

Why did the guards of the center act so inhumanely? We can't expect something different, as many of the guards come from the same neighborhoods as the offenders they guard, and just like the inmates, grew up influenced by the same corrupt system where a cellphone is valued more than a human life.

Publio De Gracia (@PublioDeGracia) reminds Panamanians that those who died and suffered burns were also human beings.

escucho que algunos aplauden lo del centro de custodio de menores, xq no importa eran “maleantes”, CARAJO! eran seres humanos x Dios

I hear that some have cheered what happened at the correctional facility for juvenile offenders, because it doesn't matter what happens to “thugs,” BULLSHIT! They were human beings, for Christ's sake!

Yadisel Buendia (@yadiselbuendia) joins the clamor of Panamanians that demand punishment and imprisonment for those that participated in this atrocity.

Nadie preso x crimen contra menores del C. Cumplimiento. Ya van 2 muertos! Reina la prepotencia e impunidad en mi país

No one is imprisoned for the crimes against minors from the correctional facility. Two are already dead! The powerful reign with impunity in my country!

There is nothing left that one can do apart from pausing, reflecting and reviewing the social causes of this situation in the country, this is what Miguelángel Moreno tells us (@mikemocast):

Que clase de agentes de la seguridad publica tenemos en (no todos); el caso de los menores quemados y ejecutados es de analisis!

What type of officers of law and order do we have (not all); the case of the burned and murdered minors should be analyzed!

It remains to be seen what will happen to the implicated police officers in this horrible situation. For the moment Panamanians hope that something like this will not happen again.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site