• Panama Human Rights

"La Joyita" of Varela’s government: Weapons in prisons

Updated: Nov 29, 2019



PANAMA CITY.- A video recorded in Panama's "La Joyita" prison featuring hooded prisoners carrying high-caliber weapons exposed the irregularities existing in Panamanian prisons such as impunity, corruption, and overcrowding.

A group of prisoners showing their "trophies": high-caliber weapons are depicted in a video that became viral in hours.

At that time, Armando Medina, director of the penitentiary system, acknowledged that "corruption exists in prisons," claiming that members of the internal security of the prison and officials of the National Police would be involved.

Following the controversy, Juan Carlos Varela led an operation in which agents of the security forces seized only 6 weapons. The requisition was made in La Joya prison, where common prisoners, some of them highly dangerous criminals, and gangsters, are confined.


Only 50% of the weapons exposed in the video were seized and the twelve inmates featured were transferred to other prisons.

The director of the penitentiary system and the director of the penitentiary center still remain in their positions while irregularities and failures in the prisons’ security systems are registered.



International bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), have denounced the deterioration of the Panamanian penitentiary system, and urged the Panamanian Government to transfer all the inmates of another prison in the country, such as Punta Coco, located at Isla del Rey, 107 kilometers south of the coast, Las Perlas archipelago, to “a place that meets the international standards that can be applied to all prisoners”.

Omar Pinzón, director of the Panamanian National Police, said that a review was carried out to find weapons and drugs in several prisons and it was supervised by Varela.

Pinzón added that the twelve prisoners members of gangs wielding their weapons shown in the allegedly old date video have been identified and transferred so that they can "cooperate", while 6 semiautomatic and 9-millimeter firearms, ammunition, and suppliers were seized, as well as a "large amount of drug".

Varela considered that the video was "totally unacceptable," and said it should be submitted to the Public Ministry to investigate how these weapons were brought and punish those responsible for the video.

Sixty percent of more than 16,000 prisoners in Panama are confined in two jails in the capital, La Joya and La Joyita.

The Panamanian Government plans to conduct its first census in the country's penitentiary system this year to find data on the inmates’ personal stories to help guide public policies for prevention and re-socialization.

María Luisa Romero, Panamanian government minister, said that the census will begin this year, will last about six months and will involve the Comptroller General’s Office, the National Police and the Institute of Legal Medicine and will include the 22 prisons existing in the country.

The Nueva Joya, a prison with a capacity for 5,500 inmates inaugurated in Panama in 2014 with a 160 million dollar investment, is taken up by only 46% due to the lack of 800 custodians required, said Minister of Government María Luisa Romero.

The mega prison, located about 40 kilometers east of the Panamanian capital, was built by Ricardo Martinelli’s Government (2009-2014) and is one of the largest prison complexes in Latin America, with about 40 hectares and 116 buildings.

The current Juan Carlos Varela’s Administration, who took office in July 2014, spent "a year without occupying the Nueva Joya" saying that it is "irresponsible" to transfer prisoners there without complying with the security and operation protocols, explained the minister.

The Panamanian prison system requires 2,100 custodians but now there are only about 1,000. The custodians, who now earn about $ 690 per month, work in prisons with agents of the National Police, legally authorized to perform these tasks but only in exceptional circumstances.

https://www.panamatoday.com/panama/la-joyita-varelas-government-weapons-prisons-4100

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