Welcome to the tropical prison that some don’t want to leave

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File photo taken on March 16, 2019, showing a view of Islas Marias federal prison at Isla Maria Madre in the Pacific Ocean, some 120 km off the coast of Nayarit state, Mexico. (AFP / JOSE OSORIO)
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View of the entrance to Islas Marias federal prison at Isla Maria Madre in the Pacific Ocean, some 120 km off the coast of Nayarit state, Mexico, on March 16, 2019. (AFP / JOSE OSORIO)
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View of security fences of Islas Marias federal prison at Isla Maria Madre in the Pacific Ocean, some 120 km off the coast of Nayarit state, Mexico, on March 16, 2019. (AFP / JOSE OSORIO)
Updated 04 April 2019
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Welcome to the tropical prison that some don’t want to leave

ISLA MARÍA MADRE: More than a century after Mexico established a prison on the Maria Islands — a Pacific archipelago eight hours by boat from the mainland — the country’s new government has decided to close it.
But some prisoners didn’t want to leave the tropical jail.
The inmates and guards on the islands — the Islas Marias, as they are known in Spanish — stayed put even when powerful Hurricane Willa swept over them in October 2018.
But they could do nothing to withstand the force of nature that is Mexican politics.
In February, newly installed leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decided to close the prison, saying the islands — known for their beauty and biodiversity — should not be a testament to “punishment, torture and repression.”
The jail, established in 1905, will now become the Jose Revueltas cultural center, named for a Mexican writer and political activist who was imprisoned here twice in the 1930s.
Situated on Isla Maria Madre, the largest island in the archipelago, the prison has held around 64,000 inmates throughout its history. Last month, the last 584 of them were sent back to the mainland.
Low-risk inmates who were close to finishing their sentences were freed. The rest were sent to another prison in the arid, land-locked northern state of Coahuila.
The change was not necessarily welcome.
Most prisoners lived in semi-captivity on the island, free to roam about in the balmy weather beneath its tropical palm trees. Some even lived with their families.
“It’s a drastic change for some of them. Here, they were used to living in semi-captivity,” said prison guard Jose Becerra when AFP visited the island.
“They were calmly serving their time, living happily with their families. The change took them by surprise, and they were definitely sad to leave.”

Home to low-risk inmates
Isla Maria Madre sits 130 kilometers (80 miles) off the mainland, a far-flung island surrounded by calm, turquoise waters and inhabited by pelicans, parrots and iguanas.
The prison consists of a series of cement houses where low-risk inmates lived, eight to a house, with cement beds and door-less bathrooms. Outside, they had access to an open-air gym, a garden, a woodworking shop and music classes.
The maximum-security building has more traditional cells, with steel bars, two beds per cell, a toilet and a small space to sit. It held 137 inmates before it closed — around one-fourth its capacity.
Today, the prison looks almost like a ghost town, its streets empty except for the occasional golf cart driven by the remaining guards who have yet to be transferred to the mainland.
It still bears the scars of Hurricane Willa: uprooted palm trees, roofless buildings and barbed wire strewn about. The inmates, who were tasked with clean-up after the storm, did not have time to finish the job.
The guards continue raising and lowering the Mexican flag over the prison each day, but have little to do in between.
“It’s not easy to give up living in paradise. It’s always hard to reintegrate into society,” said Ricardo Ramirez, head of the civil protection service for the islands.

Biosphere reserve
In 2010, UNESCO declared the islands a biosphere reserve, the UN agency’s designation for specially protected, biodiverse regions.
The rich array of wildlife on and around the islands includes their famous sharks — the main impediment facing would-be fugitives.
Few prisoners attempted to escape over the years. The ones who did often ended up roaming the island — which measures 20 kilometers long by 10 kilometers wide — hunting small animals for food, until they were recaptured.
“As you can see, the (prisoners’) houses don’t have bars. They were allowed to walk around during authorized hours, go for a run, play basketball or football, watch TV, come to the workshop,” said Gregorio Lopez, security chief for one of the prison’s sectors.
Not all considered it a tropical paradise, though. In 2013, around 650 prisoners rioted in the maximum-security sector, demanding better food and medical treatment. Around 30 people were wounded.
Once a week, a boat ferries guards and supplies to the port of Mazatlan on the mainland, a trip that takes seven to 12 hours.
Soon it will ferry the last guards back to shore, and the Maria Islands will begin a new chapter.


4 shot, 3 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

A general view of the scene of a shooting incident just outside the city hall square where Toronto Raptors players were holding a victory rally to celebrate their NBA title. (Reuters)
Updated 15 min 42 sec ago
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4 shot, 3 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

TORONTO: Gunfire broke out and a stampede ensued as fans celebrated at a rally Monday for the NBA champion Raptors, leaving four people shot and thousands fleeing less than a block from where the players and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat on stage.
Three people were arrested and two guns were recovered, Toronto police said, and investigators did not discuss a possible motive for the attack.
Droves of Raptors fans ran from the shooting in a stampede from the City Hall square, which was packed with tens of thousands of people. Earlier Monday, well over a million fans packed downtown Toronto for a parade for the Raptors, raising concerns about safety and overcrowding as the city celebrated its first major sports title in more than a quarter-century.
Police Chief Mark Saunders said four people suffered gunshot wounds but said none of the injuries were life-threatening. Others suffered minor injuries as they tried to get away from the shooting, said Saunders, who asked for witnesses and people who might have video to come forward and help investigators.
Andrew Singh said he heard what appeared to be gunshots and that a woman was wounded before people started scrambling.
“We just saw the girl drop to the floor and the guy running off,” the 29-year-old said. “All I heard was, ‘bop bop bop.’
Asked if it was a targeted shooting or terrorism-related, police spokeswoman Allison Sparkes said the investigation was ongoing.
During a speech from one of the team owners, the host of the rally interrupted the proceedings to alert the crowd to an emergency and asked for calm. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor John Tory, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and other players were among those on stage at the time.
“I want to make sure everyone stays calm,” said the host, sportscaster Matt Devlin. “This is serious. Everyone stay calm ... There is an emergency being dealt with.”
Those on stage remained in place and speeches resumed shortly after.
Mike Mudidi said he was enjoying the celebration when he heard screams behind him that someone had pulled out a gun. He said he froze as people started running in all directions.
“I just grabbed my buddies’ hands and ran,” he said.
Raptors fan Phil D’Souza said the violence left a bad taste in his mouth, and he questioned whether he would attend a similar event in the future.
“You couldn’t see the shooter but it was that kind of chaos where you’re just expecting to see somebody coming around the corner. It was that kind of vibe,” D’Souza said.
Another fan said the stampede was scary.
“When you see a bunch of people coming at you, you don’t know what to do, whether to run or not. You don’t want to get stampeded over,” Sam Sunday said.
There were at least four abandoned strollers in the square, indicating parents may have grabbed their children and run. Shoes, clothing and bags were left behind. An entire nearby intersection was cordoned off with police tape.
Tory, the mayor, thanked police for their quick response and said he was angered by the shooting.
“It is disappointing and I’m sure a source of anger for more than just me that anyone would carry a gun and discharge it at what was otherwise a joyous celebration,” Tory said in a statement. “I hope those found responsible will be held to account to the full extent that the law permits. I want to commend and thank the millions of other people who happily and peacefully celebrated our beloved Toronto Raptors.”
Tory previously urged every city resident to come celebrate the Raptors’ first championship and declared Monday as “We The North Day,” after the franchise’s slogan.
“Toronto, more than a million of us flooded the streets today to celebrate our Raptors,” city councilman Joe Cressy tweeted. “People of all every age, every race, every religion — our City. As awful as the shooting was and terrifying for many in the crowd afterwards, don’t let it take away from our moment.”
Some 1.5 million fans withstood packed conditions to attend the parade. Nicolas Caramanna, 21, said the crowd started to get rowdy shortly after he arrived at 9 a.m.
Many others chose to miss school or work. Cypher Sabanal, 15, said his mom let him skip class to attend the celebration.
John Moreira called in sick to work so he could be part of Toronto’s first celebration of this magnitude since the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.
“I told my boss I wanted to be at the parade and he said there wasn’t much he could do if I called in sick, so that’s exactly what I did,” the 31-year-old said.
As the parade inched forward — discernibly behind schedule — a number of Raptors could not help but marvel at the fan response.
“It’s been amazing,” Leonard said. “Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it.”
Several fans were seen carrying signs imploring Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors. He will be a free agent this summer.
Kyle Lowry, the team’s longest-tenured player, hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy while his teammates smoked cigars.
“This is unbelievable,” he said.