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

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.


India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.