Mexican Navy manages tourism in prisons on remodeled islands

Maria Verza Associated Press

Mexico City — A small archipelago off the Pacific coast of Mexico, where the island’s prison colonies were located, is ready to accommodate tourists.

But going to Islas Marias is a challenge even for the most rugged tourists today. Often a four-hour boat ride in rough waters. However, the Mexican government plans to make things easier, leaving the national navy to tour the latest new features assigned to the Mexican army under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. ..

Some people, like Beatrice Maldonado, have already imagined a voyage. When Mardonado was trapped between those “water walls”-as the Mexican writer was trapped there-she thought she would never see her mother again.

Maldonad spent only one of his six years in prison there for possession of drugs and weapons, which was the most painful. “I lost my smile, my happiness,” she said. Now 55, a laundry worker and an activist advocate for another imprisoned woman, she wants to close her wounds.

The colony of Islas Marias Prison was founded on Mother Maria Island in 1905. Mother Maria Island is the largest of the four islands and the only one that lives more than 60 miles off the coast of Nayarit. The government closed the prison in 2019 due to frequent hurricanes along the Mexican coast.

Lopez Obrador turned it into an environmental education center, but about 150 young people passed. Today, the government wants to make it an ecotourism destination where visitors can observe seabirds and enjoy the beaches and local history.

The Mexican president announced on Saturday that the Navy will be in charge of managing the tour, expanding the island’s airport and adding two ferries that can travel in 2.5 hours.

Visitors stay in old prisoners and workers’ homes that are being rebuilt to eliminate the need to build new buildings that could damage the archipelago’s nature reserves.

According to Lopez Obrador, everything could be ready in three months. However, the hurricane season begins in June, so it’s unclear when the tour will begin. For many, Islas Marias will be a gathering of tourists like the infamous Alcatraz prison accessed from San Francisco, or a place like Coiba, a prison colony on the island of Panama that was closed in 2004. I am wondering.

The government has been criticized for providing the military with many functions, from construction work and plant nurseries to the management of the new airport in Mexico City, but Maldonado is what the Navy is in charge of tourism. There is no problem.

“I hope there is no nepotism and we all have the opportunity to visit it,” she said in a post-announcement message.

The island is no longer like a prison dormitory like a dirt-floor warehouse with five bathrooms for 500 women that Maldonado remembers. “We lived in a poultry farm,” she said.

Today, the colorful murals of former South African leader Nelson Mandela have been held in prisons on the island for years, visiting a remodeled building, a whitewashed church, and a museum with the Mexican writer Hosere Vertas. Welcoming people. Communist Party as the main character.

“What was hell is becoming a paradise,” said Lopez Obrador.

There was a time when it was called the “Tomb of the Pacific Ocean”. Revueltas said the prison was far worse than could be explained in his book “Walls of Water.” He said he couldn’t explain the worst, either because of humility or because he didn’t know how to show that it was really true.

Colonies of prisons on the island were common around the world to make escape nearly impossible or to rehabilitate by forced labor. Most tried to be self-sufficient.

Prisoners on Mother Maria Island harvested salt and farmed shrimp. They brewed their alcohol from fermented fruits, illegally traded exotic birds, and killed Boa Constrictors to make belts, trying to make a little money.

Later, it was known as a “wallless prison”, and some prisoners lived semi-free and in relatively good condition with their families.

That changed when President Felipe Calderon launched a war with the drug cartel in 2006 and hundreds of new prisoners were sent there. In 2013, the inmate population reached 8,000.

Maldonado served her time at that time. She said a minority of women received the worst treatment. Unlike men, they were not allowed to get out of the fence, even if they had the skills and received very little food. Maldonado’s weight has dropped to about 45 pounds. “They didn’t pay attention to us when someone got sick,” she said. “My friend’s gallbladder ruptured.”

Extreme isolation was the most punishable part and broke only on the 15th of every month when a 10-minute call with relatives was allowed. Those who tried to escape drowned. Occasionally, the Navy rescued others who embarked on improvised crafts.

“The boat came on Thursday to bring us supplies and letters, and I saw my mother’s tears on a dirty page,” Maldonado said. “The worst thing was that I thought I would never see her again.”

Rarely, some relatives visited and then took 12 hours at sea.

One colorful memory of Maldonado was the tube of red lipstick, the only personal item she took. When it was gone, she felt it gave her life, so she solemnly buried it.

A year after Maldonado was transferred to a prison in Mexico City, six people died on the island in a riot triggered by a food shortage.

It was closed in 2019 due to the high operating costs of about $ 150 per prisoner per day, much higher than the mainland. Prison reform has also significantly reduced the inmate population.

Devil’s Island in French Guiana became immortal in the movie “Papillon” and was closed in 1946. Alcatraz Island was closed in 1963. Later, Chile, Costa Rica and other islands in Brazil were closed. The most sudden was the island of El Fronton in Peru, where the government used gunboats to quell the riots in 1986, killing more than 100 prisoners.

Maldonado praises the closure of Marias Island and supports the idea of ​​inviting visitors. She said the income should go to a reinsertion program for prisoners.

She has already written to her ex-Selmate to see if she wants to go with her to a place she never thought she would ever meet again. Mexican Navy manages tourism in prisons on remodeled islands

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