BRAZIL: Prison into Fortress

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To some 700 men & women on the rugged island of Fernando de Noronha, far out in the South Atlantic, the fortunes of World War II last week brought hope of excitement, if not of freedom. Brazil announced that she was converting her island prison into an island fortress.

Far more difficult to escape from than famed Devil's Island, Fernando de Noronha houses murderers and other felons from the State of Pernambuco, political prisoners from all Brazil. Between the island and Natal, on the bulge of South America, lie some 225 miles of ocean. Few prisoners ever escape, for authorities see to it that there is little wood for building boats or dugouts.

Discipline on the island was once so harsh that a favorite punishment for incorrigibles was to maroon them without food or water on a shelterless, rat-infested islet. Many men preferred death among the sharks in the water to fighting off the rats for days & nights on end.

Well fortified, with its 1,089-foot Pyramids looking far to sea, Fernando de Noronha should make a bristling outpost between South America and Dakar. On the six-by-two-mile island there is already a small airfield, built by Air France before the war. Since the war began, Brazil has been building hangars and fortifications.