Violence has rocked Venezuela’s prison system at regular intervals for many years. Last summer at least 25 people were killed after a violent riot occurred in El Rodeo, an overcrowded prison just outside of Caracas. As Time Magazine points out, many of the prisons in the country are essentially run by the inmates while security personnel are stationed to secure the perimeter of the facilities.
This summer has proven to be as deadly as last summer. A 20 day riot has rocked the country’s prison system after prisoners revolted in the wake of involuntary transfers to other jails. Prisoners were armed in the Merida state prison in conditions that were far from livable. The BBC notes that many of the state penitentiaries house three times the number of inmates they were designed to hold, causing friction, tension and unrest as that number only increases and security personnel only have the power to contain the inmates within such a small space.
As many as 500 deaths occur every year due to friction between overcrowded inmates who must work through a dense and sensitive system of rival gangs, who often have connections and recourse to weapons. Three weeks of strife occurred this July in the Merida prison as security forces were finally able to curb the uprising.
The Prisons Minister of Venezuela, Iris Varela, claimed that no one was injured after leaders of the revolt voluntary relented while security forces recaptured the prison, and that everyone’s human rights were maintained and respected. She also stated that such a situation, with so many armed prisoners, would never happen again.
Ms. Varela’s solution to much of the strife in these prisons is to let a large number of the prisoners go. As she told the BBC, “Of Venezuela’s 50,000 inmates, 20,000 shouldn’t be in jail.” Most of those who would be released have committed only minor crimes.
Earlier this month, another prison was rocked by a deadly riot, in which at least 57 women from the female wing of the penitentiary were captured by armed male inmates and held hostage. At least five inmates died in that revolt and another five officers were wounded, the Associated Press reports.
Last year’s prison uprising was one of the worst in history, leaving more than 25 people dead in its wake. Prisoners were locked behind the walls as the riot worsened. The decomposing bodies of victims plagued the complex and it took days for the situation to deescalate.
Many citizens were shocked by the lack of concern Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez voiced about the prison riots. He has been mysteriously ill for more than a year and many people have been speculating about the state of his health and his hopes for reelection at the end of the year. He has been fighting off cancer and taking treatments in Cuba. Recently, he has returned to the campaigning circuit.
Photo Credit: Tony Hisgett
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