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Venezuelan Prison Crisis Continues

Past issues of PLN have reported the massive crisis overwhelming the Venezuelan prison system. This has ranged from riots leaving hundreds of dead, mass escapes, protests and more. Human rights groups claim that Venezuela has the worst prisons in the hemisphere. On December 19, 1994, 41 prisoners at the Tocuyito prison in Carabobo stabbed and slashed themselves to protest conditions in the segregation cells they were placed in after a recent escape attempt. [See PLN, Vol. 5, No. 12].

Prison guards broke up the protest and all the prisoners were treated in a hospital. Prison officials stated that many of the prisoners were seriously injured with stomach wounds and cuts to their necks and wrists. Reporters were able to speak to the prisoners who were in cells covered with blood. The prisoners stated they were being subjected to inhumane living conditions, confined to cells without water or light. Eight prisoners were jammed into cells measuring two square meters. Luis Lugo, police inspector of the Carabobo police stated "It's tough in there, all concrete and very little space. They are not allowed out for exercise "

On December 28, 1994, Justice Minister Ruben Creixems announced that the National Guard would be sent to seven prisons throughout Venezuela from December 29, 1994, until at least January 31, 1995. "The object of the militarization is to protect the life of the inmates and to return order to the penal system." The announcement came several hours after two prisoners died fighting other prisoners in the Catia prison Caracas. On December 30, the National Guard took over Catia prison and confiscated 600 knives and an undetermined amount of drugs.

An unannounced military search for weapons and drugs at the San Antonio prison on Margarita Island, December 22 led to rioting by prisoners. Two cellblocks were set on fire injuring l5 prisoners and one National Guardsman.

On January 2, 1995, prisoners at the Santa Ana penitentiary in Tachira rang in the new year by rioting and killing between 4 and 15 prisoners, the final death toll was not confirmed. According to prisoners quoted by local radio stations the incident began when newly arrived prisoners began robbing other prisoners at the prison. To halt the thefts a group of veteran prisoners attacked the robbers with guns and knives. Santa Ana was built to hold 1,400 prisoners but now holds 1,900 The prison was surrounded by army troops who did not enter the prison until after the fighting was over and prison officials had made a deal with the prisoners to transfer the new prisoners to other prisons

Provea, a Venezuelan human rights groups reported that from January l through September l, 1994, at least 498 prisoners were killed and 1,127 wounded in Venezuelan prisons. "The levels of prison violence continue rising. Prison riots take place virtually every day." The death toll is due to fighting between the prison gangs and murders by government security forces. The Venezuelan prison system holds over 33,000 prisoners in 33 prisons, four times its rated capacity. Prisoners continue to be tortured and ill treated by police and prison forces.

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