Inmates at a maximum security prison in Venezuela have held some 60 prison employees hostage since October 14, reportedly at the request of a powerful prison gang leader.
The inmates are said to be demanding a transfer out of La Minima, the maximum security unit at Tocuyito prison in northern Venezuela. On Monday, the inmates requested a meeting with the country’s prison minister, Iris Varela, before entering negotiations to free the hostages, but Varela has not yet publicly acknowledged the demand.
According to El Nacional, the facility’s “pran” — or prison boss — instigated the stand-off in order to pressure authorities into transferring him to another prison, Vista Hermosa, further south, where he was formerly held.
A prison official said Sunday that 13 inmates were transferred out of La Minima, but if this group did not include the local prison boss, Wilmer Brizuela, this could explain why the inmates still refuse to release the hostages.
Brizuela is serving a 10-year sentence on kidnapping charges, issued in 2006. He was transferred out of Vista Hermosa in 2008, sparking a mass protest by inmates’ families. When Brizuela was transferred to La Minima in 2010, the inmates at his old facility whipped and cut themselves in an apparent “blood strike.” At the time, inmates said Brizuela maintained order in the prisons and was a defender of inmate rights.
Pranes like Brizuela have been described as the true authorities behind Venezuela’s troubled and overcrowded prison system. The kidnapping of prison employees, sometimes involving hundreds of people, are a common tactic used by inmates to demand concessions.