The sketchy details of an alleged drug overdose by dozens of inmates in a Venezuelan prison has put the spotlight on the government’s lack of transparency, as well as again revealing the inadequacies of the country’s overcrowded and violent penitentiary system.
According to government reports, hunger strikers protesting the conditions in Uribana prison in Venezuela’s northwest Lara state stormed the medical facilities on November 24 and ingested large quantities of alcohol along with various drug medications, reported the Wall Street Journal.
However, the Venezuela Observatory of Prisons has challenged the official account of how the inmates died. Some family members of those killed have told the NGO the inmates were poisoned, reported Reuters.
The Venezuela Observatory of Prisons also confirmed on December 1 the number of dead stemming from the prison strike has now reached 41, reported El Nacional.
With the death count continuing to grow — government sources initially reported just 13 deaths — Human Rights Watch has called on the Venezuelan government to investigate the cause of the inmate deaths.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite demands from Venezuelan and international watchdog groups for an open and impartial investigation into the nature of how the inmates were killed, it is doubtful the Venezuelan government will allow that to happen. The ruling socialist party is notorious for relying on propaganda and misinformation to keep the support of the Venezuelan people, and would likely refuse to allow access to any information that could implicate the state in the prisoner deaths. It comes as little surprise, then, that authorities have reportedly sealed off the prison to family members.
The wide discrepancy between the country’s official murder rate and that of a domestic NGO also demonstrates the government’s politicization of unflattering crime statistics.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profile
The death of over 40 inmates also highlights the ongoing crisis in Venezuela’s prison system, considered the most dangerous in the world. The prisons are breeding grounds for organized crime, and for years authorities have struggled to keep control of the facilities. Venezuela’s overuse of pretrial detention — the third highest in the region — facilitates this culture of prison violence, in which inmate deaths are all too common. The recent escape of 42 prisoners from a facility on the outskirts of Caracas further cements the reputation of Venezuelan prisons as outside the control of the state.