Venezuela Prisons are ‘Powder Kegs’: NGO

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A prominent NGO in Venezuela has strongly criticized the prison ministry’s failure to address chaos in the penitentiary system after yet another violent confrontation left scores of prisoners dead.

According to Humberto Prado, coordinator general of the Venezuela Prison Observatory (OVP), the country’s jails are “powder kegs,” which authorities “only remember when one explodes,” reported Globovision.

Prado criticized Prison Minister Iris Varela for failing to act effectively since the creation of her ministry and her appointment two years ago, and highlighted dire overcrowding in jails.

The declarations come days after a brutal battle in Maracaibo National Prison left 16 inmates dead, and less than a month after six prisoners were killed during violence in the same facility. In January, 61 inmates were killed in a riot at a prison in Barquisimeto, which was subsequently abandoned.

Speaking on September 19, Varela announced the evacuation of the Maracaibo prison, as she blamed the current situation on government policies predating the 1999 to 2013 presidency of Hugo Chavez, who died in March.

According to figures from the OVB, last year 591 prisoners died in Venezuela’s prisons, which are running at more than 290 percent capacity.

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuela’s nightmarish prison system is one of most dangerous in the world, and Varela has done little to address the situation since her appointment by Hugo Chavez, who, in turn, did little to tackle prison conditions and violence in 14 years of power.

This institutional neglect has left the prisons in the hands of criminals, led by gang leaders known as “pranes.” Highlighting the authorities’ total lack of control, “El Mocho Edwin,” the newly declared “great pran” who apparently orchestrated the recent violence to extend his control in Maracaibo prison was able to give a telephone interview to Venezuelan press the day after the incident.

He has since declared that “Iris [Varela] would have to bring me out dead” if she wanted to remove him from the facility, promising yet more violence lies ahead if the minister is to follow through with her evacuation plan.

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