Dozens killed in Venezuela prison riot

Opposition lawmaker says the riot followed a ban on inmates’ family members bringing them food during visitation.

Human rights organisations say prisons in Venezuela are badly overcrowded and violent [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]
Human rights organisations say prisons in Venezuela are badly overcrowded and violent [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

A prison riot in the western Venezuelan state of Portuguesa has left at least 46 people dead and 60 injured, according to a rights group and an opposition lawmaker.

Beatriz Giron, director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons which advocates for inmates’ rights, said 46 bodies had been identified after the incident on Friday at the Los Llanos penitentiary.

The country’s prisons minister, Iris Varela, told local newspaper Ultimas Noticias on Friday that the incident resulted from an escape attempt and that the prison director had been shot and wounded. She did not give a death toll, and Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Maria Beatriz Martinez, an opposition lawmaker from Portuguesa, said the riot followed a ban on inmates’ family members bringing them food during visitation, which is common in Venezuelan prisons.

The visitation restrictions are part of the country’s effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in its overcrowded prisons.

To date, Venezuela has confirmed 335 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths associated with COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the pathogen. 

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by a deepening political and economic crisis. Street violence is common in the nation that has had nearly 5 million residents flee in recent years as public services crumble.

Venezuela has roughly 30 prisons and 500 jails that can hold an estimated 110,000 inmates. Human rights officials say the prisons are violent and badly overcrowded, with gangs that traffic weapons and drugs in control.

According to the human rights group Venezuelan Prison Observatory, the Guanare prison was built to hold 750 inmates but is jammed beyond capacity with 2,500 inmates.

A similar riot occurred a year ago in a nearby jail also in the state of Portuguese, where 29 inmates died at a police jail that housed several hundred detainees. Violence broke out when armed inmates objected to officers entering the jail.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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