CARACAS – At least six inmates died and eight guards were taken hostage in a brawl that soon turned into a riot at a prison in the southwestern Venezuelan state of Tachira on the Colombian border, state officials said.
“A fight broke out between several inmates sparked by overcrowding, a dispute between rival gangs and because police were slow to act,” the secretary of the Tachira state government, Julio Cesar Hernandez, told Efe.
“Six individuals lost their lives” in the rioting, and now inmates “are holding eight guards hostage,” Hernandez said.
The conflict broke out after a group of guards allowed three guns into the jail, with which certain inmates shot and killed fellow prisoners, Hernandez said.
A negotiating table has been set up with judicial authorities together with members of the armed forces and the Ombudsman’s Office to work out a solution to the conflict, Hernandez said.
The prison is “small” and designed as a detention center for “a maximum of 48 hours,” but in some cases the inmates have been there for two or three years, Hernandez said.
“Some highly dangerous prisoners are being held there,” Hernandez said.
In a jail meant to hold between 115 and 120 inmates there are now 192, a police spokesman told Efe.
In November the prison was the scene of another clash among inmates that left eight dead and two wounded, while four cops were taken hostage but were released several hours later.
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 30, 2011, according to the non-governmental Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, or OVP, the deaths of 487 prisoners have been confirmed, topping the 476 killed in 2010.
The Venezuelan penitentiary system is undergoing a grave crisis caused by the courts’ delay in trying detained suspects, and by the overcrowding in the nation’s 34 prisons, which were built for 14,500 prisoners but currently hold 44,520. EFE