CARACAS – At least seven inmates died and eight more were wounded in a Venezuelan prison riot, while at another penitentiary prisoners barred more than 1,000 of their visiting relatives from leaving, non-governmental organizations said Monday.
“A fight took place at the jail in (the western city of) Merida that left seven dead and eight wounded in clashes between inmates in Cellblocks 1 and 2,” the director of the NGO A Window on Freedom, Carlos Nieto, told Efe.
The director of the non-governmental Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, or OVP, Humberto Prado, confirmed the report, though he said that while eight people were seriously wounded, firefighters and Civil Protection paramedics came to the aid of another 20.
Prado said the riot broke out as a result of clashes between armed groups of inmates fighting for control of the jail.
“The Merida prison, known as the Andean Region Penitentiary Center (Cepra), has a population of some 1,500 inmates, of whom approximately 65 percent are being tried or are awaiting trial, while the rest have been sentenced,” Prado said.
The OVP director said that the Merida jail fatalities come after another 20 deaths so far this year in the Andean states of Barinas and Tachira and the eastern state of Monagas.
Elsewhere, civil organizations reported that on Sunday between 1,200 and 2,000 people who were visiting relatives incarcerated at the West-Central Penitentiary Center, known as the Uribana Jail, were seized by inmates as a means of stopping the intervention by military police expected for this Monday.
“More than 1,200 family members are being held in Uribana,” Prado said, adding that while some of inmates’ relatives have expressed their compliance with remaining behind bars, others are being held there against their will.
The director of A Window on Freedom said that some 2,000 family members were seized as they were about to leave the prison after their Sunday visit.
“Their detention is a protest because, supposedly, according to the inmates, the jail was going to be militarized this Monday,” Nieto said.
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 30, 2011, according to the OVP, the deaths of 487 prisoners were 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 some 45,000. EFE