By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela — Eight inmates were killed and four police officers were taken hostage on Wednesday during a riot inside a prison in San Cristobal. In exchange for the safe release of hostages, prisoners are demanding to be transferred to a different facility. Negotiations with the prisoners began Thursday.
According to State Police Chief, Jesus Berro, a group of inmates reportedly belonging to a gang at the San Cristobal prison were able to shoot and kill eight fellow prisoners and take four hostages after getting a hold of guns and keys to some cells. An investigation into how the firearms were able to enter the prison undetected is on going.
Venezuela currently has 30 prisons, all of which are suffering from severe overcrowding. At 47,000 inmates per prison, each prison is currently holding a little less than four times more inmates than they were originally designed to hold.
In addition to the prisons being overly packed, severe violence and extensive trial delays have added to the stress felt by Venezuelan inmates. Guns and drugs are common inside prisons and many inmates have waited months for their cases to be heard in court.
The poor prison conditions have sparked riots over the past month, including one last month where dozens of people were taken hostage by 400 rioting inmates at a Tocuyiito prison. The hostages were released only after authorities agreed to transfer the inmates to a prison located closer to the court where they would stand trial.
Although President Chavez did not comment on the violence currently occurring in the San Cristobal jail, he has recognized the need for prison reform. “We have to humanize the penitentiary system,” he said on Wednesday.
Chavez, who has himself previously spent two years in jail, is confident that his new prisons minister, Iris Verela, will be able to come up with a solution.
In the mean time, Military Commander, Hector Coronado, is negotiating with the current rebellious inmates in an attempt to regain control of the prison. He has stated that he will not use force.
For further information, please see:
BBC News – Venezuela Prison Guards Taken Hostage After Riot – 02 November, 2011
Washington Post – Venezuela: Prisoners Take 4 Police Officers as Hostages Amid Rioting That Kills 8 Inmates – 02 November 2011
Latin America News Dispatch – Venezuela Prison Standoff Ends After Hostages Released – 26 October 2011
Huffington Post – Venezuela: Prison Workers Still Held Hostage – 24 October 2011