By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – Inmates in Venezuelan prisons have taken prison officials hostage on two separate occasions in the last two months. On April 27, 2011, at the El Rodeo prison, 22 employee hostages were taken. State officials said that the hostages were taken by the inmates to protest an alleged tuberculosis outbreak.
The hostile take-over ended eight days later when the prison director and 21 prison employees were released. Officials agreed to the inmate’s demands to screen all incoming patients and dismiss one health official within the prison.
On May 20, 2011, at the Caracas prison, the prison director and 14 other employees were taken hostage for over a day as a protest against prisoner mistreatment. The hostage situation began when inmates physically clashed with the National Guard as they were taken to court.
Caracas inmates demanded that their rights be respected and that certain administrative officials be dismissed. No dismissals resulted; however, state officials agreed to investigate alleged incidents of prisoner abuse and to more closely monitor prison employees.
A recent investigation into the San Antonio prison on Margarita Island has revealed a bizarre situation. Inmates of the prison are not incarcerated in the traditional sense. Here, the prisoners have taken control. Children of inmates swim in a prison pool, wives and girlfriends visit regularly and satellite TV is provided. Prisoners mingle freely with each other and with visitors. Not only are they permitted to bet on cock fights, but prisoners openly engage in the sale and use of drugs and firearms.
An incarcerated drug trafficker, Teófilo Rodriguez, referred to as “El Conejo” (The Rabbit) is in control of the prison. He uses other inmates as personal body guards to enforce his power via intimidation and beatings of other prisoners with baseball bats. The prison warden is there simply to decide who is permitted in. Guards search visitors on the way in but not on the way out. Thus, the prison, filled with convicted drug felons, has become a haven for violence and drug trafficking.
For decades, Venezuela has been unsuccessful in tackling the challenges facing its prison system. Overcrowding, inmate gang disputes and prison official corruption are just the beginning. Research done by human rights groups reported that last year, 476 prisoners were killed during their incarceration. This is roughly 1% of the Venezuelan prisoner population.
For more information, please see;
The New York Times – Where prisoners can do anything, except leave – 3 June 2011
MSNBC – Inmates free 15 hostages at Venezuela prison – 21 May 2011
Times Union – Inmates free 15 hostages at Venezuela prison – 21 May 2011
ABC News – 22 hostages held at Venezuelan prison – 29 April 2011