The inmate population in an island prison in Venezuela “honored” the death of the inmates’ criminal leader by shooting what appear to be dozens of firearms into the sky on the prison’s roof, raising alarming questions regarding how the government has allowed the inmates to openly amass such an arsenal.
Video of the event, allegedly recorded by the inmates themselves, surfaces just as Mexico’s Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice publishes a study declaring Caracas the world’s most violent city.
Colombian news outlet NTN 24 identifies the facility as San Antonio prison on the island of Margarita, noting the videos appear to intend to “showcase the arsenal” of weapons the prisoners have collected. None of the inmates wore masks or made any indication that they felt the need to hide their identities. The celebratory gunfire was intended to honor Teófilo Rodríguez, who served ten years in the prison and served as its “pran,” a Venezuelan slang word for the head of any criminal organization operating within a prison.
Authorities believe Rodríguez, known as “El Conejo” (“The Rabbit”), ran a drug trafficking ring from inside the prison, one he formed while an inmate and continued to operate after serving his sentence. He died of gunshot-related injuries after his vehicle came under fire from unknown assailants in front of a night club on Sunday. Officials found about 70 shots were fired on his vehicle, and all other passengers were injured.
In addition to the inmate ceremony, the town of Porlamar, Nueva Esparta state blocked center streets to follow his funeral procession. Businesses also shut down for half the day Tuesday, fearing reprisal from violent criminals who sought to honor their leader.
Post-socialist Venezuela is significantly more violent than the nation Hugo Chávez had yet to govern, with some of the most violent cities turning to prayer to some of the dead criminals—the “thug saints”—to save them from violence as they go about their daily business.
The Venezuelan opposition is demanding President Nicolás Maduro react to both the inmates’ display and the surge of violence nationwide. “These are images that show how violence in our country has inoculated itself [against justice], and [shows] the severity of the problem of arms trafficking,” opposition legislator Julio Borges said of the videos, calling the images “incredible.” “What are common citizens supposed to expect if those already imprisoned have these weapons and control a good part of the nation’s organized crime?” he asked.
The videos surface as the Mexican Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, which researches international crime, crowns Caracas the world’s most violent city. The annual study does not take into account wartime nations—so cities like Homs, Syria, do not qualify. Caracas tops the list with almost 120 homicides per every 100,000 residents throughout the past year. “The homicide rate in Caracas is twelve times what the World Health Organization would consider a violent crime epidemic,” criminologist Luis Izquiel told Spanish newspaper El Mundo. It surpasses San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which has received the ignominious title repeatedly in the past.
The Venezuelan government does not publish official crime statistics; the study cites the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, an NGO, as its source.
President Maduro has done little to address the violence during his tenure. As Spanish newspaper ABC notes, Maduro has invested significant state resources in keeping himself safe, however. Maduro has assigned ten of the nation’s military battalions to focus on his own personal security; between 300 to 1,000 soldiers constitute a battalion.