Details emerged this week of last Friday’s prison riot in western Venezuela, revealing 47 people were killed and a further 75 wounded as inmates protested their appalling living conditions amid the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
The latest figures for the riot, which took place Friday afternoon at the Los Llanos prison center in Guanare City, were provided by Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP) rights group, which monitors events in the country’s penal system. The number of casualties was a major increase from initial tallies provided by Venezuelan officials, who claimed that just 17 had been killed and nine wounded.
“At the moment we have been able to confirm 47 dead and 75 wounded,” said Parliamentary Deputy Maria Beatriz Martinez, who represents Portuguesa state where the prison is located, adding that all of the fatalities were detainees. However, several officers were wounded, including the prison’s director and a lieutenant of the Bolivarian National Guard.
There are currently conflicting reports as to the cause of the riot. According to the army’s official report, the unrest began when inmates started destroying the facility’s security fences and staged a massive escape attempt. However, that version of events was refuted by both the OVP and Martinez, who said that the prisoners were being denied access to food and medicine brought to them by their families because of the risk of contagion.
As tensions began to escalate, guards reportedly opened fire on the inmates, leading to a bloody escalation of events that culminated with over 100 people killed or wounded. OVP director Carolina Giron told the AFP that the identities of those killed were later confirmed by relatives who were shown pictures of their loved ones on a computer. She added that the family and friends of wounded inmates are not allowed to visit the hospital where they are being treated.
Should just one individual contract the virus from someone on the outside, the overcrowded nature of Los Llanos, which holds 2,500 despite its capacity of just 750, means that inmates would be especially vulnerable to widespread contagion. With Venezuela in the midst of one of the world’s worst economic and humanitarian crises, conditions in its prisons are as bad as anywhere in the world.
As explained by Human Rights Watch:
Corruption, weak security, deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowding, insufficient staffing, and poorly trained guards keep armed gangs in effective control over prison populations in Venezuela. The United Nations has reported that prison infrastructure is infested with rats and insects, and detainees do not always have access to natural light, food, or water.
According to the OVP, 97 people died in Venezuelan prisons last year alone, the large majority of which were the result of untreated illnesses such as tuberculosis. So far, officials have recorded no cases of the coronavirus in the nation’s jails, with the socialist regime claiming that there are just 330 cases of the virus nationwide and ten deaths, an astonishingly low figure given the vulnerability of the country’s population and decrepit medical system.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic on a global scale, prison riots have broken out all around the world, mainly as a result of further restrictions on inmates’ liberty. In South America alone, prison riots have taken place in Peru, Brazil, and Colombia, with all outbreaks ending with significant bloodshed.