SAN FRANCISCO DE YARE, Venezuela – Twenty-five people were killed and 43 others hurt in a prison battle in Venezuela as two armed gangs vied for control of a penitentiary near Caracas, authorities said Aug. 20.
One of the dead was a visiting relative while the 24 others were prisoners, some of whom were shot in the face at point-blank range during clashes on Aug.19 in the Yare I prison, said Minister for Prison Affairs Iris Varela.
The facility was back under control on Aug. 20 after the latest bout of violence in Venezuela’s overcrowded prison system, where an estimated 300 people have been killed this year.
Hundreds of family members were visiting inmates when the violence broke out on Aug. 19. Some 900 women were still inside the prison on Aug. 20, apparently to protect their jailed relatives.
Seventeen of the dead have been identified but fingerprints need to be taken to name the rest because those with gunshot wounds to the face could not be identified, Varela said.
The clashes – which left 29 prisoners and 14 visiting relatives injured – erupted after a shot was fired during a “discussion” between leaders of two factions in the prison, though the initial shot did not hit anyone, according to Varela.
Local media said the uprising may have been started by prisoners who had been transferred to Yare I from La Planta, a notoriously violent and overcrowded prison in Caracas that was closed after a weeks-long uprising in May.
Yare I, where President Hugo Chávez was detained after he led a failed coup in 1992, was built to hold 750 people, less than a quarter of the current 3,150 people currently detained there, according to Humberto Prado, head of the NGO Venezuelan Prison Observatory.
The government does not issue regular reports on conditions in Venezuelan prisons and does not confirm most violent incidents.
In June, the government fined a private television network US$2.4 million for its coverage of a bloody prison uprising in 2011.
An operation to retake the El Rodeo prison, on the outskirts of Caracas, in June 2011 left 25 people dead, and some of the inmates escaped.
After that debacle, Chávez gave Varela the task of overhauling a prison system that has 50,000 inmates crammed in facilities built to hold 14,000 people.
Human rights groups say that in 2011, the year Chávez created the ministry of prison affairs, more than 500 inmates were killed in violent incidents and another 1,200 injured, more than in previous years.
The Venezuelan Prison Observatory said more than 300 inmates have died in the nation’s overcrowded prisons during the first half of this year.