Caracas (AFP) – A prison riot has left at least 47 dead and 75 wounded in western Venezuela, a country where NGOs and inmates’ families regularly denounce unsanitary conditions, violence and overcrowding behind bars.
The Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP) rights group provided the figures for the riot, which happened Friday afternoon at the Los Llanos prison center in Guanare city.
Parliamentary Deputy Maria Beatriz Martinez, who represents Portuguesa state where the prison is located, said: “At the moment we have been able to confirm 47 dead and 75 wounded.”
Martinez and the NGO said all of the dead were detainees.
According to an army report on Friday, the disruption started when inmates began destroying “the security fences around the perimeter” in a “massive escape attempt.” It also said the prison’s director was wounded.
Martinez refuted that account, stating the uprising was staged by a group of prisoners “because they did not have access to food.”
According to OVP, guards opened fire following the incident at the facility, which has a capacity for 750 inmates but houses some 2,500.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging, visits from family and friends — who often bring food and medicine to inmates — have been greatly reduced.
“What is happening right now is because of the guards. They don’t transfer the food” brought by families to the inmates, Yessica Jimenez, who knows someone inside the prison, told AFP.
The identities of those killed were verified “through the morgue, thanks to relatives who recognized the dead in photos that were shown to them on a computer,” said Carolina Giron of OVP.
She added inmates’ family and friends “don’t have access to the hospital.”
According to the organization, 97 deaths occurred in Venezuelan prisons last year, 70 percent of which were due to diseases such as tuberculosis and a lack of medicine.
More than 330 cases of coronavirus, including 10 deaths, have been recorded in Venezuela, but authorities say there have been no cases in the country’s jails.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido has refuted Venezuela’s official count, accusing the government of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro of “shamelessly lying.”
The initial toll Friday from the riot was 17 dead and nine wounded.