(AA) ++ Prisons in Venezuela

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Fri, 4 Oct 1996 18:12:34 +0200

The following article is taken from FREEDOM and is also available from


= 'only eight so far' =

Sabaneta - which holds the record in Venezuela for
penal violence - is in the town of Maracaibo in the
petrol state of Zulia which in turn holds a record:
the richest state in the country.

In 1958, when the prison was built, it was to be a tribute to the
re-establishment of democracy - Western style. On the 3rd January
1994 a massacre occured in the prison instead. At least 106 were
killed in rival feuding between gangs of inmates. The warders
wasted four hours before giving the alarm after a fire -
generously fuelled by petrol - was started. Indeed a journalist
with the TV channel Venevision claimed that the National Guard
sent journalists away claiming, 'the inmates were simply burning
some rubbish'.

The new govenor Giancarlo Di Martino has rolled up his sleeves
and is intent on getting to the heart of the problems the prison
faces: 'we have repainted the building and improved the

Perhaps this is indeed why murders within the prison walls have
gone down from 79 murders in 1993 to 'only eight so far' in 1996.
However, 1993 was something of what we might call a bad year with
600 deaths and 6,000 injuries in Venezuelas prisons. 1995 halved
the death rate... but it was still half.

Who can be surprised when at Sabaneta 2,500 are in a prison built
for 800 according to figures given by the National Guard or 3,000
if you choose to believe the Ministry of Justice.

The law demands, in Venezuela, that inmates should go to trial
within 8 months of arrest - bad enough. The reality is worse.
Again, according to Mr Di Martino, 70% of inmates at Sabaneta are
awaiting trial of whom he estimates 15% are for ID papers
irregularities and the like. Many are arrested under the
'Vagabond Law' which allows imprisonment without trial of those
with neither work nor accommodation for up to five years. Thus a
national prison population of some 25,000 includes about a third
who await trial and they are incarcerated in prisons that were
built to house only 15,000.

A bad situation and perhaps it is worse for the Guajiro indians
who have the misfortune to end up here and who are a hate target
for warders and inmates alike. For this reason they are relocated
to an 'education' centre which isolates them from outside
contact. However, some have managed to get word out beyond the
walls. One said, 'it's worse when a guardia is shot. They come
and take our food and smash our TVs and air conditioning
systems.' Another speaking of a fellow inmate claimed he has been
ill for nine months but had received no medical treatment, 'You
must get medical treatment from outside the prison and even if
you can afford it you still have to pay the warders to let it
in'. A third warned, 'our situation is intolerable. This is the
reason for our violence'.

Of the 'only eight so far' this year three murders have occured
very recently. They are again related to the internal feudings
between gangs. There are renewed fears that Sabaneta will see
another outbreak of violence sometime in the not so distant
future and the rest of the Venezuelan prison system has no reason
to presuppose immunity.


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