Venezuela's fourth prison riot in two years raises questions
Venezuela's Uribana jail riot highlights the need for proper training of security forces assigned to prisons and addressing overcrowding by bringing prisoners to trial, writes WOLA.
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Criticizing media coverage
As with previous cases of prison violence, the government has pointed the finger at the media. At 3:25 pm on Friday Penitentiary Minister Iris Valera appeared on TV to read a statement saying that a procedure at Uribana aimed at disarming the prisoners had become necessary as her office had received, in the previous 48 hours, information about prisoner infighting. She said the operation was kept secret “for obvious reasons,” and that they were surprised when Globovisión and local newspaper El Impulso were publicizing the operation. She accused them of being “detonators of violence.”Skip to next paragraph
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Globovisión responded [on Saturday, Jan. 26] by putting a video up on its webpage, showing the director of Uribana Prison, Nelson Bracca announcing the operation the day before. A note from official news agency Agencia Venezolana de Noticias also suggested that the operation had been announced beforehand.
In 2011 Globovision was fined by the National Telecommunications Council for its coverage of violent incidents at the Rodeo prison that year. The channel had been accused of “generating distress” when one of its reporters declared that the National Guard was “massacring the prisoners.”
Investigation and follow-up
In a nationally televised address in the early morning [the day after the incident], Vice-President Nicolas Maduro announced an investigation and declared that it had been the result of a “tragic confusion,” but insisted that the process of retaking control of the prisons “will continue because prisons have to be governed by the law.” While making brief mention of media sensationalism, warning the opposition to not take advantage of the situation, and blaming capitalism for crime and insecurity, his address was actually notable for assuming responsibility in terms quite different from Varela’s declarations.
In our view, these operations use militarized procedures to address what is essentially an administrative problem, and will likely continue to cause violence. The government first needs to address issues of prison administration, professionalize the guard staff, address overcrowding by actually bringing prisoners to trial (over half are on pretrial detention), and block cell phone connections. Until they address these problems, prison mafias will continue to run lucrative crime networks and stockpile arms regardless of how many search and seizures are carried out.
Today Varela announced that the Uribana Prison would be completely evacuated with the prisoners taken to other facilities. This is a strategy long used by Venezuelan authorities – most notably when then Mayor Antonio Ledezma dynamited the Reten de Catia prison on television – as if the problem had to do with the actual prison buildings. But it too has proven ineffective time and again as it simply leads to more overcrowding and the transfer of existing problems to new spaces.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
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