A Venezuelan prison riot has left dozens dead, with estimates ranging from 54 to 93 killed, as the violence stretched into its second day Saturday.
Venezuelan National Guard troops were forced to respond to the scene at the Uribana prison in Barquisimeto in the western state of Lara, after a fight broke out when officials attempted to organize a search of the penitentiary, according to Agence France-Presse via Google. Armed inmates clashed with prison guards when they tried to inspect a cell block.
Prison Minister Iris Varela said media outlets may have inadvertently tipped off prisoners that a search was imminent, thereby “triggering the violence,” although she added the exact details remain unclear.
While Varela didn’t offer a death toll during her televised comments Friday, she did add that part of the inmate population was being transferred to a nearby facility to “close this chapter of violence.”
Bloomberg News reported the prison was designed to house 850 inmates, but that almost twice that number currently reside there.
“There was a situation of tragic confusion that we greatly regret,” Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on state television Saturday morning. “The plan to reform our prisons will continue to ensure they aren’t ruled by violence, Mafia, drugs, and death, as they have been for a long time.”
Families of the inmates wept outside as bodies, many of them disfigured, were removed from the prison. Only 12 have been identified so far, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Uribana facility is a notoriously violent prison that is home to some of Venezuela’s worst street gangs. Human-rights groups have long advocated change at the penitentiary, citing overcrowding. Two watchdog groups released a joint statement in the wake of the most recent riot, calling on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to make good on his promise to improve prison conditions.
“No one doubts that inspections are necessary procedures to guarantee prison conditions in line with international standards, but they can’t be carried out with the warlike attitude as (authorities) have done it,” human-rights leader Humberto Prado told the Associated Press. “It’s clear that the inspection wasn’t coordinated or put into practice as it should have been. It was evidently a disproportionate use of force.”