CARACAS, Wednesday January 30, 2013 | Update

Six "bosses" controlled Uribana prison in Venezuela

A baseball manufacturing plant was established within the prison facilities in 1999, as part of a project to improve inmates' conditions

Lists showing the names of the jails where inmates were moved to were published on Tuesday. The whereabouts of some inmates is still unknown following the complete eviction of the prison (Photo: Elías Rodríguez / El Impulso)
Wednesday January 30, 2013  03:48 PM
What started as the national model prison in late 1999 ended on January 25, 2013 in blood, death, and violence. This is the story of Uribana jail, located northwest Venezuela, where 58 people died last Friday and over 100 were injured.

The jail was built as a government project for humanization of prisons. A baseball manufacturer sponsored the pilot project, and built a manufacturing plant inside the prison.

The plant operated for one year only. Many inmates benefited from the project, receiving salaries and training under a legal framework.

However, the dream did not last much. Nobody knows why, not even experts in penitentiary affairs.

Sources said that decay took hold amidst government neglect. President Hugo Chávez was already in office by the time. 

Soon, Uribana became a place for "Roman Coliseum" style gladiator fights between prisoners, with overcrowding, violence, and gangs.

Led by prison bosses, six groups controlled a sector: minimum, medium, and maximum-security areas, the school, the administration area, and the church.

Each group had a leader and governance rules, and few clashes between gangs occurred.  

Whenever there was a dispute among inmates, it was settled at the "Roman Coliseum" style gladiator fights, which took place on Mondays and Tuesdays." It was a ruled imposed by the leaders. It was so well organized that nearby hospitals were informed in advance about the clashes so as to be prepared. Nearly 20 injured went to hospital each day these fights took place.

Uribana also became a hot spot for weapons. Prison sources have asserted that the number of arms held at the penitentiary was higher than in other prisons across Venezuela, adding that all kind of weapons could be found.

By collecting USD 18.6 weekly per inmate, it was possible to overhaul the penitentiary, including on cafeterias, nightclubs, children's playground, and inflatable swimming pools for children. In view of water shortage, inmates even paid for water supply. 

Later on, the prison started to sink into violence. Clashes could last even three to four days.  Each time groups clashed, 30-50 people were injured. Bloody fights taking place in 2004 and 2007 led to a resolution issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2007, asking the Venezuelan Government to take prompt actions to curb violence and guarantee the lives and the human rights of inmates and visitors. No official reply was issued.

That very same year, Venezuelan authorities carried out an inspection. Five years later (November 2012), Minister of Penitentiary Affairs Iris Varela announced another inspection that soon after ended in a deadly riot and the shutdown of the prison.

Translated by Jhean Cabrera
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."

fotter Estampas
fotter Estampas