Venezuela prison riot kills 61, government mum

Sun Jan 27, 2013 6:25pm EST
 

By Girish Gupta

URIBANA, Venezuela (Reuters) - A prison riot in southwestern Venezuela killed 61 people, a hospital official said on Sunday, although the government has refused to give an official death toll in the bloody standoff that highlighted chaos in the country's jails.

The violence took place on Friday at the Uribana jail near the city of Barquisimeto. Relatives who gathered outside the jail fumed at the lack of information from authorities who have started transferring prisoners to other facilities but have not confirmed how many were killed.

The rioting took place at a time when cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez remains in Cuba receiving treatment and with Vice President Nicolas Maduro - the notional head of state - visiting the socialist leader in Havana and then traveling to a summit in Chile.

The riot was the fourth high-profile conflict in 18 months in a prison system that houses three times the number of inmates it was designed to hold. Critics say it is controlled by gangs with ready access to machine guns and even hand grenades.

"We're suffering here, and the government is saying nothing," said Josefina Ramirez, 36, whose 25-year-old husband was inside. "We want Chavez to come here to give us news. We want an answer."

Chavez has not been seen or heard from in 45 days, which has spurred criticism from opposition leaders that the country is effectively without a president. Allies insist he is fully carrying out duties.

Ruy Medina, director of the Barquisimeto Central Hospital, put the death toll at 61.

A hand-written list posted on a barbed wire fence outside the Uribana jail listed 20 dead and 104 injured. Outside the nearby morgue, where hearses lined up on Saturday to collect bodies, a similar list showed 24 dead.   Continued...

 
Relatives of an inmate of the Centro Occidental (Uribana) prison who died during the uprising at the prison cry outside a morgue in Barquisimeto January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins