Venezuela transfers inmates from prison after riot kills 58

Sun Jan 27, 2013 8:02pm EST
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By Girish Gupta

URIBANA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities transferred inmates out of a prison on Sunday following a bloody riot two days earlier that killed 58 people and again highlighted chaos in the country's jails.

It was the fourth high-profile incident in 18 months in a penal system that has experienced repeated fatal clashes and shootouts. Venezuela's prisons house three times the number of inmates they were designed to hold.

The violence broke out at the Uribana jail as cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez continues receiving treatment in Cuba and Vice President Nicolas Maduro - the notional head of state - visited him in Havana then flew to a summit in Chile.

In surprisingly candid comments to state TV, Prisons Minister Iris Varela acknowledged that weapons-smuggling enabled by corrupt prison workers had let armed gangs effectively control the run-down facility, near the city of Barquisimeto in southwestern Venezuela.

"It was nearly impossible to operate a penitentiary here given the level of violence," Varela told a news conference. "This is part of the corruption of some officials. We have opened battle lines against them."

Varela said 2,000 male prisoners and 130 female prisoners were being transferred to other facilities, while 46 remained in hospital recovering from injuries.

The government did not provide its own official number of 58 dead until late on Sunday afternoon. A hospital official had earlier put the death toll at 61.

Television images showed the burnt remains of cells that had been burned by prisoners. Makeshift shacks with teetering roofs and exposed electrical wiring, built by inmates in the overcrowded prison, lay charred by the blaze.   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