Reporting by Mariangel Moro and Bianile Rivas.
At least 47 inmates were killed inside the Guanare prison, in the Central Venezuela state of Portuguesa on May 1st. Another 75 more were injured.
Initial reports said that May 1st there was a confrontation, which allegedly began with an escape attempt, however, another version is the inmates revolting over food shortages inside the prison which led to attacks against the director and the National Guard officer.
A group of 17 inmates was allegedly trying to break through the perimeter fence before they were killed by National Guard, while another 29 inmates were killed inside the prison.
A National Guard officer, Alberto Castro, was hit in the leg by shrapnel from a grenade thrown inside the guarding command post, while the director suffered two stab wounds.
According to the official version, when the National Guard soldier and the prison director tried to talk to the inmates’ leader, the inmates attacked them. “The inmates broke the perimeter security bars and tried to reach the street, sending unarmed and unprotected inmates forward, who fell as they tried to escape from the prison”, its read the first report.
Four inmates’ relatives, Adriana Leandro, Marlin Hernandez, Yesica Jimenez, and Víctor Calderon, denounced that there was no confrontation rather a massacre. They told that the national guards were encouraging violence at a time when a group of prisoners was demanding better food and more flexible visiting arrangements, both situations that worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of deceases increased to 47, but only twenty-six bodies were released to relatives at midnight, Saturday, May 2. The relatives denounced irregularities in the process; they were only allowed to identify the victims through digitalized photographs of the dead in a computer and not with the corpse.
Police complained that an undetermined number of bodies has not been identified since relatives can’t mobilize to Guanare due to the severe gasoline shortages affecting Venezuela. Other corpses remain in the morgue because their relatives do not have the $500 needed for a funeral.
Besides, according to the family members themselves, as of this Sunday, May 3, there was no list of the dead prisoners, nor the promised coffins. Nor is there any statement by the authorities about the massacre, which also left 75 prisoners injured. Of that total, 52 remain in the emergency of the University Hospital in Guanare.
The families of the victims demanded the presence of the Minister of Penitentiary Affairs, Iris Varela, who, despite the magnitude of the events, has not yet even pronounce herself, let alone visit the prison.
This escape attempt occurs a year after the massacre at the police station in Campo Lindo, another prison located in Acarigua. At that time, thirty inmates died and 19 others were injured, including prisoners and officers.
The human rights organization Provea, reported that the Guanare prison event is the fourth such massacre registered in Venezuela since 2017, after the events at the Amazonas and Carabobo detention center, and the Acarigua police headquarters.
“Impunity favors the repetition of events,” Provea stated, blaming the Maduro regime for not having control over the country’s prisons.
The organization recalls that in 2017, in the Amazonas Detention Center, officers entered the prison and killed 39 inmates. A year later, inside one of the Carabobo state police temporary holding cells, a fire broke after an alleged fight between prisoners and officers, leaving at least 60 people dead.
Provea also recalled the murder of 30 prisoners at the police headquarters in Acarigua, Portuguesa in May 2019, amidst an intervention by the Faes, the same corps involved in the 2017 prison massacre in Amazonas.
“All were killed or injured inside the prison”
Another NGO, the Venezuelan Prison Observatory -OVP by its acronym in Spanish- shared a preliminary report, stating that the inmates were complaining about not receiving the food that their relatives brought for them to the prison.
Allegedly, the food was being held back and stolen by members of the National Guard, which led them to approach the fence that encloses the administrative area of prevention (entrance), to complain about the situation. In return, the troops shot them.
OVP noted that no inmates were found outside the prison. “All were killed or injured inside the prison, that is, they were massacred by shots from the uniformed personnel since, given the high number of dead or injured victims, the disproportionate reaction used by the officials towards the prisoners is evident.”
The document also states that the Los Llanos Penitentiary has a capacity for 750 inmates. “However, at the time of the tragedy, there were 2,500 people deprived of their liberty which according to international standards implies 333 % critical overcrowding,” indicates.
Despite the demands of the relatives of the 47 dead in the massacre, no state military or police authorities or investigative bodies have submitted a detailed report.