EspañolAt least 41 inmates have died as a result of a mass intoxication at the David Viloria penitentiary center in northwestern Venezuela, according to a local prisoner-rights group. “As far as we know, 41 prisoners have been confirmed dead,” said Humberto Prado, member of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons (OVP).
On November 24, inmates at the Uribana prison went on a hunger strike to protest for better living conditions in the overcrowded jail, alleging abuses against them and their families.
According to the Venezuelan Ministry of the Penitentiary Service, 145 out of the 3,000 inmates held at the David Viloria prison stormed the infirmary, where they proceeded to “voluntarily and irresponsibly ingest multiple medications.”
The ministry believes the prisoners raided the facility “due to withdrawal derived from their addiction problems.” However, civil society organizations, like the OVP, have questioned the official version of events. “Prisoners are not so stupid to take medication without reading [the label],” said Prado.
Family members claim the prisoners were intentionally poisoned through food and water provided by prison guards during the protest. “They [the prisoners] are not crazy enough to consume those [medications],” said Yesenia Leal, a cousin of one of the victims. “They did not overdose; they were poisoned through their food and water.”
On Thursday, authorities arrested Julio César Pérez, head of the prison, in connection with the prisoner deaths.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch called for the Venezuelan government to “conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations” to clarify what caused the deaths. “Thousands of inmates have died in Venezuelan prisons in recent years, including dozens in the Uribana prison since 2013,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
“How many more need to die for the government of Venezuela to effectively address the crisis in its penitentiary system?”
In November 2014, the Committee Against Torture expressed “alarm in light of reports that describe high levels of violence in penitentiary centers, which registered that 4,791 people died and 9,931 were injured [in Venezuelan prisons] since January 2004,” including 140 deaths in 2014. At least 1,400 people have died in Venezuelan prisons since the Penitentiary Affairs Ministry was created, according to the OVP.