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Venezuelan crisis

Security forces ‘massacre’ 37 inmates awaiting trial in Venezuelan jail, governor says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 6:04pm

At least 37 inmates awaiting trial have been killed during a security raid on a Venezuelan jail, the governor of the southern state of Amazonas said on Wednesday.

Special security forces, including military units, had stormed the prison in the state capital Puerto Ayacucho to confiscate weapons that had been smuggled in to prisoners, said Liborio Guarulla, condemning the raid as a “massacre.”

Fourteen members of the security forces had been injured, the attorney general’s office said.

The jail, located in a remote area of tropical rainforest, houses 105 prisoners awaiting trial. Guarulla said 37 bodies had been counted at the local hospital, representing more than a third of the inmates in the prison.

Witnesses reported fierce gun battles between security forces and the prisoners.

Guaralla said that a year ago, a prisoner belonging to the Colombian rebel group National Liberation Army had died at the jail and that the guerillas, who are active on the Colombian border with Venezuela, had sworn revenge.

“The prisoners armed themselves so as to be ready for a guerilla attack but the authorities said they would disarm them, that they would give them protection, and that led to this assault,” Guaralla said.

The governor, who belongs to Venezuela’s indigenous community and has been in office since 2001, is a member of the Progressive Movement of Venezuela party, part of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition.

In May, he was handed a 15-year ban on running for office, according to the newspaper El Nacional, after repeatedly referring to the government of President Nicolas Maduro as the “red regime.”

Conditions in Venezuelan prisons have deteriorated badly as the country suffers its worst ever economic crisis.

Weapons are routinely smuggled in, and many mutinies have been reported recently as prisoners suffer malnutrition. Twelve people were killed in April in a prison in the city of Barcelona, on the country’s Caribbean coast.

Caracas has also been engulfed by a political crisis, with the opposition accusing Maduro of attempting to establish a dictatorship, while more than 120 people have been killed in anti-government protests.

A newly created constituent assembly, instigated by Maduro, immediately declared itself supreme to all other branches of government, including the opposition-controlled National Assembly, shortly after its inauguration this month.

The United States, the European Union and many Latin American states have refused to recognise it