Venezuela Government to Investigate Prison Riot After 54 Die

Venezuela’s government will conduct an investigation into a prison riot that left at least 54 dead and 93 injured, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.

Fighting broke out yesterday between guards and inmates prior to a planned search of the Uribana prison in the western state of Lara, Maduro said early today.

“There was a situation of tragic confusion that we greatly regret,” Maduro said on state television. “The plan to reform our prisons will continue to ensure they aren’t ruled by violence, Mafia, drugs and death, as they have been for a long time.”

Prisons Minister Iris Varela said the riot occurred after local media alerted inmates to the imminent search for weapons by prison guards. Interior Ministry spokesman Jorge Galindo didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment.

The government, which began moving inmates to other prisons, will evacuate Uribana, Varela said today in a televised press conference.

“We exhort the Uribana inmates to quickly collaborate in the evacuation to eradicate this chapter of violence,” Varela said.

Riots at Venezuela’s Yare I prison left at least 20 dead in August 2012, underscoring conditions of crowding and rivalries between criminal gangs, according to Human Rights Watch.

Uribana, designed to hold 850 prisoners, houses 1,400, according to Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a watchdog agency. At least 22 inmates died in rioting at Uribana in 2007.

“Our country’s prisons are an example of the incapacity of this government and its leaders, who never solved the problem,” Opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on his Twitter account. “How many more deaths do there have to be in the prisons for the government to acknowledge its failure and make changes?”