Venezuela escalates efforts to reclaim control of fifth gang-run prison

In this April 28, 2017 file photo, prison guards stand on the roof of the Ramo Verde military prison in Los Teques, on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo/AP Archive)

Venezuelan authorities on Monday took control of a fifth gang-managed prison as part of a plan to dismantle "criminal structures" embedded in penitentiaries, authorities said.

The Vista Hermosa Penitentiary, in a mining region of the southern state of Bolivar, "is already taken" by state forces, Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos told official channel VTV.

"We have guaranteed the seizure of the most populated (prison) centres we had in Venezuela," Ceballos said, noting that the 1,228 inmates housed in Vista Hermosa will be "temporarily" moved to other prisons in the country.

The Ministry of Penitentiary Services published images of inmates sitting in rows in the patio of the prison, their torsos uncovered and their hands cuffed.

Authorities began their seizure of the prisons on September 20, taking control of Tocoron prison in the state of Aragua.

Inside that prison, authorities found restaurants, a pool, a nightclub and a zoo, as well as reggaeton studios where prisoners would film music videos and upload them to YouTube.

Raids followed on Tocuyito jail, the largest prison in the country and located in the central-northern state of Carabobo, and the Puente Ayala jail, in the eastern state of Anzoategui.

'Penitentiary system freed from gangs'

In nearly all the prisons, authorities said they found arsenals of weapons used in crimes committed outside of prison walls.

Last Friday, security forces in armoured cars rolled into the La Pica penitentiary in the eastern state of Monagas, where they said gangs had been running an "extortion centre."

The five prisons had close to 8,000 inmates: 1,600 were in Tocoron, 2,000 in Tocuyito, 1,511 in Puente Ayala and 1,496 in La Pica, according to official figures.

President Nicolas Maduro called for the application of a "strict regime" in the prisons: "Iron hand, maximum discipline and a penitentiary system freed from gangs."


Source: TRT