Mérida, January 4th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Minister for Prison Services Iris Varela informed yesterday that families have “self-kidnapped” themselves in the Yare 1 prison in Miranda state in order to make political demands, while over Christmas President Hugo Chavez issued a presidential pardon for 141 prisoners.
The families in Yare 1 prison were on overnight visits for the New Year. Varela said officials from her ministry had been designated to the case to “exhaust the use of dialogue”. She said that at the moment there are 955 people “self-kidnapped”, or refusing to leave, of which 800 are women, five are men, and 150 are children or teenagers.
Varela told state channel VTV that the method used “isn’t the way to pressure, and they know it, we already have the experience of Tocuyito, Carabobo [where a similar self-kidnapping occurred].”
In October last year Tocuyito prisoners stopped prison workers, including doctors and teachers, from leaving the jail in order to demand that their trials take place in courts that were closer by. No one was injured or killed.
Varela accused organisations such as the “CIA” of “trying to use family self-kidnapping as a focal point in order to destabilise the country”.
She also criticised comments made by some NGO representatives. “They come out talking about the penitentiary system as though they were in it, when they have never been to a single prison in this country,” she said.
According to El Universal, Carlos Nieto Palma, director of NGO Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Freedom), was “contacted by prisoners” and told press they were protesting over supposed “mistreatment” employed by prison authorities. Nieto Palma also told Globovision that “nothing has improved” in the prisons.
Nieto Palma told press that the policy of allowing overnight visits “covers the state’s shortages, as the families bring clothes, food, and clean the cells”, while the prison services ministry has said the measure is in order to “humanise the prison environment and decrease violence levels”. Overnight visits have been allowed since 2008.
Una Ventana para la Libertad is a Venezuelan group which focuses on the country’s prisons and which has supported the position of Human Rights Watch in the past (an NGO which has been highly critical of the current government). According to the description on its website in 2004, Una Ventana para la Libertad received support from the U.S embassy.
On Christmas day (celebrated on 24 December in Venezuela), Chavez announced the presidential pardoning and immediate release of 141 prisoners.
Chavez explained that the prisoners are being pardoned based on criteria such as conduct in the prison, the seriousness of the crime they committed, completing at least a quarter of their sentence, or being mothers of children who are not being well cared for.
“This is justice, and its motivation for you compatriots who are still in prison,” he said.
Chavez said he was willing to use the measure again, “whenever it’s necessary, it could be just the one case or one hundred times.”
41 of the prisoners are women, and they come from various jails around the country.
“The people being released today will need to be followed up and given a life plan…a lot of them lost direction, we should help them to recover the path of living life,” Chavez said.
Varela said yesterday that the pardoned prisoners will meet with members of government tomorrow in order to “discuss a plan of action” and added that “we already have work offers for them”.
In June last year the government created a Prison Services Ministry in order to “transform” and “humanise” the prison system. The move was made during the Rodeo Prison riots.
Venezuelan prisons have been known for their overcrowding, bureaucracy, and poor conditions for decades. The prison population has also grown dramatically over the last three years, “due to a strengthening of the country’s public safety initiatives”, according to vice minister of justice, Edwin Rojas. The prison population is currently over 40,000.