CARACAS, Venezuela – Fresh fighting between rival gangs in a Venezuelan jail left six inmates dead, raising the death toll in riots this week to 22, officials said Wednesday.
The fighting broke out before dawn Tuesday as inmates armed with knives and guns battled for control of cell blocks in Uribana Prison in the eastern city of Barquisimeto. The initial fighting left 16 inmates dead and 13 injured.
Interior Ministry official Mayerling Rojas told The Associated Press that another six died in a "settling of scores," after 25 inmates involved in the riot were transported later Tuesday to another prison in Guanare in central Portuguesa state.
Rojas said Wednesday the facility in Guanare was "now tranquil" and she was not aware of any further injuries.
Meanwhile, more than 200 National Guard soldiers have been stationed at the Uribana Prison, considered one of the country’s most violent, to prevent further outbreaks, the state news agency reported.
Violence is common in Venezuela’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons, where about 20,000 inmates live in 30 facilities built to hold 15,000. Prisoners often bribe guards to obtain weapons.
At least 378 inmates were killed and 883 more were injured from January through November in prison violence last year, according to the watchdog group Venezuelan Prisons Observatory. Some 411 inmates were killed and 737 more were injured in 2005.
Prisoners commonly stage rebellions to protest long sentencing delays that can leave them languishing for years with their future uncertain.
President Chavez Laments Deaths and Promises Complete Prison Reform
During a late night call to a TV talk show last night, Venezuela’sPresident Chavez lamented the deaths and told viewers that a plan forreorganizing the country’s prison system was recently completed and that its implementation hasbeen advancing too slowly.
The riots are “a painful tragedy, product of failures ininternal security, infrastructure, and the separation of inmates,” said Chavez.
According to Chavez, “there is a plan on the way” for a new typeof prison system for Venezuela,which has so far been applied to a prison in Oritupano, in the country’s East,and which will soon be applied throughout the country.