Former Opposition Governor Escapes from Venezuelan Prison

The ex-Governor of Venezuela’s Yaracuy state, Eduardo Lapi, escaped from prison in the early morning hours on Sunday. The former opposition governor was being held on charges of corruption since May of last year.

Paraguaná, April 2, 2007 (— The ex-Governor of Venezuela’s Yaracuy state, Eduardo Lapi, escaped from prison in the early morning hours on Sunday. The former opposition governor was being held on charges of corruption since May of last year. 

Government authorities said a full investigation is being carried out and that measures have been taken to prevent him from fleeing the country.  Authorities also denounced the lack of control and supervision in the prison system and stated that measures are being taken to improve it.

Secretary of Citizen Security Oscar Baquero confirmed yesterday the escape of Eduardo Lapi, imprisoned in San Felipe, Yaracuy, for almost a year.  Baquero stated that a nationwide search has been activated in order to recapture the ex-governor.

Lapi, governor of Yaracuy from 1996 to 2004, was accused of corruption and misuse of state funds last year, after it was discovered that he had deposited large sums of money in accounts in Panamá.

"Where did those funds come from?  Of course they were public funds," said the Minister of the Interior Pedro Carreño.

Apparently, the governor, who belongs to the political party Convergencia, had robbed funds designated for a project to expand the highway Las Trincheras.  Authorities stated that the losses due to Lapi’s misuse of funds for the construction of public works could reach as high as US$6 million.

Vice minister of Citizen Security Tarek El Aissami said Lapi was a public official who had been elected by the people, but that he had "betrayed the trust of the people and fled irresponsibly and cowardly even though his physical wellbeing had been guaranteed."

In Carreño’s opinion, the situation serves as an example of the lack of moral values in every level of Venezuelan society.  He stated that prison officials, who have the responsibility of maintaining security in the prisons, can often be paid off as a result of their own lack of morals.

Prison officials reported Lapi missing at 6:30 am on Sunday when they found his cell empty. Although they have declared that he might have escaped through the air conditioning ducts of the prison, prison authorities have not confirmed this, since the investigation is still underway.  Authorities found some construction tools in Lapi’s cell, and a prison guard said that Lapi had asked for the bathroom key at around 9 pm the night before.

A special team of investigators has been assigned to the case and is interrogating all employees from the Judicial Prison of San Felipe, according to Carreño. He also stated that special controls had been activated in all airports and customs offices in the country and that the search has begun outside of the country as well by means of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

The Association for the Victims of the April 11th Coup (ASOVIC) released a statement in protest of the escape of Lapi in what they called a lack of justice for the conspirators and opponents to the constitutional government. They said it seemed "strange" that he had been the only prisoner to have escaped from the San Felipe prison yesterday, meaning that it probably was not an "escape", but rather that Lapi had paid off prison officials "with all the money he has robbed."

"It is sad to imagine that they opened the door of the prison so he could leave happily, just like they did with Carlos Ortega," said the statement released yesterday.

ASOVIC requested government officials to take necessary measures to prevent the impunity enjoyed by opposition leaders involved in criminal acts, such as those responsible for the massacre on April 11th, 2002. They have proposed that the government remove the National Guard from the prisons and replace them with the Military Reserve to improve the existing conditions of corruption and complicity.

Minister Carreño stated that the government has made a large investment in building a prison system to improve the conditions of prisoners in the country. According to the minister, they are now building 15 penitentiary communities and 24 centers of community training. This year they have designated around US$ 23 million in health and food for the prisoners.

But the root of the problem lies in the consciousness of the population, according to Carreño. "This won’t do it unless we raise the level of consciousness of the citizen. These blackmails and briberies from those that have money elude justice and are the negative values of capitalism," he concluded.