Mérida, 18th May 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Thursday night Venezuelan authorities regained control of La Planta prison in Caracas after an outbreak of violence between prisoners. The government pledged to guarantee the human rights of inmates and is transferring them to other penitentiary facilities ahead of La Planta’s closure.
Thursday night’s events brought to an end almost four weeks of defiance by some groups of prisoners opposed to their eviction from the La Planta facility. Venezuelan authorities had previously decided to close the prison citing overcrowding and dangers to the local community.
On Thursday morning gunfire broke out within La Planta, lasting several hours. State security forces maintained a presence outside the facility. Prisons minister Iris Valera described the situation as due to “a small group of very violent people who don’t want to accept reason”.
In the afternoon a peaceful solution for the eviction of the prison was brought about by negotiations between Iris Valera, a regional commander of the national guard and prisoners’ leaders. Transfers began Thursday night, with inmates leaving La Planta voluntarily, according to state press.
Prisons vice-minister, Ramon Garcia, confirmed on Thursday night that the majority of prisoners are being transferred to a new facility where “there is a structure of dignity for the prisoners, [in which] we can comfortably accommodate one thousand people”.
As of Friday afternoon, 600 prisoners had been transferred to other facilities, with the prisons ministry expecting to transfer all 1200 inmates by the end of the day. Valera commented that while over the last few days the prison had experienced “a delicate situation, we managed to build a bridge and now they [the inmates] are crossing it”.
Guaranteeing Prisoners’ Rights
State institutions have undertaken to guarantee the human rights of prisoners in the transfer process, according to Valera. She announced to press on Friday morning that, in coordination with the health ministry, medical staff are on standby to attend to the needs of prisoners coming out of La Planta.
Three wounded were confirmed as a result of the confrontations inside the prison including one police officer, stated National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello on Friday morning. He explained that authorities would not enter the prison to examine the facility until all prisoners had been evicted.
As a condition of the negotiations, an Attorney General’s office representative accompanied prisoners on every transport vehicle during the transfer operation. “The aim is to continue guaranteeing prisoners’ human rights,” said public prosecutor Joel Espinoza on Thursday.
Valera also announced that Plan Cayapa, a program to speed up judicial reviewing of prisoners’ cases to ascertain who is due for release, is taking an immediate focus on inmates from La Planta. Six inmates from the prison have been freed in the last 24 hours as a result.
Family members will be able to visit inmates in their new penitentiary centres from this weekend, with the government saying it will facilitate visits and setting up a hotline for families to obtain more information.
The Attorney General’s offfice also held therapy sessions on Thursday with family members of prisoners in La Planta.
Minister Valera criticised the opposition and private media for creating a “media war” over the incident.
Opposition TV channel Globovision dedicated coverage to the distress of inmates’ families during the violence inside La Planta, while conservative newspaper El Universal described Thursday’s events as “a day charged with armed confrontations, chaos in the city [Caracas] and terror in the zone”.
In October last year Globovision was fined US $2.2 million by Venezuela’s public regulator Conatel for manipulation and attempting to create fear, breaking Venezuela’s media law on social responsibility. Between 16 and 19 June, during the Rodeo prison complex hostage situation, Globovision broadcast a few interviews of distraught victims’ families269 times.
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who is also governor of Miranda state where the Rodeo prison is located, used the situation on Thursday in La Planta to criticise the government’s record on prisons. “The situation in La Planta is another example of this government’s failure on the issues of prisons and Venezuela’s security,” he said.
On Friday Valera described as “indignant” that opposition governors and spokespersons emitted their opinions on the incident but “didn’t do anything” to help resolve the situation. She went on to asked, if opposition governors have the “magic formula” to resolve the problems in Venezuela’s prison system, “why don’t they begin to apply it in the prisons they administer?”
Since the creation of the Ministry of Penitentiary Affairs in July 2011 the Venezuelan government has been pursuing a program of prison reform in order to humanise the nation’s penitentiary system and to overcome long term problems of overcrowding and slow judicial processing of prisoners’ cases.
Key measures include Operation Cambote, in which prisoners decide the priorities for improving their prison environment, then work with prison ministry authorities and prison directors to carry out the plans.
The Cayapa program sees state judicial institutions working together to tackle the backlog in the processing of cases. Prisons minister Valera has previously stated that the ministry expects to resolve the backlog of cases by the end of the year. It has also began a disarmament plan to tackle organised mafias within prisons.
Speaking on state channel VTV on Friday, Valera stressed that the evacuation of La Planta is part of a general policy this year of closing prisons in residential areas.
“Here there is a revolutionary government providing a strong response [to problems in the penitentiary system],” she said. “We are sure that we have now started on the path toward a transformation of the prison system in Venezuela”.