No problem shows more the incapacity and indolence of the Chavez administration as the prison problem. The number of prisoners has almost doubled since Chavez took over, as homicides have tripled in the country. But beyond the sheer numbers there is an incredible inhuman tragedy taking place in Venezuela these days and the Government “of the people” has been unable to deal with it.
Despite what you have read in the New York Times a week and a half ago, Venezuelan jails are a far cry from being the Country Club that the Margarita prison is. Most jails are sub-human boxes where prisoners live under conditions that should not be available on the planet. Even animals would live badly like that. Most prisoners are armed, not with knives and sharp objects, but with weapons ranging from pistols to machine guns. There are daily gang fights and within the prisons, the law is enforced by the prisoners and not the jailers.
Prisons are over crowded, very few new ones have been built since Chavez took over. Sanitary conditions are atrocious and food, as you can imagine is not meant for humans. Most prisoners eat what their relatives bring them.
In his never ending shuffle of Ministers of the Interior and Justice (If my count is correct, there have been eleven Ministers, with one, Jesse Chacon, repeating in the position), Chavez has announced a dozen plans to solve the prison problem, with no significant effect.
The twelfth program was announced today and it is once again proof of how clueless the Government is: The Government will create a Ministry for the Prisons Regime.
It seems as if the Government every time it faces a crisis either it passes a new Law or creates a Ministry, despite the fact that in the most salient cases: Housing and Electricity, there was no impact whatsoever from either of the two solutions. In fact, things seem to get worse as the people in charge became entangled in the complexity of setting up new institutions and absorbing or merging into it existing ones. (When Chavez got to power he reduced the number of Ministries, they have doubled since)
The newest crisis also showed the lack of concern for people’s rights on the part of the Government. There was a riot at the El Rodeo prison, rumors spread that there were nineteen people dead, but the Government would not confirm it and access to the prison was closed. As family members surrounded the prison in a vigil to await the news, the Government took hours to confirm the deaths and over a day in releasing the names of those that died, which included nine evangelical pastors that apparently tried to mediate in the conflict. (I understand they were also prisoners)
Prison conditions are infrahuman in Venezuela and little has been done to improve them since Chavez took over. Because crime has soared, conditions are worse than they ever have been and there it is a free for all within the prisons. As Venezuelans we should all feel ashamed of this. These are human beings we are talking about and they are being allowed to live and die like animals.