Venezuela election 2018: Eleven dead after second prison riot in two days, human rights activists say

Incidents come ahead of election considered a test of country's socialist revolution

Tom Embury-Dennis
Monday 21 May 2018 13:42 BST
Relatives of inmates gather outside the Fenix Penitentiary following a riot
Relatives of inmates gather outside the Fenix Penitentiary following a riot

Eleven people have reportedly died following a second prison riot in two days in Venezuela, just days before a controversial presidential election.

Two guards and nine inmates at Fenix Penitentiary, in the city of Barquisimeto, were killed on Thursday after inmates wrestled a gun from prison wardens, sparking an exchange of gunfire, according to human rights activists.

Prisoner rights group A Window to Freedom said officers were now back in control of the prison.

It came a day after a riot erupted at a crowded detention centre where many of president Nicolas Maduro’s political opponents are held.

Videos from the El Helicoide facility, located in Caracas at the headquarters of the intelligence agency Sebin, showed groups of men identifying themselves as prisoners who had taken over.

But in a video which emerged from the prison, one man said: “This has been taken over peacefully by all the political prisoners and all the prisoners who are abducted here, who are tortured daily.”

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In another video posted on social media, former US missionary Joshua Holt, who is also being detained at the prison, pleaded for help.

“They have taken the entire prison where I am at. They are outside, they’re trying to break in. They’re saying that they want to kill me and that they want me as their guarantee,” he said.

Mr Holt’s family said he was framed on weapons charges while in Venezuela for his wedding.

The top US diplomat in Caracas, Todd Robinson, said he is pressing Venezuelan officials for information because both jails hold Americans.

Human rights groups and critics of Mr Maduro said several hundred political prisoners have been unfairly jailed. Mr Maduro previously said all jailed activists were being held on legitimate charges of violence and subversion.

The incident comes not long before Sunday’s presidential election. The US, the EU, the UN Human Rights Council and neighbouring Latin American countries have expressed concerns about the upcoming poll and its vulnerability to manipulation.

Commentators say the election is the biggest test to the country’s socialist revolution in nearly two decades, amid a crisis-stricken economy. Mismanagement has been blamed for the erosion of the country’s once-robust oil industry leaving widespread shortages of food and medicines.

Mr Maduro, 55, the successor to Hugo Chavez, is seeking re-election for a second term on behalf of PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela) after assuming office in 2013.

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Outsiders have little doubt that Mr Maduro will win and he himself remains confident. “The revolution is going to record the biggest victory in its entire electoral history”, Mr Maduro said in early May.

But opposition supporters say Mr Maduro cannot win the election without resorting to buying votes and coercion.

The main opposition, the Democratic Unity coalition, is boycotting the vote and has refused to enter any candidates.

Additional reporting by agencies

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