YARE, Venezuela (Reuters) - Well-armed inmates in one of Venezuela’s notoriously overcrowded prisons rioted over the weekend, killing 25 people, the government said on Monday.
In familiar scenes for Venezuelans, relatives wept outside the Yare I complex in the central coastal state of Miranda, as sketchy details emerged of fighting among armed gangs in the prison.
Prisons Minister Iris Varela told reporters that 25 people, including one visitor, died in the riot. “We will make them answer for this,” she added, saying another 29 inmates and 14 visitors had been injured in the riot.
The South American nation’s 34 prisons were designed to hold around a third of the 50,000 inmates now in them, according to local prison advocacy groups. Many of the prisoners are armed and hundreds are killed each year in riots and gang fights.
With a presidential election due in less than two months, prison chaos is a politically sensitive issue.
Chavez blames neglect in the decades before he took power in 1999, but critics say the socialist president has paid scant attention to the problem since then.
“The transformation of the Venezuelan prison system is another big lie that we’ve been told by this government,” wrote opposition leader Henrique Capriles via Twitter.
“How many more will die?”
Chavez did not mention the situation on a TV appearance.
In May, as police forcibly transferred inmates out of La Planta jail in Caracas - built for 350 but housing nearly 2,500 - gunshots rang out among the prisoners. Some were sent to Yare.
A month-long siege occurred last year at El Rodeo prison, just outside the capital, which left 22 dead before some 5,000 soldiers restored order.
In Venezuela’s worst incident, around 130 prisoners were burned or hacked to death with machetes during gang fights at Sabaneta jail in Maracaibo in 1994.
Reporting by Efain Otero and Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Writing by Girish Gupta, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Philip Barbara