|As more light is shed on the deaths of 35 inmates in a western Venezuelan prison last week, activists are questioning the legitimacy of the story provided by prison officials.
Officials have said that the conflict at the David Viloria prison began last Monday, when inmates began a protest for better conditions in the prison by initiating a hunger strike. During the strike, a group of prisoners supposedly stormed the infirmary and ingested a mixture of drugs for diabetes, epilepsy and high blood pressure, as well as pure alcohol.
Although original reports detailed fewer initial deaths, new updates revealed that 35 inmates died from the deadly overdose, while 100 others were still being treated for intoxication. Of those still recovering, 20 were left in a coma.
The prison has a strict drug abstinence policy, and a number of the inmates are drug users suffering from withdrawal.
Many of the remaining prisoners were transferred to other prisons by the National Guard, and Julio Cesar Perez, warden of David Viloria prison, was arrested last Thursday. Experts say he his is likely to face charges with regards to the prisoners’ deaths.
While the government has claimed that the situation is under control, many prison activists and family members of inmates are skeptical of the official story that was given, fearing that the prisoners were actually poisoned in an attempt to regain control of the facility.
Venezuela’s prisons have a bad reputation of being among the most violent and most overcrowded in the world. Many prisons hold three times the recommended number of inmates. The David Viloria prison houses an estimated 3,000 prisoners when its capacity is only 850.
Aside from overcrowding, most Venezuelan prisons are riddled with a number of other issues, from unsanitary conditions, violence and lack of necessary medical care. Without the proper preventive medical measures, seemingly small issues like dental decay, which nearly 100% of adults worldwide suffer from, can become life-threatening conditions. There were over 500 inmate deaths reported last year.
Many questions remain unanswered in this latest prison tragedy, and both national and international organizations are calling on the government to conduct a more in-depth investigation.