Gunfire erupts at Venezuela prison, troops outside

AP News
Posted: Apr 30, 2012 8:36 PM
Gunfire erupts at Venezuela prison, troops outside

Venezuelan troops and police stood guard outside a prison in Caracas on Monday after gunfire erupted during what an official said was the second escape attempt in three days.

Authorities foiled an escape by an inmate at La Planta prison in the morning, said Iris Varela, the government's top prisons official. She said the inmate was trying to escape on a roof of the prison when gunfire broke out.

One National Guard soldier was wounded during the gunfire, prisons official Reinaldo Rangel said on state television.

The prisoners were armed and had control of the prison, said Carlos Nieto, a prison rights activist.

The authorities were negotiating with inmates at the prison, Varela said.

"We aren't going to take them out through violence, but rather through an agreement," Varela said. "The situation is under control."

Relatives of inmates gathered outside the prison, crying, embracing and praying while dozens of National Guard soldiers and police in anti-riot gear stood guard.

Nieto, who leads the non-governmental organization Una Ventana a la Libertad, disputed the account of an escape attempt, saying there was a clash between inmates and National Guard troops who had tried to enter the prison. He said inmates reported about three prisoners had been killed.

Officials at the Justice Ministry could not be reached to comment on that account.

Varela said on Friday that authorities had foiled plans for a prison break at La Planta when they discovered a tunnel that inmates had dug leading to a sewer.

But Nieto also disputed that, saying prison officials reported a number of inmates successfully escaping in recent days. He said the situation at the prison wasn't under control because the National Guard hadn't been able to regain control from the inmates.

Inside Venezuela's prisons, inmates often manage to obtain weapons, and violence is common. The watchdog group Venezuelan Prisons Observatory said about 560 people died in Venezuelan prisons last year, up from 476 in 2010.

Venezuela's overburdened prisons were built to hold about 12,000 inmates, but officials have said the prisons now hold about 47,000.

Nieto said La Planta prison, which was built for about 350 prisoners, currently houses about 2,600.