Riot in my Back Yard


Smoke coming out of the La Planta prison in Caracas, Venezuela.

HAVANA TIMES — The children in my family couldn’t go out to the street today.  All of the schools and child-care centers of El Paraiso, the zone of Caracas where we live, began closing their doors as of yesterday. Today, none of them opened.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the smell of gunpowder settled into our apartment at midday, although we are several kilometers distant from La Planta.

La Planta is a penitentiary situated in the middle of the city, I’m not sure why. And starting about a month ago there have been serious disturbances there inside. Inside? Maybe I’d better explain a little more.

To my surprise, the prisoners in Venezuela have arms inside the jails. Not that I know much about jails, only enough to know that I should do my best to avoid ending up in one.

But if anything is clear to me it’s that there’s no logic in having those who are serving a sentence do their time armed, not only with firearms but with long-range weapons, including grenades.

La Planta, as I already mentioned, is in the district of El Paraiso, and although its official capacity is for under 600 prisoners, in these times they were housing more than two thousand.

People tell me that the ones who rules there are the “Prans”, the heads of the drug gangs, as in many jails of the world I imagine.

In order to have a bed, a fan or any other necessary item, you have to pay them, and for these “prans it’s better to live in jail where their security is guaranteed.

The bullets reach nearby buildings.

Of course, they have enough money to buy arms (from whom? How do they get them in?) and in this way rule over the rest of the prisoners. The National Guard doesn’t get involved in any of the acts of violence; that is to say, they leave them to kill each other.

According to the authorities, it’s the very issue of domination that has incited these violent mutinies. But I know that in questions of prisons the authorities are never sufficiently well informed…or else they prefer to give out only that information which is most convenient to them.

I haven’t ventured into the outskirts of the prison installations, taking into consideration that the bullets – once the disturbances began – have hit nearby buildings, taking the life of one or two of the neighbors. They’ve even reached the Palace of Justice (one kilometer from the area) and the highway that runs beside it.

Last night they announced that they had reached an “agreement” with the most rebellious to realize a massive transfer to other jails.

But at any rate, the schools remain closed and the majority of the people are not pleased at the possibility of the authorities once again liberating a large quantity of prisoners, as happened a few months ago.

In my experience, I’ve encountered them on the buses with the following announcement: “Good afternoon. Pardon the interruption, but I’ve just gotten out of prison and I have no money. I wouldn’t want to go back to robbery or assault, so I would greatly appreciate your collaboration in order to be able to eat.”

Those who live in Caracas know very well what that speech really means.

There are also fears about the dangerous prisoners escaping. For this reason as well, several weeks ago the female Minister of Prisons began a transfer that many criticize as poorly planned. In all this, the thing that most astonishes me is that it’s common knowledge how they live in the jails, that the prisoners have access to short and long-range weapons, and that this is not the first time that bullets have crossed over the prison walls, and yet no measures have been taken to disarm them, at the very least.

Is the insecurity greater on the inside or on the outside?  With the prisoners in prison, or with them outside?


One thought on “Riot in my Back Yard

  • “The National Guard doesn’t get involved in any of the acts of violence; that is to say, they leave them to kill each other”… that is soooooooo Venezuelan armed forced… they only get involved if its about charging against unarmed civilians.

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