Negotiations continue as prison crisis escalates and rumours fly over Chávez’s whereabouts and wellbeing following surgery in Cuba.
Latin American human rights watch Capellanes has requested to open into dialogue with the head of the military operation currently occupying two central prisons north of Caracas in order to limit the bloodshed and approach a peaceful resolution.
José León, representative of Organización Latinoamericana de Capellanes de los Derechos Humanos (Capellanes Latin American Organization of Human Rights), is awaiting reply from the Venezuelan Ministry of Justice as violence continues to spread through El Rodeo I and II.
Troops were sent in to El Rodeo II after gunfire was heard in the early hours of Saturday. Official reports later confirmed that soldiers used tear gas to quell outbursts of violence from inmates. This follows a takeover of El Rodeo I, as reported by Pulsamérica last week, in which 25 are known to have died.
Outside, relatives of prisoners continue to stage hunger strikes and protests to denounce the appalling conditions in the jail. Families maintain that prisoners are surviving solely on sweets and candies, and have no access to running water. Buckets have been hung from windows to collect rainwater to drink.
Meanwhile, the government has created a commission of inmates’ family members to inspect El Rodeo I, announced Minister of Justice Tareck El Aissimi on Tuesday. 10 representatives will accompany authorities to carry out evaluations of the current situation in the prison, where 951 of some 2,500 prisoners remain.
El Aissimi hopes that the commission will play a key role in the construction of a ‘humane and dignified’ penitentiary system. Since 2007, the prison population has increased by 110% to over 49,000. According to a report recently released by the Ministry of Justice, 60% of inmates is awaiting final judgment.
President Chávez, recovering from pelvic surgery on 10 June, has yet to make comment on the situation. Rumours surrounding his whereabouts and wellbeing have dominated the press as officials have refused to specify an expected return date from his operation at an unknown location in Cuba.
La Verdad speculated that the president may be suffering from cancer – a suggestion that president of the National Assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas, was quick to refute. In a press release on Sunday, Soto Rojas reiterated that the ailment was no more than a ‘pelvic abscess’ and that, should any other diagnosis be offered, he would be ‘the first to inform the country’.
Little has been seen or heard of the usually vociferous head of state in over a fortnight, other than sporadic updates via his twitter account. Indigenous Wayuu ceremonies have been held to summon the president back to health, whilst Chávez’s mother, Elena Frías, appeared on television on Sunday offering ‘love and blessings’ to her ‘dear son’. ‘Might God’s blessings make him well and bring him to me soon’ she said before a Catholic service in his honour.