More than 4,000 inmates at three Venezuelan jails on hunger strike

More than 4,000 inmates at three Venezuelan jails began a hunger strike in protest against alleged brutality by guards, judicial delays and chronic overcrowding. The protest involves 32 of the 80 inmates at Tocuyito prison, some 3,000 in the Aragua penitentiary and another 1,137 at Vista Hermosa prison, the Caracas daily El Universal said. It began in Tocuyito, where inmates reported physical and psychological mistreatment by guards following the escape of an important criminal from the jail this week.

Antonio Molina, defense counsel for one of the hunger strikers, told El Universal that the guards “have repeatedly beaten” the striking prisoners and have “kicked and smashed their belongings and suspended their visits.”

The inmates at Vista Hermosa joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners in Tocuyito, Julio Martinez, who has been held for two years in that penitentiary, said. “We joined the strike…for the outrages committed against our fellow-prisoners over at Tocuyito, who are kept in solitary confinement, are permitted no visits and are being beaten,” Martinez told the Caracas newspaper.

Inmates at Vista Hermosa have not suffered mistreatment by guards for at least “four years” and have “enough to eat,” but there is a huge backlog of cases pending trial that has caused overcrowding, Florentino Ariza, another inmate, said. That jail is designed for 450 prisoners, and currently houses 1,137, nearly three-quarters of them still awaiting trial, Ariza told the daily El Universal.

Aragua’s more than 3,000 prisoners joined the protest to complain about overcrowding, trial delays and the mistreatment they and their families receive from the guards, they said in a communique. In the document, the inmates said that this penitentiary was build to hold 600 people but now has 3,400, of whom only 350 have been tried and convicted.

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