Criminologist Fermin Marmol Garcia told El Tiempo that according to statistics that he has compiled, 26 out of the country’s 38 prisons are under the direct control of powerful gang leaders known colloquially as pranes. In other words, Garcia’s figures show that a full 70% of Venezuelan prisons are beyond the control of state authorities.
The word pran is an acronym from the phrase “preso rematado asesino nato“ which roughly translates into English as “totally a prisoner and a born killer”. Pranes rule prisons essentially as personal fiefdoms, and exercise complete control over the sale of drugs and other contraband inside the prison.
Garcia points out that given the ease with which contraband – such as cellphones – flows into Venezuelan prisons, pranes also often coordinate criminal activities outside of the prisons, including kidnappings and vehicle thefts.
El Tiempo points out that there is a kind of romantic image emerging around the pran as a type of folk hero who rises through adversity to make the best out of a bad situation not only for himself but also for his followers. As evidence, the newspaper makes use of the case of El Conejo, a popular pran from Margarita island who was murdered earlier this year.
Yusleidy Zambrano is the mother of an inmate imprisoned alongside El Conejo in the San Antonio prison, and she remembers El Conejo in the following way:
El Conejo was a leader. He helped the inmates and gave them privileges. I went to visit my son in jail a few times, and he had every commodity there: they had a swimming pool, a disco, and an entertainment hall. On the weekends, they’d have BBQs so that they could share some time with their families. My son, who’d been locked up in the San Antonio prison for four years, was in need of nothing.
El Conejo spent a decade in jail for drug trafficking, extortion and vehicle theft. was released from prison last year, and was murdered on January 24 of this year.
Criminologist Javier Javier Gorriño believes that part of the reason why the pran is such a ubiquitous figure in Venezuelan jails is that aside from benefiting inmates, they serve an important purpose for the national government as well. Gorriño explained:
The government says, “We won’t mess with you as long as you stop riots from happening”. They give the pranes the power to remodel prisons, of charging rent for anyone wanting to stay in a luxury cell that could include a television, air conditions, Blue Ray [player] and other services up to Bs. 80,000. This type of rent is called “la causa“. [The government] also helps out with parties, where a bottle of whisky can go for Bs. 90,000 and a prostitute can charge Bs. 20,000-25,000 for four hours…
Luisa Contreras, whose husband has been imprisoned in the Rodeo II prison in Guatire for three years, paints a different picture of the pran. She says that her husband has to pay Bs. 20,000 per month to the prison pran for protection, or else:
If he doesn’t pay that amount religiously, they make his life impossible. They torture him, they steal whatever little clothing he has, and they stop him from seeing visitors. He’s the constant victim of threats. I have to work magic to make that money appear each month, and I can’t fall behind on payments.
The head of the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones [Venezuelan Prison Watch], Humberto Prado, says that the national government lacks any kind of concrete plan to tackle the pranes. Instead of taking concrete steps to try to curb corruption in prisons – such as increasing wages for prison staff – Prado argues that the national government has instead opted to close the prisons ruled by pranes it cannot control, as was the case with Margarita’s San Antonio prison earlier this year and the Sabaneta prison in Zulia state.
Padrino Lopez: “Let Us Pray” For Power Status
Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez spoke on a television show that aired on the state-owned VTV network last night, and asked Venezuelans to pray for their country to become a regional power.
Padrino Lopez said:
Go out and enjoy yourselves [during the Holy Week vacations]. Pray for Venezuela to walk down the path of peace, and for the construction of a new economic dimension. [Pray] that it becomes what is written in the Plan de la Patria: a [regional] power. We remain optimistic on the path that Venezuela is taking in spite of adversity.
The head of the nation’s military also said that 37,000 National Guard soldiers had been deployed throughout the country to help keep vacationers safe during the long weekend.
Flores’ Trial Start Delayed Again
The trial of Efrain and Francisco Flores – Cilia Flores’ nephews – for drug trafficking has been delayed until April 6. The decision was made by United States District Judge Paul A. Crotty due to a change in the Court’s calendar.
Efrain and Francisco Flores are accused of attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through Haiti. The men are related by blood to First Lady and National Assembly deputy Cilia Flores.
PSUV Politician Murdered in Tachira
Cesar Vera, a Tachira state parliament deputy for the PSUV, was murdered last night in the Pedro Maria Ureña municipality in that state.
Ramon Cabeza, the head of Tachira’s security services, said that Vera was murdered my a paramilitary group. According to Cabeza, Vera was intercepted by two men on motorcycles while he was inside a local establishment.
Tachira state governor Jose Vielma Mora called Vera’s killing a “political assassination”, and blamed former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez for the murder:
Uribe Velez’s assassins are desperate. Assassins, terrorists who hate the people. We will continue build our homeland!
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