Minister of Penitentiaries Iris Varela finally broke her silence on the PolICarabobo jail fire today by saying in a radio address that the matter was not a concern for her office, and instead blamed local police for the event.

During her radio program No Te Prives, Varela said:

There was a tragedy that deeply hurt us involving people who were there in the dungeons of the Carabobo state police, which doesn’t involve the Ministry of Penitentiaries. That’s a police matter.

While the Ministry of Penitentiaries is tasked with overseeing the country’s prisons, police jails make an integral part of that system. As of 2016, there were 28,000 people held in police jails around the country awaiting trial. That figure is all the more striking when taken in the context of 2015 NGO estimate that placed the prison population in 2015 at 17,374 people.

As in many other jurisdictions, jails typically house individuals who have been accused of a crime, but have not yet been convicted. If convicted, individuals are then transported to prisons to serve out their terms. The fact means that some of the fire victims may not have been guilty of any crimes.

68 people were killed on March 28 at the PoliCarabobo jail in Valencia, which was housed in the police organization’s headquarters. The fire appears to have begun during a mutiny.

Five PolICarabobo officers are currently in detention in connection to the fire. Speaking on the development of the case, attorney general Tarek William Saab said today:

There could be more arrests because we’re just in the preliminary stage of the investigation, where five officers–who [accused of being] responsible [for the fire]–have already been charged by the Public Ministry with the most serious crime: qualified homicide [and negligence], among others.

Relatives: Some Fire Victims Had Bullet Injuries

The relatives of some of the PoliCarabobo fire say that their kin’s bodies had bullet injuries, casting doubt on the official version of events.

Yaneth Padron, whose son–Luis Piñango–died in the jail on Friday, said that his body had two bullet injuries. At a protest outside of the state prosecutor’s office in Valencia, Carabobo state, Padron said:

My son was shot twice: one in the ribs, and once in the face. He had been in jail for four years, one month and 10 days.

Padron also said that she was made to sign a death certificate that listed asphyxiation as her son’s cause of death so that she could retrieve his body from the morgue.

Keila Karina Guzman told a similar story. Guzman said that she went to the morgue to identify the body of her brother, Jose Francisco Guzman. Once there, she noticed that the body did not have burns, and that he was missing part of the back of his skull. Guzman said:

They asked me to give them my fingerprints to show that I had recognized him, and when I asked the police officer why he had a hole in his head, he said: “Ma’am, give us your fingerprints or I’ll have you kicked out”, and I had to do as he said.

Residents of Palo Verde Protest Over CLAP Boxes

This morning, residents in the Palo Verde neighbourhood of Caracas staged a protest over the poor quality of CLAP boxes, which are sold at subsidized prices to Venezuelans by the Maduro regime. The protesters blocked a main archery through the area, and took place primarily in the El Cañaote neighbourhood.

According to demonstrators at the scene, the protest was staged to call attention to the fact that the CLAP boxes that the area residents have been receiving lack basic food staples. One protester told Caraota Digital that the boxes do not contain items like rice or cooking oil.

The protesters began blocking the road as early as 7:45 AM. Below, an image of the blocked road:

Below, images of the protest shortly before 8:00 AM local time:

At one point, the protesters erected a flaming barricade on the road to block traffic:

Introduced in 2016 with the eventual goal of replacing the country’s supermarket-based system of food distribution, the CLAP system has come under attack from virtually every sector of Venezuelan society. The system has been criticized not only over the poor quality of the products sold, but also over how sparsely the boxes arrive to impoverished neighbourhoods. The CLAP system has also been criticized for being a thinly-veiled electoral blackmail mechanism, whereby the regime attempts to buy votes in exchange for the boxes of food.

Ocumare del Tuy Residents Protest Over National Guard Abuses

Residents from the Ocumare del Tuy area of Miranda state staged a protest starting in the overnight hours over abuses they claim their community has experienced at the hands of National Guard soldiers.

The protesters blocked an important road in the area, which connects the municipality to Cua, a nearby municipality, and demanded that the mayor arrive at the scene to hear their complaints.

Below, an image of the protest in the early morning hours today:

The protest later in the day:

15+ “Guaire Miners” Arrested

National Bolivarian Police officers arrested at least 15 “Bolivarian Miners” today in the El Llanito area of Caracas. The men were arrested while they looked for discarded metal and other precious materials in the river.

The term “Bolivarian Miner” or “Guaire Miner” refers to a relatively new phenomenon in Caracas, which involves groups of men plunging into the contaminated waters of the river in the hopes of finding discarded valuables which they can then sell. The Guaire rivers runs through Caracas, and is an extremely polluted waterway that acts as part of the city’s sewage system.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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