Villca Fernandez, a political prisoner who was released in June of this year, spoke to El Nuevo Herald about his time in El Helicoide, the prison run by the regime’s political police. Fernandez, who was arrested in 2016 for tweeting at PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello, was released on the condition that he be exiled.
Fernandez now lives in Lima, Peru.
According to an interview published on the newspaper’s website today, Fernandez said that he was greeted by his captors with a grim message upon his arrival at the El Helicoide prison:
Welcome to hell.
Fernandez said that he discovered that the guards “were not joking” because of the terrible conditions of the prison and the abuses that prisoners sustain from their captors. Fernandez said:
If [El Helicoide] is not hell, then it’s at least right at its door.
According to El Nuevo Herald, Fernandez said that the guards keep prisoners in a “permanent state of tension”, that they treat them like animals, and that prison is so filthy that it is inhabited by rats that walk freely inside the facility.
El Helicoide is arguably the most ominous physical monument to the Maduro regime’s brutal oppression. Built starting in the mid-1950s as an entertainment megaplex that would have included a shopping mall, restaurants and hotel, budget problems slowed construction to a crawl. By the mid-1980s, the largely vacant building began to serve as the offices of state security services.
Today, El Helicoide houses the headquarters of the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional [National Bolivarian Intelligence Service] (SEBIN), the Maduro regime’s political police. The SEBIN is one of the regime’s most feared police forces, given their reputation for brutally torturing prisoners.
Aside from hosting the SEBIN’s administrative offices, El Helicoide also houses an underground prison known colloquially as “La Tumba” (“The Tomb”).
Fernandez also explained how the guards would sometimes tie black garbage bags around prisoners’ heads “to make us feel like we were asphyxiating”. Sometimes, Fernandez said, the guards would also spray tear gas or insecticide inside the bags before placing them on the prisoners’ heads.
“The Dog” Terrorizes Prisoners: Fernandez
Fernandez also spoke on the torture that he witnessed in El Helicoide:
In several occasions, I saw how prisoners had electricity applied to their testicles, their ankles, and behind their ears. I saw this several times, and other times I heard it happen because of their screams.
Fernandez explained that while El Helicoide holds both political prisoners and general population inmates, the “common” prisoners were tortured the most often. On the treatment that these prisoners received, Fernandez said:
They were stripped naked during the overnight hours and they were beaten until they couldn’t stay standing anymore. They’d have their entire bodies covered in bruises, but they would be beaten most often on their buttocks. That’s what happened to whomever [the SEBIN] chose. Anyone who enters [El Helicoide] will be tortured in some way.
Fernandez told El Nuevo Herald that simply hearing other prisoners being tortured was itself a form of torture, since it instilled a sense of fear into the prisoners.
On his first days in El Helicoide, El Nuevo Herald writes:
Starting on his first day, Fernandez realized that his strength would be put to the test. Shortly after entering the prison, he was handcuffed to a cell bar. He thought that this would last a short time, until the authorities determined where he would end up.
He spent 28 days there, handcuffed to the cell par, either standing or crouching, without being able to lie down to sleep. He was released for only 15 minutes a day so that he could use the bathroom, but no more.
Fernandez said that as his first days handcuffed to his cell passed, he grew more and more exhausted. Yet, he was unable to sleep even in that state:
I could sleep very little due to the fear that a rat–that, judging by their size, looked like cats–would come by and bite me. You’d sleep for a few minutes and wake up in a panic.
The goal of submitting him and other prisoners to such inhuman treatment, Fernandez said, was to “break” them.
Fernandez also said that prisoners were forced to defecate in their cells on newspapers that the authorities cleaned up “whenever they remembered to do it”.
There was one guard in particular at whose sight prisoners felt “terror”, Fernandez said. Fernandez identified the guard as “The Dog” (“El Perro”), whose “sadism” was “incredible”. Fernandez explained:
He would walk in front of the cells, and suddenly he’d tell a guard: “give me this one”, or “give me these two”. That happened in the overnight hours. He’d go out to walk in the halls at night, and if he heard you talking or singing or screaming, he’d order you out.
On The Dog’s work, Fernandez said:
He would hit you with a pine baton that was really thick and long. He’d beat you savagely all throughout your body. On one occasion he almost killed a common prisoner [a non-political prisoner]. They had to remove him [from the prison] to emergency, and they had to operate on him because one of his internal organs became loose.
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