Venezuela ar­rests five po­lice of­fi­cials over deadly jail dis­as­ter

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

CARA­CAS (Reuters) - Venezuela ar­rested five state po­lice of­fi­cials for their al­leged role in a riot and fire that killed 68 peo­ple in an over­crowded po­lice sta­tion cell, the coun­try’s pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor said on Satur­day.

“The pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice has is­sued ar­rest war­rants for five of­fi­cials of PoliCarabobo who have been sig­nalled as re­spon­si­ble for the tragic in­ci­dent that led to the death of 68 cit­i­zens in the cells of the head­quar­ters of said re­gional po­lice: THEY HAVE BEEN DE­TAINED #Jus­tice,” tweeted pros­e­cu­tor Tarek Saab.

Saab, a for­mer So­cial­ist Party gov­er­nor close to left­ist Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro, did not pro­vide any fur­ther de­tails on the cause of the dis­as­ter, the worst to af­fect Venezuela’s no­to­ri­ously vi­o­lent jails in over two decades.

Rel­a­tives of dead in­mates and one sur­viv­ing pris­oner told Reuters there was a shoot-out with po­lice on Wed­nes­day morn­ing in the jail in Carabobo state cap­i­tal Va­len­cia.

One in­mate’s widow said of­fi­cials had doused the area with gaso­line, which fu­elled a fire through the small cells strung with ham­mocks and di­vided with sheets.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from Carabobo state po­lice.

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion blames the tragedy on Maduro’s in­abil­ity to re­form Venezuela’s law­less jails, where in­mates strut around with weapons and or­ches­trate crimes from cells.

“The sit­u­a­tion in de­ten­tion cen­tres and po­lice jail cells in Venezuela is un­ac­cept­able!” said op­po­si­tion law­maker Miguel Pizarro.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians have also crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment for its long si­lence about the in­ci­dent. Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion only is­sued a state­ment late on Fri­day night ex­press­ing its con­do­lences to rel­a­tives and the pres­i­dent has yet to pub­licly speak about the deaths.

A for­mer bus driver and union leader who has grown widely un­pop­u­lar, Maduro is run­ning for re-elec­tion in a May elec­tion largely boy­cotted by the op­po­si­tion.

With heavy use of state re­sources and a com­pli­ant elec­toral coun­cil, he is ex­pected to win a six-year term de­spite salary­de­stroy­ing hy­per­in­fla­tion, a fifth straight year of re­ces­sion, and ram­pant crime.

State tele­vi­sion fo­cused on show­ing im­ages of Venezue­lans on the beach dur­ing the Easter hol­i­day, while Maduro’s min­is­ters also largely re­mained mum on the Va­len­cia dis­as­ter.

But Delcy Ro­driguez, the pres­i­dent of the pro-gov­ern­ment leg­isla­tive su­per­body known as the con­stituent as­sem­bly, struck back at crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the jail fire.

“We re­pu­di­ate the use of Venezue­lans’ pain as a po­lit­i­cal tool,” tweeted Ro­driguez. (Reuters)

Mourn­ers carry the cof­fin of Javier Ri­vas, one of the in­mates who died dur­ing a riot and fire in the cells of the General Com­mand of the Carabobo Po­lice, Venezuela

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