Venezuelan Authorities Regain Control of Third Prison Amid Controversy
Venezuelan authorities claim to have regained control over the third prison in the country that was seized by a criminal group. However, a non-governmental organization alleges that this was accomplished through an agreement with gang leaders who were permitted to leave the premises, along with their cows.
The government's operation, known as Gran Cacique Guaicaipuro, targeted the Puente Ayala prison in Anzoátegui state. It involved a raid, numerous arrests, the relocation of 1,500 inmates, and the confiscation of 56 handguns, 12 long guns, 130 bladed weapons, grenades, explosives, 33,500 bullet cartridges, and 77 magazines.
This marks the third prison raid in the past two months as part of a strategy ordered by the President to restore peace in penitentiary facilities. The other two prisons recently reclaimed by Venezuelan authorities are Tocorón in Aragua state and Tocuyito in Carabobo state.
"We have taken total control of Puente Ayala, here in the east of the country [...] and put an end to all the prison mafias and their criminal structures that were operating in this facility," Remigio Ceballos, Vice-President for Citizen Security and Peace, stated.
Some of those arrested were individuals not connected to the prison.
However, the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones denounced the interventions and claimed that they were negotiated with the leaders of the criminal groups inside the prison, who were given enough time to escape. These leaders even bid farewell on their social networks as if they were celebrities and moved animals, household appliances, and cash in plain sight of law enforcement officers.
"For the past week, the neighbors in the vicinity of Puente Ayala, in the state of Anzoátegui, were aware that this facility would be raided and were even surprised to witness the removal of livestock and household appliances from inside the prison," the NGO stated.
According to Observatorio, seven criminal leaders, known as "pranes," currently control Venezuela's prisons. Through extortion and other illicit activities, they collect more than $50,000 per month.