, Caracas, Nov 29 – The death toll from the mass poisoning this week of inmates at a Venezuelan jail has risen to 35, a lawmaker said Friday, though prison officials insisted the tally was far lower.
The incident is the latest tragic incident to rock Venezuela’s overcrowded, dirty and dangerous prison system — reputed to be one of the world’s most violent — and many questions remained about what actually happened.
“There are 35 dead,” said William Ojeda, a lawmaker who is on a legislative commission tasked with looking into the deaths at the David Viloria penitentiary centre in the country’s northwest.
Prison officials at the facility, known locally as Uribana, say the poisoning took place Monday, when a group of hunger-striking inmates broke into the infirmary and ingested a cocktail of medicines including anti-seizure drugs, antibiotics and hypertension treatments.
The action supposedly came as part of a protest against inhumane treatment and abuse at the hands of prison staff.
But several families have told the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a prisoners’ rights organisation, that the men were poisoned when they drank water provided by the prison.
After the incident, prison authorities transferred some 400 inmates, including about 100 to area hospitals, the rights group said.
Prison officials have meanwhile not updated their initial toll of 13 deaths and 145 poisonings.
Authorities said Friday the prison director would face a tribunal to answer questions about the bizarre incident.
The poisonings came after 58 inmates died in the prison in January 2013 during a revolt.
The facility has a capacity of 850 but currently houses some 3,700 inmates.
Venezuela has more than three times as many prisoners as it does prison beds, the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory said. In 15 years, more than 16,000 people have been killed while behind bars.
In the first half of 2014, 150 prisoners died.