What does the intervention of prisons in Venezuela have to do with the 2024 presidential elections?

What does the intervention of prisons in Venezuela have to do with the 2024 presidential elections?

Una intervención negociada entre el régimen y los pranes: Toma en la cárcel de La Pica se sabía desde hacía varios días. Ministerio del Poder Popular para las Relaciones Interiores, Justicia y Paz




The ‘Gran Cacique Guaicaipuro’ operation launched by Nicolás Maduro’s regime to supposedly take control of various prisons in the country, has left more doubts than answers since the moment of its activation.

lapatilla.com correspondent

Just look at what happened at the Aragua Penitentiary Center, better known as Tocorón (for a neighboring town), where the main leaders of the mega criminal gang ‘Tren de Aragua’, including its leader Héctor “El Niño” Guerrero, escaped some time before the ‘rojito’ (red government) action.

The same thing happened in the Carabobo Penitentiary Center (Tocuyito, neighboring town), the ‘Puente Ayala’ Judicial Confinement Center in Anzoátegui or the Ciudad Bolívar Judicial Confinement Center (Vista Hermosa), where the most dangerous prisoners escaped before the ‘intervention’ and there is no trace of their whereabouts.

The procedure of vacating these facilities to decongest the prison system has also not been effective, since relatives and some NGOs have reported overcrowding in the other prison centers to which the prisoners were transferred.

For some experts, these interventions were more a political issue than a serious offensive against crime, as Jeremy McDermott, co-director and co-founder of InSight Crime, a study center on organized crime in Latin America, pointed out to lapatilla.com.

“The operation appears to have more to do with political theater than with the dismantling of one of the criminal systems that the State itself helped create and which has been running many of the prisons since 2011. It is more about next year’s elections and less about Maduro trying to stop a criminal phenomenon that has become an international shame,” he stressed.

McDermott emphasized that one of the main axes of the deployment did not meet its objective, since the escape of the main ‘prans’ (Gang leaders) made it evident that “order and control” – as Maduro pointed out – “was conspicuous by its absence” from the first day in the prisons addressed.

“Many of them (prans) have disappeared since then, mocking the idea that they were trying to dismantle criminal structures. Now those criminals are just free,” he said.

Freed ‘pranes’

The director of InSight Crime pointed out that in order to reduce some criminal activities such as kidnappings or extortion, which were mostly carried out from prisons, there must be a serious and sustained investment in the national penitentiary system that helps improve the living conditions of those deprived of their rights and freedom and reduce overcrowding, undertaking true rehabilitation.

Regarding the future that is envisioned for criminal structures such as the ‘Tren de Aragua’, he stated that it is still too early to know the effects that losing the spaces that they had capitalized in these prisons will have for the mega-gangs.

“It is still too early to know what effect the loss of Tocorón will have on the Aragua Train and its multiple cells both in Venezuela and abroad. No one seems to have any idea where ‘Niño Guerrero’ and his ‘luceros’ (stars) have gone, and if their network will remain intact after the loss of the base of operations,” McDermott stated.

Distracting operations

Humberto Prado, Director of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP), declared that the maneuvers in the penitentiaries served as a distraction from relevant events that took place inside and outside the nation against Maduro’s administration.

“For example, on the day the Tocorón prison was taken on September 20th, while an operation with 11,000 officials was deployed to take the prison, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela presented its fourth report to the media at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the HR Council alerted about the continuous attacks on the civilian population, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, and attacks on human rights defenders in Venezuela,” he said.

In turn, Prado listed the events that also coincided with the “liberation” of the other detention centers, as one more trick of ‘Chavismo’ to try to hide reality and divert the attention of the population.

He reported that during the taking of Tocuyito, the Primary Commission was proclaiming María Corina Machado as the winner with more than 2.4 million votes, and while Puente Ayala’s intervention was taking place, the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) issued a ruling that suspended the opposition Primary election.

On the day of the taking of La Pica, the United Nations Human Rights Committee completed the Fifth Periodic Review of Venezuela on Civil and Political Rights.

“On November 6th, the ‘Vista Hermosa’ prison was ‘intervened’. The next day, hearings began at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. And on November 8th, the Trujillo prison was intervened and the Hearings in the International Criminal Court on the Venezuela case ended,” said the head of the OVP.

Critical overcrowding

In relation to the physical space that the country has in terms of prisons, Prado stated that there is currently not the necessary infrastructure to house so many prisoners.

The director of the OVP specified that currently there is “critical overcrowding”. Overcrowding that is close to 164%.

But that is not what worries the NGO the most. Despite having hopes that the ‘pran’ system will end in the national territory, the ultimate decision rests with Maduro’s administration.

“We sincerely wish that it would disappear, but what you purposefully created does not disappear, and it is present because it did not occur to Minister Remigio Ceballos that when they took the prisons they should have arrested the Pranes with their gangs, and with so many prisons that are now closed, they should have built one with maximum security adequate to the profile that these inmates have. The word pran means, Remigio Ceballos, “Prisoner Completed Born Killer.” With this I want to tell you that they should be treated differently from the common prisoner who only wants to serve his sentence, or be prosecuted and wait for the judge’s decision to be released,” he explained.

For Prado, the Chavistas agreed with the Pranes to hand over the penitentiary centers, and many of these ringleaders had even escaped several weeks before, as was the case of Vista Hermosa, where Wilkins Rafael Romero Maluenga, alias “Wilkins”; Giovannny Alejandro Navas Ochoa, alias “Pan”; and Edison González, alias “Chichi”, had fled the facility a month before. Some went even further and sent ‘goodbyes’ through their social networks, just as the pran of the Tocuyito prison alias “Richardi” did.

“The pranes have escaped due to complicity with the people who have been in charge of the Penitentiary Ministry and the National Guard and their officials. Not even the Ministry itself knows how many people escaped from these prisons that are being intervened, because they did not have control, the pranes and their gangs did,” he explained.

Problem multiplication

Adrián González, regional coordinator of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence-Guárico (OVV-Guárico), was concerned about the lack of adequate policies for the orderly and coherent distribution of prisoners in the detention centers that currently exist throughout the national territory.

He especially mentioned the “July 26” Detention Center for the Judicially Prosecuted in ‘San Juan de los Morros’, capital of Guarico State, which has received hundreds of prisoners after the taking of Tocorón.

“If there is no infrastructure in this processing center, there is no capacity to control them, what is simply spreading throughout the country is the influence of the Aragua Train and the pran organizations that existed in those prisons. If Maduro does not have a coherent public policy, the redistribution of prisoners will only cause the problem to multiply,” he stated.

González even spoke of foreign pressure towards Chavismo, especially from those who have business with Venezuela.

On the other hand, the OVV representative hopes that these militarized incursions will properly break in the long term the control that criminal sovereignties have in the reclusion centers and their surroundings.

“Experience has told us, both in the country and in Guárico, that these police saturation operations have given way to criminal sovereignties that are much better structured, more militarized and better prepared than what we used to have,” he highlighted.

Despite having “activated” twenty “security operations” over the last 23 years and according to Maduro achieving the “liberation of 100% of the Penitentiary Centers”, Chavismo still does not control the rates of crime, homicides and the formation of armed gangs in the country, which is why Venezuela continues to appear in the main indicators of violence and crime, whose model has gone from failure to failure without seeing improvements in the medium or long term.