CARACAS -- Inmates are preventing some 200 visitors from leaving the Uribana jail, in Western Venezuela's Lara state, according to government and media reports. Union Radio said some of the hostages are there voluntarily, as they are relatives of inmates that want better conditions for the prisoners.
Venezuelan prisons are notoriously violent and overcrowded and inmates have to pay jailhouse gangs for everything, including water, food or a place to sleep.
Prisons Minister Iris Varela said she will visit Uribana and meet with inmates only after the hostage situation ends.
"As long as you keep your relatives kidnapped, I will not go to Uribana," Varela was quoted as saying in a government press release. And inmates did not really had a reason to protest, the minister said. "The protest is senseless," she added.
A similar situation at Caracas main prison, the El Rodeo compound this summer, ended with several inmates and one National Guard lieutenant killed after several days of rioting (with inmates using firearms, including heavy machine guns) as well as several inmates escaping. The Prisons ministry was created shortly after the tragedy, with Varela being the first person appointed to the post.