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Death Penalty in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal | Venezuela News and Views

05.09.05 | The 1999 constitution, retaking something that already existed in previous constitutions (and I stress the plural here, as some people think that before Chavez Venezuela was in the deepest of the dark ages) declared that the death penalty cannot exist (article 43), that the maximum penalty is actually 30 years in jail (article 44). Well, the facts after 6 years of constitution demonstrate that this one, as in so many of its chapters, is just a lie.Today El Universal publishes a damning article on one ofthe most infamous jails of Venezuela, the one from Yare. Yare also used to have a section where political prisoners were held in relatively more lenient conditions. Chavez among other benefited from such conditions after his failed 1992 coup. There he waited for a trial that never came until then president Caldera decided not to prosecute him, in a case that is mistakenly interpreted as a pardon, but which in reality never established the guilt of Chavez for the dozen of deaths in 1992. That juridical limbo is interpreted by many Chavez apologists as a pardon, or even worse, as a fulfillment of a penalty, a rather obscenely low fulfillment, a couple of years in jail for dozens of people killed or murdered.

One would think that once in office Chavez would have done something about Yare. Either destroy it, or humanize it and make it a monument to his past as a pseudo-political victim. But no, like almost everything else in Venezuela, and dramatically in the case of the judicial and penitentiary system, the Chavez administration has been absolutely negligent, establishing along the way an astounding record of human rights violations.

Describing the horrors of what goes inside jails defies words that can be understood outside of Venezuela. El Universal limits itself at describing how gangs of prisoners, benefiting of the presence of only 7 wardens, have established control on all what takes place in Yare, from food supplies to drug traffic, from who sleeps where and when to who dies when and where. A look at the picture below show clearly the run down aspect of the penitentiary, a place not even fit for rats. A place where you might die of typhoid fever while you wait for your trial, if you are not raped and killed first.

Yare, a run down jail, weeds everywhere, dirty and crumbling walls.

But the rate of violent death in Venezuelan jails defies any interpretation. El Universal lists the documented ones since January 2005. Before I give the numbers in the table below, it is essential to point out that the Chavez administration has been administering the jails of Venezuela since February 1999, that is for a full 6 years and a half, a period under which NO SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT CAN BE DETECTED. The table next lists how many people have been murdered in the Venezuelan penitentiary system so far this year. And how many have been injured during fights, attempted murders and the like (not injuries at the workshops or other normal activities, real injuries related to violence). Yare by itself accounts, in spite of all its own horror, for only 12.5% of the total deaths.

MonthBody countInjuries

The numbers speak by themselves. How many monthly executions in the US, a country over 10 times the population of Venezuela? How many killed by gang internecine warfare? In the US there have been for 2005 a total of 36 executions as of August 31, barely the Venezuelan monthly average!

To the apologists of the Chavez regime I will remind them that these are the deaths of the poor that Chavez was supposed to help. After almost 7 years of a pro-people regime one would have expected some improvement, no? Please, explain.

As for the uselessly repressive nature of police in Venezuela, the recent editorial of Teodoro Petkoff translated by Miguel says that since Chavez came to office more than 6000 Venezuelans have died in a variety of "confrontations" with the authorities. These "death sentences" do not contemplate the putative innocence of the people shot during those confrontations (look at the recent "Kennedy" case with 3 students just killed as roaches), it does not even consider the right of people to die executed in jail by their cell mates.

I suppose that one way to solve the poverty problem is to kill the poor, and let the poor kill each other.

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