Originally built to confine criminals until reparations were assigned, prisons have become a form of punishment themselves. Over the course of time the condition of penal institutions has decreased with overcrowding and corrupt staff playing a large role. For those prisoners serving their time in a foreign country, language barriers and discrimination against their nationality provides additional hurdles in an already dangerous setting.
In Locked Up Abroad: Venezuela Hustle, Paul Keany learns firsthand the nightmare of being incarcerated in a Venezuelan prison. Arrested at an airport for attempting to smuggle six kilos of cocaine, Paul was sexually assaulted by anti-drug officers before being thrown into the dark world of Los Teques. Considered one of the better facilities in Venezuela, Los Teques still not a vacation home. Most inmates are heavily armed and the facility is understaffed with many guards accepting bribes to turn a blind eyes. Staying alive in Los Teques is a daily struggle for those imprisoned behind its walls
With over 800 prisoners—twice what the institution was built to hold—Los Teques prison frequently makes headlines for violent outbreaks such as riots Riots and the seizure of hostages. In 2011 alone, 500 prisoners died while in Los Teques, close to 2,000 were injured. A recent incident occurred on January 8th, 2012 when inmates held nearly 700 visitors hostage as a form of protest against poor prison conditions not only in Los Teques prison but also in Venezuelan prisons, Yare-1 and Yare-2.
Riots, seizing hostages and general crime behind bars are not exclusive to Los Teques. In fact, it is common amongst all prisons in Venezuela. Consisting of over 30 institutions the prison system in Venezuela is known as one of the worst in Latin America. The poor judicial system has found many inmates held for years without a trial which has resulted in the overcrowding of these prisons. The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has spoken out on numerous occasions for prison reform and urged the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court to expedite trials in order to decrease the number of individuals incarcerated.
Of course, violent crime is not confined with prison walls; it is a major issue on the streets of Venezuela as well. 2011 was marked as the most violent year in Venezuelan history with over 19,000 homicides reported by police. In order to cut back on the number of violent crimes the country has banned private gun shops from selling guns and ammunition. This however does not solve the issue of illegal and unregulated gun sales which are a bigger contributor to violence street crime.
While Paul Keany will not be returning to Venezuela—he’s considered a fugitive there—others travels have shown an increased interest in visiting the country. Despite the United States warning to travelers that Venezuela’s murder rate is one of the top five in the world tourism has increased by 50% since last year. This influx of tourist is thought to be attributed to the improvements made to cultural and recreational areas as well as investments in transportation making traveling much easier.
Watch Locked Up Abroad: Venezuelan Hustle August 13th at 10P et/pt