The 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States defines a “state” as a space that possess a permanent population, a defined territory and a government that is capable of maintaining effective control over the corresponding territory and of conducting International relations with other states.

By that standard, Guárico’s Penitenciaria General de Venezuela (PGV) is not only a State, it’s a rogue nation that gets Venezuelan government and armed forces to do its bidding.

Its presiding tyrant, El Ratón, is a pran who, after having served his sentence last year, freely moves about the country in an ongoing spree of kidnappings, extortion and drug dealing. Whenever he wants to hide out or get some R&R, he and his Vargas criminal gang comes back to PGV.

There is not a single prison guard inside PGV. Ratón and his aides (luceros, in jailspeak) run the show entirely on their own.

El Ratón owns several businesses within PGV: a pizza joint, a burger shack, a supermarket, a chinese restaurant. He decides who lives and who dies in PGV, who stays and who goes. His absolute control goes beyond the confines of his infamously violent prison. The mouse hijacks government food trucks, assigns recipients their CLAP bags, and sells off government assistance products from his grocery shop to locals.

Last week, El Ratón realized he faced a fiscal deficit. His population of 137 inmates has been dwindling ever since the Prison Ministry began feeble attempts to strip away PGV’s power base last year. PGV’s fiscal base is heavily reliant on la causa, a weekly Bs.2500 fee that inmates must pay if they want to “belong to the system” and enjoy its benefits, which range from having a TV and access to CLAP booty to….continuing to breathe on a regular basis.

Showing more fiscal sense than his counterparts at Carmelitas, El Ratón decided to balance the budget. Last Monday, he took 50 PGV workers hostage: nurses, educators, grounds and administrative staff. His demands? That 4,000 inmates be transferred from other prisons all around Venezuela to PGV.

El Ratón’s mass hostage taking was accompanied by an almighty firefight with the authorities:

He specifically asked for lowly inmates – that is, petty criminals that have yet to profess loyalty to any one, that have not begun to work their way up the prison system ladder of prestige and infamy. His first draft pick were fresh detainees in police custody awaiting trial all around the country.

Now, here’s the shocking bit: the government agreed.

A massive government operation was undertaken in response, all for the sake of Ratón’s GDP. All across the nation, white buses supplied by the Ministry of Prisons crisscrossed our highways to bring in a fresh supply of inmates. Thousands of prisoners were brought into Guárico. PVG’s perimeter was militarized: tanks and checkpoints were deployed – for the purposes of facilitating the transfer operation. Hundreds of armed National Guard officials stood about in riot gear, under the searing hot sun of the Venezuelan Llanos – to keep away the throngs of desperate families anxious for information of their loved ones’ whereabouts.

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For several days, the deceptively colorful gate at the
26 de Julio prison open and closed as buses came and left. 26 de Julio is Prisons Minister Iris Varela’s model jail unveiled last year as a PR stunt, directly next door to PGV, but is not Ratón-controlled. Throughout the operation, 26 de Julio was used as a transfer station of sorts: incoming prisoners were asked if they wanted to be sent to PGV. Most prisoners happily agreed.

For aspiring pranes, a stint at PGV is a badge of honor. Convicts who survive and thrive there get forever bragging rights and eternal respect. And apparently, if you pay your dues and do as you’re told, it’s a pretty sweet gig, all things considered.  

“You should get your son to be sent over to PGV,” Sra. Rosalía,the old lady who runs the kiosk of coffee and single cigarettes in front of 26 de Julio told a restless mother who’d been holding vigil outside the jail for several days. “The causa is Bs. 10,000 a month, and you can sleep over with him on the weekends if you’d like…plus, no cavity searches.”

Just then, a busload of inmates rode in. “Aquí llegó el hampa de Petare!! ¡Llegaron los malos!” they shouted from the bus with glee.

Not every new arrival makes the cut. El Ratón’s immigration policies are pretty tight: here’s one head of state who doesn’t need to bother promising to build a wall, his territory came with one.

One woman outside the the jail said that her brother had asked to be sent to PGV from 26 de Julio, only to be sent back with his hands and feet crushed by a sledgehammer. Word around the jail was that maybe 200 rejected transfers had come out with stab injuries.

The 50 hostages inside PGV were kept without food or water for more than two days. When El Ratón decided to up the ante last Saturday and demand that families be allowed to visit inmates, he stripped the workers naked — including a pregnant woman — and made them stand on the rooftop, aware that they would be indistinguishable from rioting inmates if the National Guard decided to shoot.

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IMG_3552If visiting families carrying luggage and bags of personal items looked like they were moving, it’s because they were: they will remain for weeks, if not months, inside the prison to prevent the authorities from retaliating. Consider them greencard holders: aliens with indefinite leave to remain.

Eventually, the chaos subsided. Ratón got his transfers, the military left, and all was well in the State of PGV.

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