Guards Treat Families of Cabimas Prisoners As Criminals Themselves

Visiting a prisoner in Venezuelan jails became a traumatic ordeal. Relatives of Cabimas prisoners speak out against CONAS officers, report the abuses they endure and chronicle how the guards mistreat visitors as if they were animals.

Photo:Wtop retrieved

I imagine how peculiar the life of an outlaw must be.

I also imagine how tortuous it must be for their relatives who, despite being blameless, must also suffer the consequences of their actions. In a country where human rights are respected, visiting inmates and bringing them food is routine. That’s not the case in Venezuela, where relatives might be physically and psychologically assaulted, a common scene within the confines of the Preventive Arrests and Detentions Center of Cabimas, in Zulia.

On July 22, Carolina González, an inmate’s relative, made the bus trip between Maracaibo and Cabimas (over 55 km), for a routine visit at 3:00 p.m. Upon arrival at the jail’s Section A, agents of the National Anti-Kidnapping Command (CONAS) with no ID on their uniforms received her, and other visitors, as if they were terrorists.

“They treated us like dogs, like animals,” González told Radio Fe y Alegría Noticias. “They pulled our hair, they kicked us, they broke our boys’ belongings. They threw the wallet, ID and all the rest in a bag.”

“They treated us like dogs, like animals.”

According to Andrea Briceño, another inmate’s relative, CONAS agents took over the Cabimas jail on the third week of July to inspect the prisoners in sections A and B without a court warrant because, allegedly, they housed the murderers of 28-year-old first sergeant Carlos Castillo Arteaga, member of that security branch. This contradicted the official police press release, which said “CONAS hasn’t entered or inspected that prison. They’re just nearby doing their intelligence job.”

“They tore all my bills apart,” Andrea said, “they told me that the money was to buy drugs. I needed the money for my trip back home, I spend Bs.F. 300,000 to visit my husband.”

It’s hard to know what happens within the prison. Authorities remain silent and the press has no way to independently report on the situation.

Everyone knows about the power that pranes have in Venezuelan prisons; back in July, María Espinoza, sister of 30-year-old Manuel Espinoza, known as “The Monster of Santa Rosa” for committing a crime against his three stepchildren and his wife, said that her brother wasn’t transferred to the Dr. Adolfo D’Empaire General Hospital of Cabimas to get treatment for tuberculosis, because pranes were charging him the absurd amount of Bs.F. 500 million for the move.

They groped our breasts, our buttocks, our private parts. They even called us whores.”

“A prisoner in Section A had tuberculosis,” said Marioxis Fernández, an inmate’s family member. “Another prisoner wanted to bathe him and give him water because he was covered in feces, and a CONAS agent pistol-whipped him to death. That was a Saturday; the body was removed on Sunday or Monday, already rotten. CONAS agents told us they acted on Omar Prieto’s orders.”

And this isn’t far-fetched, because Zulia governor, Omar Prieto, has frequently used a violent discourse regarding prisoners’ human rights. Last July 24, he spoke about the CONAS takeover of Cabimas jail, saying that “pranes don’t reign in Cabimas. They don’t own the place.”

And while the governor imposes his “order and authority,” he tramples everyone’s rights, like Fernández’s, who was inspected with the same glove used to inspect all women visiting: “There were over a thousand women, and they inserted a finger in our vaginas with a glove because we allegedly carried drugs. They groped our breasts, our buttocks, our private parts. They even called us whores.”

Meanwhile, Briceño says that, to see her husband for five minutes, CONAS agents made her pick garbage off the street and carry drinking water from one municipality to another, because they haven’t had any water in Cabimas for two months.

For Marioxis, “nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes. If he’s there, it’s because he’s paying for his mistake, we’re not against that. But they don’t have to mistreat relatives that way. What can we expect, the death of our guys?”

Mila Padrón

My job is to contrast the promises of those who hold power and the reality of the everyday life of citizens.