Venezuela: Warden charged in deadly prison riot with 47 dead

This photo released by the Venezuelan Miraflores presidential press office shows President Nicolas Maduro speaking over military equipment that he says was seized during an incursion into Venezuela, during his televised address from Miraflores in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, May 4, 2020. Maduro said authorities arrested two U.S. citizens among a group of mercenaries on Monday, a day after a beach raid purportedly aimed at capturing the leader that Venezuelan authorities say they foiled. (Miraflores press office via AP)

CARACAS – Authorities in Venezuela said Wednesday that they're filing criminal charges against a prison warden and five guards following a riot that left 47 inmates dead and dozens more injured.

Prison guards could have used less lethal force to quell the riot, such as firing tear gas and warning shots, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said in a nationwide broadcast. He said four inmates accused of leading the uprising are also being held responsible.

“No one will be allowed to evade their unfortunate responsibility,” Saab said. “This is reprehensible.”

The riot erupted May 1 at the Llanos Penitentiary Center in the central Venezuela state of Portuguesa when inmates protested, demanding that their relatives be allowed to deliver them food during visits, officials have said.

In addition to those killed, another 69 people were injured in the violent clash, Saab said.

The five guards are accused of homicide and abuse of power, while prosecutors say the four inmates suspected of instigating the riot are accused of homicide and arms trafficking.

The warden is accused of being an accomplice to letting illegal weapons inside the prison, Saab said. Officials have previously said that the warden was among the injured, sustaining a knife injury.

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by a deepening political and economic crisis that has led to an estimated 5 million residents fleeing in recent years as public services crumble.

Venezuela has roughly 30 prisons and 500 jails that can hold an estimated 110,000 inmates. Human rights advocates say the prisons are violent and overcrowded, with gangs that traffic weapons and drugs in control.