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Standoff is latest in Venezuelan prisons' history of problems

By the CNN Wire Staff
Smoke billows from the Rodeo I prison near Caracas, Venezuela, on June 17.
Smoke billows from the Rodeo I prison near Caracas, Venezuela, on June 17.
  • A standoff over weapons continues to brew at the Rodeo II prison
  • A human rights commission has repeatedly called for reforms at prisons
  • A video allegedly shows a scene from inside one of the prisons
  • Venezuela
  • Caracas
  • South America

(CNN) -- Venezuelan national guard troops have rescued some inmates from a prison where a standoff between prisoners and authorities continued Tuesday, but hundreds more remain inside.

Armed inmates inside the Rodeo II prison in the northern state of Miranda, east of Caracas, have rejected government calls to disarm since last week. According to the government, a group of about 50 inmates out of 1,000 is behind the resistance.

Authorities had already raided another prison, Rodeo I, and seized a number of weapons, drugs and cell phones. Two troops and one inmate were killed in that raid, officials said.

On Monday night, a national guard contingent rescued 36 inmates from the "mafias" that have control of Rodeo II, the state-run AVN news agency reported. Eleven were injured in the operation.

About 3,500 troops were surrounding the Rodeo II prison, the agency reported.

The operations at the Rodeo prison complex come a week after a prison riot that left 22 dead. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the riot reportedly revolved around a fight between rival gangs for control of the prison. The inmates allegedly attacked each other with weapons, the commission said.

Details of the situation inside Rodeo II are hard to come by.

However, a video that surfaced on YouTube purports to show the scene inside one of the prisons. The video, which was aired by Venezuelan news outlet Reportero 24, shows what appears to be the inside of a prison filmed by one of the inmates.

The date the video was shot and the location where it was shot were not verified.

In the video, two white freezers are shown and opened. Inside each, there is one body.

"We have to keep them in the freezer, so they don't rot," the narrator says. He describes the bodies as "two of the compatriots who have died in the fight."

If indeed both of the deceased are from inside one of the Rodeo prisons, it would increase the official death toll.

As the video pans away from the freezers, noises like gunfire can be heard.

The narrator blames officials for firing on the inmates.

"Listen! We are not lying," he says.

Conditions in Venezuelan prisons have been the subject of concern for human rights organizations for some time.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 476 inmates reportedly died in Venezuelan prisons in 2010 and another 967 were injured. From 1999 to 2010, a total of 4,506 inmates reportedly died and 12,518 were injured, the commission found.

As far back as 2008, the commission had issued orders to reform and regain control of Rodeo I.

In another report, the commission found that "the state has failed to adopt an effective policy to prevent violence within its detention centers" and that "Venezuelan prisons are the most violent in the region."

A recent feature by The New York Times looked at the San Antonio prison in Porlamar, on Margarita Island. The rule of authority had deteriorated so much there, the paper found, that it "looks more like a Hugh Hefner-inspired fleshpot than a stockade for toughened smugglers."

The prisoners there run the show, one inmate told the paper.

Among the problems that the commission cited were inmates' possession of weapons, extortion of inmates, overcrowding and lack of medical care.

The Inter-American Commission has repeatedly recommended -- and reaffirmed after last week's riot -- reducing the overcrowd conditions, confiscating weapons, and establishing a division between those who are being prosecuted and those who have been convicted. The commission also recommended better trained guards and better investigations into acts of violence inside the prisons.