HomeNewsAnalysisRiots and Violence Overwhelm Venezuela's Police Stations

Riots and Violence Overwhelm Venezuela's Police Stations


A new type of "pranato," or prison boss, is flourishing inside Venezuelan police stations, where riots, escapes, extortion rackets and killings are now common in holding areas. These makeshift prisons also breed power struggles amid rampant official corruption and neglect.

violent riot occurred on May 24 within a police station in the municipality of Páez in the state of Portuguesa. The riot left 29 prisoners dead and 14 officers injured, revealing yet again the bloody and criminal reality within these Venezuelan detention centers.   

Media reports stated that a clash broke out between the prisoners and police. It began when the inmates made a series of requests that were not accepted by authorities.  

According to on-the-ground sources, inmates demanded the dismissal of the prison director, Guillermo López, among other demands, which included materials to build a pool, and the entrance of women, liquor and cigarettes. Such benefits have been accepted by authorities in many prisons and detention centers run by prison bosses.  

SEE ALSO: Female Prisoners in Venezuela Become Cell Block Bosses to Survive 

After the proposals made by prison boss Wilfredo José Ramos Ferrer were rejected, the inmates took family members visiting other prisoners hostage. The situation saw the national police’s Special Action Forces (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES), which has been accused of participating extrajudicial killings, being called in to stop the riot.

The more than two dozen deaths in the riot were labeled as a massacre by prisoners' rights groups, such as Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Liberty). 

But Portuguesa’s Citizen’s Security Secretary, Óscar Valero, stated that the response by authorities was necessary  to stop an “escape attempt” and a “dispute between gangs.”  

 A week before the incident in the jail cells of Polipáez, 13 convicts escaped from a police delegation in the state of Lara after subduing various workers and assassinating an official.  

Again, the FAES and Lara police intervened, killing seven of the escaped prisoners during the operation to recapture them.  

InSight Crime Analysis

The escapes, riots and killings inside police station jails in Venezuela prove the shortcomings of the Venezuelan detention system. These events demonstrate tensions between officers and prisoners who are often vying for control of criminal revenues generated inside these precincts.  

Venezuelan laws state that prisoners in police station holding cells should only be detained for 48 hours. However, this norm is not upheld due to a counter-order issued by Prison Minister Iris Varela, which prevents prisoners from being transferred from police cells to full prisons 

Venezuelan prisons hold approximately 51,000 inmatesaccording to statistics provided by the Ministry of Penitentiary Service. But Carlos Nieto Palma, general coordinator of A Window to Freedom, estimates that another 55,000 inmates are distributed across 500 police holding cells around the country.  

SEE ALSO: Prison Mafia in Venezuela is Not Just the ‘Pranes’Carlos Nieto 

The jails also are now facing the same issues as seen within the country's prisons:  overcrowding, violence, corruption and the rise of prison bosses. Structured groups within the detention centers, organized under prison bossescontrol criminal economies from within the prisons and police stations 

On the other hand, the low salaries paid to officers  increases the chances of them collaborating with prisoners. Officers benefit by taking bribes in exchange for allowing food, drugs, or people into the police station. The prison break in Lara showed how young, inexperienced police officers are particularly susceptible to such bribes.   

The relationship between authorities and prison bosses is a fractious one that often ends in riots. Inmates often abuse their power making unreasonable requests or sparking violence, which then draws repressive tactics from the police.  

Additionally, both cases in Portuguesa and Lara states are also evidence of how authorities resort to lethal practices against these new prison leaders, when they can control them no longer. 

As seen in the video of the Portuguesa riot, the presence of weapons and grenades, which are commonplace inside police stations, simply make violence even more likely.  

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


A recent clash between Venezuela's collectives and police -- which may have led to the removal of the country's Interior…

BRAZIL / 28 FEB 2014

Reporters Without Borders' latest ranking of world press freedom highlights how the impact of organized crime on Latin American media…

PRISONS / 14 JUL 2011

A 27-day uprising in a Venezuelan prison has ended after talks, with some claiming that the government allowed an inmate…

About InSight Crime


Criminal Enterprise on the High Seas

12 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an extensive investigation into Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that plagues the waters of nine Latin American countries. Among the stories were how…


Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…


Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…


Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…


Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…