A savage prison battle has left 16 dead in Venezuela, highlighting the horrendous conditions and lack of government control in the country's penal system.
According to El Nacional, the confrontation at Maracaibo National Prison, which continued for 24 hours, was a battle for control between prison gang leaders -- known as "pranes."
The encounter apparently began when men under the command of Edwin Soto, alias "El Mocho Edwin," knocked down a wall to attack a rival gang. An exchange of bullets, grenades and Molotov cocktails followed until their opponents eventually surrendered, reported El Universal.
Those who surrendered -- including three rival pranes -- were reportedly subjected to brutal treatment, with one's heart removed, another's eyes gouged out and a third castrated and his ears cut off. Pictures of dead bodies and severed limbs then began circulating on social networking websites, reported El Universal.
Soto is now being referred to as the "Gran Pran" (Great Pran), reported Entorno Inteligente.
The clashes took place less than a month after six inmates were killed in a confrontation sparked by the death of a previous gang leader at the hands of authorities.
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Venezuela is notorious for the horrendous conditions in its prisons and this is just the latest eruption of violence this year -- in January, a prison had to be abandoned after a riot left 61 inmates dead.
Venezuelan authorities have little control over prisons, which are all but run by the gangs within them. From their prison cells, pranes coordinate a variety of illegal activities both inside and outside the prisons, including drug dealing, kidnapping and extortion. Last year, the underground economy in one prison alone was estimated to bring in $3.7 million a year.
While disputes between prison gangs and between gangs and guards are common, such an audacious and brutal assault underscores the lengths prisoners will go to control this lucrative market.