HomeNewsBriefVenezuela’s Top Prison Official Out, But Permissive Policy Still In
BRIEF

Venezuela’s Top Prison Official Out, But Permissive Policy Still In

PRISONS / 19 JUN 2017 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro announced the replacement of Prison Minister Iris Varela, but her policies that allowed criminal networks to flourish inside the country's jails seem destined to continue.

Mirelys Contreras Moreno was designated what is known as the Minister of Popular Power for the Penitentiary Service (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario), according to a June 15 press release. She will replace Varela, who is stepping down to participate in July's Constituent Assembly as a deputy.

Varela is emblematic of the government's prison policy. The official headed the current ministry since its creation in July 2011, and was the only minister left in Maduro's cabinet to have taken office under Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013.

Varela developed close ties with Venezuela's prison bosses dubbed "pranes" and admitted giving permission for prisoners to handle riots themselves. After six years under her management, Venezuela's penitentiary remains out of government control, as evidenced by recurring deadly riots and discoveries of mass graves.

Contreras, who has also been with the ministry since its creation, was until now vice minister for the Assistance to Prisoners (Viceministra de Atención al Privado y Privada de Libertad), a technical division of the Prison Ministry, according to the ministry's organizational chart.

InSight Crime Analysis

The likelihood that Varela's departure signals a change of policy is thin. Since a brutal month-long prison riot that led to the creation of the current ministry in 2011, Venezuela's prison policy has essentially been to let prisoners control the penitentiaries themselves.

This policy has opened the door to illicit markets that the pranes have monopolized. The near-complete absence of state control also paved the way for the pranes to extend outside of prisons, where they are forming so-called "megabandas."

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Carlos Nieto Palma, the director of the non-profit Window To Freedom (Ventana A La Libertad) said the new minister will follow the lead of the outgoing one.

"I don't think there will be any change. The new minister was vice minister for the Assistance to Prisoners and was very close to Varela. I think that the same policy will be maintained. And I actually think that Varela will still be calling the shots through her [Contreras]," Nieto told Insight Crime.

"Remember that Varela left for the Constituent Assembly. That is the only reason for her departure," Nieto added.

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.

DONATE

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.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 13 MAY 2021

Smuggling networks are feeding illegal mining operations across the Amazon Basin with mercury, despite global efforts to clamp down on…

ELITES AND CRIME / 25 FEB 2021

As alleged Maduro financier Alex Saab awaits potential extradition to the United States, the Venezuelan government decided that a concert…

VENEZUELA / 26 JAN 2023

Tren de Guayana is one of the most powerful mining gangs to currently operate in the southern Venezuela state of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…