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

EL CHAPO / 15 OCT 2015

An unauthenticated video has surfaced in which guards appear to ignore the sounds of tunneling prior to the…

ELITES AND CRIME / 25 AUG 2020

Both Venezuela and the United States are advancing legal cases against former officials from Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuelan state…

HUMAN RIGHTS / 17 AUG 2015

The arrest of several police officers accused of extrajudicial killings once again shines the spotlight on this issue in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…