At least 10 inmates died in an armed battle between rival gangs in a Venezuelan prison on Wednesday. The violence, which took place in Tocoron prison in the central state of Aragua (75 miles south of Caracas), was reportedly triggered by the murder of a gang leader in the same prison earlier this week. During the eight-hour battle for control of Tocoron, inmates used automatic weapons, and even hand grenades, against other inmates and prison guards.
Police surrounded the prison during the firefight, but were forced to wait outside until the intensity diminished before restoring control. Among the wounded were four female relatives of inmates housed in Tocoron, who were hit by stray bullets while waiting outside for news of their loved ones.
The gang fight at Tocoron highlights the dire conditions in Venezuela’s prisons. More than 220 Venezuelan inmates died in prison in the first quarter of 2010 alone. The violence is due in part to a rampant gang culture that is linked to the country’s drug trade. Prisons are also overcrowded with 40,000 inmates occupying a correctional system that is only meant to accommodate 15,000.
Trained as a criminologist and a sociologist, Maria Mourani, a Montreal Member of Parliament (MP) with a special interest in street gangs in
But when she delved into the universe of the
Through contacts, Mourani was able to meet with members of two rival gangs in
She calls these gangs “by far the most violent and most dangerous gangs in the world.”
In her newly-published book released in French, Gangs de rue Inc. (Street Gangs Inc), Mourani describes her foray in 2008 into
She was shocked by what she found: cruel and violent initiation rites, young pregnant women proudly displaying the MS13 tattoos, children learning hand signals and a drive by gangs to “export” their “sub-culture” of violence wherever it gains a foothold.
Guatemalan police report that the number of female homicides is on the rise, with nearly 500 victims so far this year—a pace that is likely to eclipse the 672 such murders in 2008. Known as “femicide,” these murders are attributed to machismo violence carried out through juvenile gangs and groups of organized crime. Their targets are women between the ages of 13 and 30 and the murders are taking place primarily in and around Guatemala City. The most recent such murders occurred north of Guatemala City, where the victims were found wrapped in sheets and their bodies showed evidence of physical torture.
A Guatemalan Human Rights Commission report noted that an estimated 98 percent of the cases reported remain in impunity even though Guatemala passed a law against femicide in 2008, recognizing it as a punishable crime.