VENEZUELA media reported that more than 150 Venezuelans held in the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) at Arouca began a hunger strike on Monday.
Tane Tanae Noticias and Venezuela En La Mira quoted the prisoners' relatives saying the accused men were protesting the lengthy wait for their trials. Many await a signature to complete the settling of the sentences in Venezuela, while others await transfers. Relatives said they do not rule out a "blood protest" if the requests are not met.
When Newsday contacted Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan on Monday afternoon, he said Venezuelans are not participating in any strikes as far as he is aware.
"What is happening in prison is some inmates decided not to eat the prison food as a sign of protest. There is nothing much I can do about that. But I have to ensure their diet is given to them," Pulchan said by phone.
"They are making a conscious choice to refuse the diet, which they have all rights to do. Venezuelans are not included in this group of about 150 prisoners." That protest started about a week ago, he recalled. The prisoners are calling for speedy trial dates as well as overall better living conditions.
"The prison service does not have the power or control over the court, which is an independent body. I empathised with them," Pulchan said.
Pulchan claimed that those who chose not to eat have "well-stocked snacks" in their cells. This is because their relatives send them money through the prison’s online system, which they use to buy items at the prison canteen. The Venezuelan media houses also reported that their fellow countrymen complained about inhumane conditions. The conditions in prison, Pulchan told Newsday, are "not all that bad."
"It is not a hotel, but we try to improve the conditions. On March 17, we had a riot and prisoners burnt and smashed an entire (south) wing of a remand prison. Because of that we now have to close that wing and relocate about 400 prisoners throughout the prison," Pulchan said.
"It has led to some levels of overcrowding. Despite what they have done, the Government injected $53 million in improving the prison’s condition. It is easy to bash the prisons, but we are doing things." The Venezuelan article said a man serving a 15-year sentence at MSP was recently isolated from a group said to have tuberculosis. The authority tested him, and the results came back negative.