Other Worldly

 Venezuela is a truly other worldly place. From “The Lost World” of Canaima, home of the world’s highest waterfall to Merida in the Venezuelan Andes, home of the world’s highest cable car, there are many remarkable things there, although most people won’t have the chance to experience them as it’s far too dangerous to travel there, despite Nicolas Maduro’s “happy talk” about tourism. But we’re not here to talk about those things. There’s another other worldly aspect to Venezuela, it’s prisons. Check this out.

 Business Insider had a piece telling us about what was one of Venezuela’s hottest venues for musicians and sports stars for part of the last decade, PGV. No, it’s not a nightclub. PGV stands for General Penitentiary of Venezuela, a maximum security prison run by it’s own inmates. This is “Escape From New York” type stuff. Festivities at PGV would be announced by DJs over the radio. The inmates roamed freely as the cell blocks had been torn out, no “behind bars”. But all was not fun and games…

 There was a rigid, if convoluted, code of conduct that was maintained by gangs and an arsenal of heavy weapons. Visitors were considered sacred and off limits. PGV was at it’s best on Visitors Days, which could last for weeks. At times there were concerts, bouncy castles and clowns for visiting kids, etc. Electronic music by DJs, laser shows, and fireworks were not uncommon.

 From the outside it looked like any other prison with high fences, barbed wire, control towers, and checkpoints manned by armed military officers. But just inside was a thin fence. Outside that fence were the armed officers. Inside that fence were the armed prisoners with much more firepower than the guards outside.

 Starting around 2007, after being neglected by Chavismo (like most of the country unless you had something worth them taking from you) prison gangs began taking over. Around 2009 they had taken over completely and by 2010 many of Venezuela’s male prisons were under the effective control of inmates. The makeshift marketplace inside PGV had basically anything you might want to buy, so much so that in times of extreme shortages  on the outside people would visit to shop.

 Armed with revolvers, rifles, and even hand grenades the gang members made sure everything ran smoothly. They also enforced the payment of the weekly tax which paid for prison maintenance and security (more weapons) as well as parties and other activities. Abiding by the unwritten code of “La Rutina” was obligatory and punishment for infractions was ruthless. In addition to routine punishments like a bullet to the hand for stealing, on Mondays, in an improvised arena called “The Coliseum”, dozens of inmates were compelled to settle debts or other disputes in knife fights. (How’s that for “Escape From New York” type stuff?) Ordinary words like egg, milk, or water, that in Venezuela prison slang carry a vague sexual connotation, were banned.Their use could get you banished to the trash-filled corners of the prison, far away from the markets and fun.

 Authorities shut down PGV in 2016. At that time it had a population of 5,000 inmates, 6 times it’s capacity limit. Most of the prisoners were in legal limbo having not yet been tried for their alleged offenses or given an exact sentence. There are no current numbers available (Where have we heard that before?) but in 2014 Venezuela prisons held over 60,000 inmates with 309 murders. By 2016 the situation at PGV and all of Venezuela had become catastrophic so families were unable to send help to prisoners as they had in the past. After paying their tax to the gang there was no money left for food. (You could starve in prison just like you could in the rest of Venezuela)

 In September, 2016 there was a big party for the birthday of the gang’s boss, Franklin “Viru Viru”. Along with friends and family were musicians and sports stars. Then BOOM, a hand grenade went off and by the time the chaos and smoke cleared visitors and prisoners were among the 20 victims. The place never recovered. The prison divided into warring factions. Punishments including murder became more common and more random. Tuberculosis was plaguing PGV and infected prisoners were dying daily. (Tuberculosis had made a comeback on the outside as well due to the collapsed healthcare system)

 Seeing an opening, state forces stormed the prison. The fighting went on for two weeks leaving an estimated 80 people dead. When it was finally over government soldiers cleared PGV and the prisoners were distributed among various other detention centers. This is just one example of “upside-down” Venezuela where police forces commit over 1,400 extrajudicial killings a year and prisoners control the prisons. How’s that for other worldly?

 Then we have Caracas Chronicles telling us that Maduro’s VP, Delcy Rodriguez, says the fire at IVSS (the massive warehouse fire last week) was intentional and that they have “proof” the act was perpetrated by “extremists”. (They always say they have proof and we never see it)

 And we have retired and active public sector workers scheduling another protest against ONAPRE (National Budget Office) who’s rules and calculations are enabling the Maduro regime to screw everybody.

 Then we have representatives of the TSJ (Venezuela Supreme Court) meeting with representatives from the Office of UNHCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) to review the state of Human Rights and public policy. High Commissioner, Michele Bachelet, is due to submit the report from the FFM (Fact Finding Mission) in September so this is just preemptive “happy talk” ahead of the report’s release, just like they did last time and last year’s report was not kind to the Maduro regime. This year’s report should be no different but we’ll wait and see…

 And we have Honduras National Police reporting that they arrested 15 Venezuelan migrants being transported by a ‘coyote’ in an SUV. Was it a really big SUV or some really small migrants?

 Oh, and FYI…In Russia’s military games, one of which was hosted by Venezuela called “Sniper Front”, Venezuela finished last.

 Then we have Info Market reporting that IMF (International Monetary Fund) data shows Venezuela ranked 3rd in the world in the rate of food inflation at 155%. The article noted World Bank expert’s concern that the Russian invasion (not a “special military operation”) of Ukraine and it’s effect on the global food supply may push some countries into extreme poverty. Remember, the UN metric for extreme poverty is making a dollar a day or less. So, no worries about this pushing Venezuela into extreme poverty, they’ve been there for years. (Maduro’s huge increase in the minimum wage last fall RAISED THE SALARY TO $30 A MONTH or A DOLLAR a DAY) It’s also worth mentioning (again) that Venezuela’s minimum wage is currently at under $22 a month and going down. At least it’s not the 67 cents a month it was not that long ago.

 And we have Daily Mail reporting that according to new allegations in a civil suit, former Miami Congressman, David Rivera, signed a $50 million contract with Venezuela’s socialist government and did no apparent work. Rivera has not been charged with any crime but federal authorities in the US are investigating.

 More tomorrow….

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