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Relatives Demand Answers After Venezuela Kills Prison Fire 68

It was not long before Daniel Marquez's family appeared in the Venezuelan police station jail, where he was imprisoned for almost a year and awaiting trial as black smoke from the building ascended. 19659002] The guards ordered them to flee and forced them and other inmate members to watch in horror from afar as the flames grew rapidly.

A day later, Marquez's family housed its blackened mortal remains in a simple wooden coffin, as did the questions surrounding the Wednesday fire, which killed 68 people in one of Venezuela's worst jails.

"He does not deserve to die like this," said Sorangel Gutierrez, Marquez's sister-in-law, as relatives were crying in front of the coffin of the 28-year-old father of two. His relatives said he was detained because he could not pay a bribe to an officer who had found a photograph of an illegal weapon on his cell phone.

On Thursday, in the police station's fully occupied prison cells, various versions of relatives and human rights groups circulated in a deafening silence of officials who have yet to produce a full report.

Marquez & # 39; s family said they had received a call from him just before the fire that guards would pour gasoline into the cell block and incite them to rush

Other reports from victims' survivors and relatives point to it hints that the inmates themselves set the fire to flee.

President Nicolas Maduro has made no statement about the fire loss of life, instead post a video on Twitter of an encounter with US actor Danny Glover and remind Venezuelans there are hundreds of beaches and churches across the country You can spend Holy Week festivities ,

The most extensive information agencies that have been released so far came in a series of three tweets from Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab, who said late Wednesday that there were 66 men, as well as two women, [4] he said four Prosecutors had been assigned to find out what had happened and who was responsible for the tragedy in Valencia, an industrial city in the state of Carabobo, 1

60 kilometers west of Caracas, the capital. He promised a "thorough investigation to immediately highlight the painful events that have mourned dozens of Venezuelan families."

While Venezuela plunges into an economic crisis worse than the Great Depression, advocates claim that prisoners are exposed to particularly depressing conditions. hungry in increasingly crowded cells. Inmates often receive weapons and drugs with the help of corrupt guards and heavily armed groups control the log cabins.

"The neglect of the authorities continues and leads to deaths," said the non-governmental Venezuelan prison observatory in a statement [19659003] The United Nations Human Rights Office said it was "appalled by the terrible deaths" and called on Venezuela to respond quickly to concerns such as judicial delays, excessive use of pre-trial detention and cramped quarters.

The fatalities in Wednesday's disaster surpasses almost every mass casualty event in Venezuelan prisons. A fire in a prison in the western state of Zulia killed more than 100 detainees in 1994. In 2013, 61 people were killed and more than 100 injured, most notably by gunshot wounds, following a riot in Barquisimeto.

Carlos Nieto, director of A Window to Freedom, an organization that oversees conditions of detention, told the Associated Press that reports from survivors and relatives of victims suggest that the fire started in Valencia when inmates tried to keep two guards to kidnap. Later, they allegedly set fire to some mattresses to force guards to open the cells so they could escape.

Nieto said the officers should have opened the cells as soon as flames spread.

"The rescued were rescued because firefighters opened a wall from the back to get them out," he said.

An estimated 32,000 detainees are held in Venezuelan police stations that are far beyond capacity, according to the Venezuelan Prison Observatory. The jail on the site of Wednesday's fire was built for 35, but at the time of the fire about 200 people were suspected.

A report from the observatory released before the fire revealed that in the first two months of 2018, 26 prisoners had died and more than 1,000 participated in hunger strikes. The report contained the testimony of a prisoner who said he had been forced to eat two dead rats after spending long periods without food.

"The prisons in Venezuela are a real hell," wrote Humberto Prado, director of the group. Despite Venezuelan laws requiring the detention of prisoners for a maximum of four days after their first arrest, relatives said many of the inmates of Valencia had been detained for much longer, waiting to be relocated to larger facilities

on Wednesday, when they passed the police station after hearing of the fire, only to find a number of officers holding metal shields, blocked their access and gave little information. Angry relatives crowded in against them and officers used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Opposition lawmaker Juan Miguel Matheus offended the pro-government leader of the Carabobo state for telling relatives what had happened.

"The despair of relatives should not be played with," he said.

There was still a smell of smoke in the air on Thursday and a white pillar at the entrance to the police station was black from the fire.

Miles Away In One In the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods of Valencia, Marquez's relatives moaned with grief as several men struggled to carry the coffin with its blackened remains onto the narrow steps of its two-story blue and white house.

His burned face was visible behind a small piece of glass on the casket.

"I want my father," his 13-year-old daughter Feliana shouted as she leaned into the coffin to look at her father. "Why did he leave?"


Associated Press authors Fabiola Sanchez of Caracas, Venezuela, and Christine Armario of Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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