Most of the dead have been identified. But many questions remain about Venezuela’s prison riot and fire

A prisoner killed in a jailhouse fire this week in Valencia, Venezuela, is buried.
(Heberlizeth González/EPA-EFE/REX / Heberlizeth González/EPA-EFE/REX)

All but seven of the 68 people killed in this week’s prison riot and fire in central Venezuela had been identified by Friday as the government continued to remain silent about how the conflagration occurred.

Authorities at the police command center in Valencia, about 100 miles west of Caracas, distributed photos to family members to help in the identification effort. Smoke inhalation or burns were the most common causes of death.

In addition to the deaths, 48 prisoners were injured in the fire Wednesday.

Families were still clamoring for official answers to how the fire started in the overcrowded jail. Unnamed officials have told local media that it began when prisoners set fire to their mattresses.

Some families have accused guards of starting the fire after one was disarmed and stabbed by a prisoner during a surprise early morning search of cells.


Relatives are also seeking information on the identities of the 100 prisoners who have been transferred from Valencia in central Carabobo state to other jails, according to the Carabobo News Agency.

Venezuela’s prison system has long been denounced by human rights groups for overcrowding, rampant gang violence and other abysmal living conditions. There have been several riots in recent years, including one at the Amazonas state prison that left 38 dead.

Family members are also expressing outrage at the way some prisoners have been left in the Valencia detention center for months, even though the law requires they be held for no more than 48 hours before being transferred to court or other jails.

Neither Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro nor Iris Varela, minister of the prison system, has publicly commented on the fire.

Mogollon is a special correspondent.