Thursday, June 6, 2013

On the Inside: Venezuela’s Most Dangerous Prison

The following photographs were taken at the Vista Hermosa prison in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela in March and April 2013.

Drug users and those who violate the unwritten rules imposed by the inmates who control Vista Hermosa are confined to one area known as La Guerrilla.

  

His name is Wilmer Brizuela, Wilmito to his friends, but to the inmates of Vista Hermosa, he is simply the Pran, the unquestioned leader of one of Venezuela’s notorious prisons. Outside its walls, the Venezuelan national guard patrols; inside, the inmates live and die in a world of their own making. Brizuela has occasionally allowed reporters to visit for a few hours, but earlier this year, he gave photojournalist Sebastián Liste and me exclusive, full access to the prison for more than a week, revealing an improvised society that mirrors the one outside.

Brizuela, who is serving sentences of 10 years for kidnapping and 16 years for murder, believes that his rule over the 1,400 inmates of Vista Hermosa (Beautiful View) in the southern state of Bolívar is more humane than that of the Venezuelan prison authorities, who have been widely criticized by human-rights groups for the overcrowding, poor living conditions and corruption in the country’s prisons. Gang violence is rampant; last year 591 inmates were killed, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, a watchdog group. Under strongman Hugo Chávez, advocates and journalists who reported on abuses in Venezuela’s prisons faced intimidation and threats of violence; conditions have not improved since Chávez’s death.

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