Prado said there are conflicting accounts of how the violence erupted at Uribana prison. While the authorities say the security forces came under fire, some inmates say that the authorities ordered all of the inmates to gather in a softball field and that one prisoner who had been sleeping was brought out violently by guards, Prado said.
According to that account by prisoners, Prado said, inmates grabbed rocks and hurled them, and troops then fired into the air, setting off the gunfire. He said it will be up to the authorities to investigate the differing accounts.
Violence has worsened recently in Venezuela’s overcrowded prisons, with 591 inmates reported killed last year in the deadliest toll yet during President Hugo Chavez’s 14-year government, according to Prado’s group.
In 2011, Chavez created a Cabinet-level ministry to focus on prisons and appointed Varela to lead it. The president made that decision following a deadly, weekslong armed uprising at the prisons El Rodeo I and El Rodeo II outside Caracas.
Since Varela assumed her post, 869 inmates have been killed, Prado said. He and other activists charge that the new government ministry hasn’t made real progress in addressing the crisis.
Varela defended the government’s efforts, saying ‘‘human rights have been respected here like never before.’’