CARACAS, April 1, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Venezuelan authorities have arrested five police commanders suspected of bearing responsibility for a deadly fire in a state police headquarters jail that killed 68 people, the country’s chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, said Saturday.
The blaze, which broke out on Wednesday in the main police station in Valencia, Venezuela’s third-biggest city, triggered national outrage and UN condemnation.
A prisoners’ rights group, Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), said detainees had set fire to mattresses in an attempt to break out, but the flames and smoke quickly filled the cells.
Authorities said 66 prisoners and two female visitors died.
Saab said on Twitter that the five arrested commanders were “suspected of being responsible for the tragic events that caused the deaths of 68 citizens in the cells of the regional police headquarters: they have been arrested.”
One of those in custody was the deputy director of the police headquarters.
Saab vowed a full probe into the fire “and punishment for all those responsible without distinction.”
The blaze was one of the worst disasters to befall Venezuela’s badly overcrowded detention facilities.
At least 388 people have died behind bars in the country since 2011, according to official data and human rights groups.
Venezuela’s government said Friday it would compensate the families of those killed, without specifying any sums.
It also lashed out at the UN human rights office in Switzerland, accusing it of “prejudicial” behavior for issuing a statement saying it was “appalled at the horrific deaths” and calling for a complete investigation.
Venezuela is suffering hyperinflation, a lack of basic food and medicine, and is sliding inexorably towards default, despite sitting atop the biggest proven oil reserves in the world.