Asunción, Oct 26 (EFE).- Without having completed his first 100 days in office, Paraguayan President Santiago Peña has already faced a protest by inmates at the country’s largest prison, highlighting a decades-long challenge for the government: prisons.
What began as a call for a press conference by Tacumbú inmates led by the Rotela clan – an organization that authorities have linked to drug trafficking – quickly turned into a protest on Oct. 10.
The riot quickly escalated, and the prison director and about twenty guards were taken hostage.
Peña announced in a press conference on Oct. 11 that they had regained control of Tacumbú, where, he warned, 2,700 inmates live together, of whom “1,600” are in judicial process, that is, without a definitive sentence.
Since then, the boat seems to be still rocking.
Last week, relatives of inmates protested at the Ministry of Justice, and some guards have refused to enter the prison since the riot.
Prison workers also arrived in Asunción on Monday from different parts of the country and began a hunger strike to demand better working conditions.
The prisoners’ protest, which Peña refused to characterize as a crisis but rather as a “confrontation with crime,” is one of the many symptoms of a disease that has already become endemic.
“This is a crisis that today is called the Tacumbú National Penitentiary, but tomorrow could be any one of the 18 penitentiaries throughout the country,” said Sonia Von Lepel, commissioner and acting president of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP).
Paraguay’s prisons hold 17,554 inmates, according to the Ministry of Justice.
11,000 prisoners have state-appointed lawyers because they do not have the economic means to pay for their defense.
According to Von Lepel, there is also an “abuse of preventive detention” to guarantee the submission of people to criminal proceedings.
“Of the total population, 70% are in preventive detention and only 30% are convicted,” she explained.
Experts and authorities agree that the prison system ends up being overcrowded because preventive detention is used to reduce crime.
Theft or aggravated robbery and other crimes against property are punished with this measure, above cases against life, according to von Lepel.
The Vice Minister of Criminal Policy, Rodrigo Nicora, expressed the same sentiment, pointing out that his country leads the statistics of “the application of preventive detention in South America.”
This with a system that Nicora described as “obsolete”, since in other countries of the region, penitentiaries are more than 80 or 90 years old, suffering from overcrowding, lack of personnel or with officials whose “remuneration is not correct.”
“It’s a combination of many problems and it has been going on for a long time,” the vice minister added.