Margarita Island: Venezuela’s Party Prison

jp-04venez1-popupSuppose prison was fun? Venezuela’s San Antonio prison houses 2,000 convicts, including many foreigners from around the globe, mostly convicted on drug charges. They can do anything they want, except leave — there are pool halls, dance parties, swimming, drugs, guns, gender mixing and unlimited visitors. Crazy, yes, but is it any worse than what we have here? The New York Times reports:

Bikini-clad female visitors frolic under the Caribbean sun in an outdoor pool. Marijuana smoke flavors the air. Reggaetón booms from a club filled with grinding couples.

Prisoners barbecue meat while sipping whisky poolside. In some cells, equipped with air-conditioning and DirecTV satellite dishes, inmates relax with wives or girlfriends. (Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, allows conjugal visits.) The children of some inmates swim in one of the prison’s four pools.

Luis Gutiérrez, the warden at San Antonio prison, refused to discuss the prison he nominally oversees. Renowned on Margarita Island as a relatively tranquil place where even visitors can go for sinful weekend partying, is in a class of its own. On weekends, the ambience inside, bursting with spouses, romantic partners and some who simply show up looking for diversion, almost resembles the island’s beach resorts.

Prisoners boast that they built these perks themselves, with their own money. They say escapes are rare (inmates, if they try, still face the threat of being shot by soldiers outside). And while San Antonio can hardly be considered safe — a grenade attack in the infirmary killed several men last year — inmates argue that compared with other jails, peace often prevails. “Our prison is a model institution,” said Iván Peñalver, 33, a convicted murderer who preaches at the prison’s evangelical Christian church.

“I find it hard to explain what life is like in here,” said Nadezhda Klinaeva, 32, a Russian serving a drug trafficking sentence in the women’s annex. “This is the strangest place I’ve ever been.”

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Makes you wonder whether there’s any ‘sub rosa’ medical experiments re: STDs being done on these prisoners, a la the 1946-1948 study Disinfo discussed some months back.

    http://www.disinfo.com/2010/10/u-s-purposely-infected-hundreds-of-guatemalans-with-stds-in-secret-medical-experiments/

    But somehow I doubt it.  It’s probably more likely to be some pragmatic yet perverse Hasek-ian gaming of the U.S.-mandated drug wars.  Maybe it even represents a reasonable accomodation, given the potentially gruesome alternative of confronting a vicious gang culture that wouldn’t even be slowed down by anything more conventional tactics could throw at them.

    • Hadrian999

      letting prisoners live like human beings, scandalous!

      • Liam_McGonagle

        Well, I’m sure they have their hardships, too.  You know for a fact that those warders just HAVE to be taking a bit o’ money under the table.

        You know, spreading the American ethic of lassez faire capitalism to the furthest reaches of the globe.  Scott Walker would be jealous.

        • Hadrian999

          it may be not be perfect but it beats the american model that turns prisons into a psychopath factory with the only activity is preying on eachother.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            True.

            But I don’t imagine these guys leading lives entirely divorced from the brutal routine of managing drug cartels.  You know they continue to have some involvement.  There doesn’t seem to be any effective barrier to issuing orders, lining up deals through agents on the outside.  They may not be pulling the triggers, but I’m sure they’re giving some orders.

            Which should not be to unduly take focus away from the fact that it’s America’s inability to deal with the demand side of the equation, and some neo-colonial economic policies, that are what ultimately prop up this violent system.

            Imagining what a more appropriate correctional system for the U.S. would look like is a worthy exercise.  But I’m a little intimidated by the scale of the problem.  I see absolutely zero chance of making any progress on that until we admit that it’s the perversity of our broader cultural biases that makes drug addiction, murder and mayhem inevitable.

      • SF2K01

        Yes it is scandalous. There’s an old saying: Were it not for the fear of punishment, people would swallow each other alive. Prisoners are human beings, but the general idea behind prison is that you have done something to deserve having your rights revoked and require isolation. Putting aside the question of drug criminalization, a normal criminal has committed a crime against his fellow man in some way shape or form and is supposed to be punished, not given a free vacation.

        Prisons like these are on the path to a complete disregard for the law because there is no real deterrent for committing crimes (get caught, you’re safe and happy, don’t get caught, you made good money) and the article even mentions prisons like this exist simply because the government has practically lost control of the prisons.

        • Anon

          Prisons have taken a lot of forms throughout history…. but I think the whole scheme is more of like a band-aid on our society. We have been divorced from nature and have been brought up to be alienated from one another in this mechanized world. Those that don’t cooperate well, get shoved behind a well fortified wall, where they are out of sight and out of mind.

          Ultimately the end goal of any imprisonment should be to correct the problems they came in with. Perhaps this situation in Venezuela is a little extreme, but look, they are all getting along and making their life, and those around them better. That is what we truly want, an experience that can help our fellow brothers learn to love and be loved by those around them.

          We shouldn’t just stuff ‘em like sardines in an overcrowded crazy house, and tell them that that’s what they deserved– ‘So better luck next time!’ ‘Maybe you’ll have more respect for the law now!’ — These are absurd statements that tend to drive wedges between the criminal and the surrounding society, filling the soul with spite for the cruel treatment they had to endure.

          I guess what I’m saying is that there is a difference between imprisonment and rehabilitation. The idea that you put out here is that we all would be criminals were it not for the fear of the law..  All the law can do is what the citizens want it to do. We can be blind to the perpetual harm our prisons are doing, but a healthier thing to do is to understand and acknowledge that there are deficiencies in our views of crime and punishment.

        • Hadrian999

          I am guessing you have never been confined anywhere, but the question is which serves society moor, sure the idea of punishment feels good but does it serve society, as it stands the vengeful prison model doesn’t do much to turn people away from crime it is more likely to turn petty offenders into hardened criminals. laws need to serve a constructive purpose not satisfy a knee jerk emotional reaction. at the least prisons need to be safe, once you take away someone’s liberty you are responsible for what happens, the popular idea that prison violence and rape is a just part of the justice system is disgusting.

          • SF2K01

            These are primarily side issues. I am speaking of the very idea of prison. I am not saying our system is perfect and it has many flaws and I am not advocating punishment for it’s own sake, but neither will I advocate prison systems that remove any aspect of punishment. Yes it should be rehabilitative, but punitive measures are also supposed to be a part of that process. Every crime requires a different level and type of punishment as well as a different type of rehabilitation because both aspects are necessary: One part to deter wrong doing to make someone think twice about making such an action and the other to correct behavior since it has happened. This is not a knee-jerk reaction but a logic based reaction.

        • http://twitter.com/pigle Valentine Sedlovsky
          • Anon

            Nice, though I tend to think that people are spending too much time on the negatives of life, and not enough time just enjoying it (could be a link in the unprecedented crime drop). When did you ever check out a news story that told you how great it all is? Or a dissertation that proved to you that JOY is the point?  ;)

  • Anonymous

    Makes you wonder whether there’s any ‘sub rosa’ medical experiments re: STDs being done on these prisoners, a la the 1946-1948 study Disinfo discussed some months back.

    http://disinfo.com/2010/10/u-s-purposely-infected-hundreds-of-guatemalans-with-stds-in-secret-medical-experiments/

    But somehow I doubt it.  It’s probably more likely to be some pragmatic yet perverse Hasek-ian gaming of the U.S.-mandated drug wars.  Maybe it even represents a reasonable accomodation, given the potentially gruesome alternative of confronting a vicious gang culture that wouldn’t even be slowed down by anything more conventional tactics could throw at them.

  • Hadrian999

    letting prisoners live like human beings, scandalous!

  • Anonymous

    Well, I’m sure they have their hardships, too.  You know for a fact that those warders just HAVE to be taking a bit o’ money under the table.

    You know, spreading the American ethic of lassez faire capitalism to the furthest reaches of the globe.  Scott Walker would be jealous.

  • Hadrian999

    it may be not be perfect but it beats the american model that turns prisons into a psychopath factory with the only activity is preying on eachother.

  • GoodDoktorBad

    Someday it will become a sovereign nation like Australia -the former prison colony. Then again, maybe just an offshore secret bank and convention center for the drug trade. 

    Venezuelan babes for everyone. Wheeeee….

  • Anonymous

    Someday it will become a sovereign nation like Australia -the former prison colony. Then again, maybe just an offshore secret bank and convention center for the drug trade. 

    Venezuelan babes for everyone. Wheeeee….

  • Anonymous

    True.

    But I don’t imagine these guys leading lives entirely divorced from the brutal routine of managing drug cartels.  You know they continue to have some involvement.  There doesn’t seem to be any effective barrier to issuing orders, lining up deals through agents on the outside.  They may not be pulling the triggers, but I’m sure they’re giving some orders.

    Which should not be to unduly take focus away from the fact that it’s America’s inability to deal with the demand side of the equation, and some neo-colonial economic policies, that are what ultimately prop up this violent system.

    Imagining what a more appropriate correctional system for the U.S. would look like is a worthy exercise.  But I’m a little intimidated by the scale of the problem.  I see absolutely zero chance of making any progress on that until we admit that it’s the perversity of our broader cultural biases that makes drug addiction, murder and mayhem inevitable.

  • Grooveboss

    sounds like my home town.

  • Grooveboss

    sounds like my home town.

  • Anonymous

    Yes it is scandalous. There’s an old saying: Were it not for the fear of punishment, people would swallow each other alive. Prisoners are human beings, but the general idea behind prison is that you have done something to deserve having your rights revoked and require isolation. Putting aside the question of drug criminalization, a normal criminal has committed a crime against his fellow man in some way shape or form and is supposed to be punished, not given a free vacation.

    Prisons like these are on the path to a complete disregard for the law because there is no real deterrent for committing crimes (get caught, you’re safe and happy, don’t get caught, you made good money) and the article even mentions prisons like this exist simply because the government has practically lost control of the prisons.

  • Anon

    Prisons have taken a lot of forms throughout history…. but I think the whole scheme is more of like a band-aid on our society. We have been divorced from nature and have been brought up to be alienated from one another in this mechanized world. Those that don’t cooperate well, get shoved behind a well fortified wall, where they are out of sight and out of mind.

    Ultimately the end goal of any imprisonment should be to correct the problems they came in with. Perhaps this situation in Venezuela is a little extreme, but look, they are all getting along and making their life, and those around them better. That is what we truly want, an experience that can help our fellow brothers learn to love and be loved by those around them.

    We shouldn’t just stuff ‘em like sardines in an overcrowded crazy house, and tell them that that’s what they deserved– ‘So better luck next time!’ ‘Maybe you’ll have more respect for the law now!’ — These are absurd statements that tend to drive wedges between the criminal and the surrounding society, filling the soul with spite for the cruel treatment they had to endure.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there is a difference between imprisonment and rehabilitation. The idea that you put out here is that we all would be criminals were it not for the fear of the law..  All the law can do is what the citizens want it to do. We can be blind to the perpetual harm our prisons are doing, but a healthier thing to do is to understand and acknowledge that there are deficiencies in our views of crime and punishment.

  • Hadrian999

    I am guessing you have never been confined anywhere, but the question is which serves society moor, sure the idea of punishment feels good but does it serve society, as it stands the vengeful prison model doesn’t do much to turn people away from crime it is more likely to turn petty offenders into hardened criminals. laws need to serve a constructive purpose not satisfy a knee jerk emotional reaction. at the least prisons need to be safe, once you take away someone’s liberty you are responsible for what happens, the popular idea that prison violence and rape is a just part of the justice system is disgusting.

  • Anonymous

    These are primarily side issues. I am speaking of the very idea of prison. I am not saying our system is perfect and it has many flaws and I am not advocating punishment for it’s own sake, but neither will I advocate prison systems that remove any aspect of punishment. Yes it should be rehabilitative, but punitive measures are also supposed to be a part of that process. Every crime requires a different level and type of punishment as well as a different type of rehabilitation because both aspects are necessary: One part to deter wrong doing to make someone think twice about making such an action and the other to correct behavior since it has happened. This is not a knee-jerk reaction but a logic based reaction.

  • http://twitter.com/pigle Valentine Sedlovsky
  • Anon

    Nice, though I tend to think that people are spending too much time on the negatives of life, and not enough time just enjoying it (could be a link in the unprecedented crime drop). When did you ever check out a news story that told you how great it all is? Or a dissertation that proved to you that JOY is the point?  ;)

  • Diablo

    This prison is a bizarre exception to the remaining Venezuelan prisons, which are known to be amongst the most brutal and inhumane in the world.

  • Diablo

    This prison is a bizarre exception to the remaining Venezuelan prisons, which are known to be amongst the most brutal and inhumane in the world.