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Venezuelan Penitentiary Services Minister Iris Varela has confirmed the death of 48 inmates, with 20 more still in a coma, after a mass poisoning of at least 145 prisoners, according to a story posted Wednesday by Fox News Latino.

The exact cause of their deaths has been the subject of conflicting reports. According to the Venezuelan government, the inmates killed themselves on Nov. 26 after breaking into the infirmary at the David Viloria Penitentiary Center, locally known as the Uribana prison, and ingesting a mixture of drugs and alcohol.

The unrest started after a group of prisoners staged a mass hunger strike to protest the terrible conditions of the prison. According to some of the relatives of the dead, the inmates were then poisoned in response to their strike. On Dec. 1, Reuters provided context about the prison and the poisoning:

“The (inmates) were sent bottles of water and food … they haven’t said who sent it, but it was let into the prison and that’s what family members say caused (the intoxications),” said the group’s Humberto Prado, who called for independent toxicological exams.

There was no independent confirmation of the death toll or allegations of poisoning. Requests for comments from the government went unanswered.

At least 200 inmates were intoxicated at the prison, according to Prado, who says the facility designed for roughly 850 inmates was housing around 3,700.

The incident puts the spotlight back on the South American country’s notoriously turbulent prisons, where riots, weapons and drugs are widespread.

A bloody riot at that same prison last year claimed over 50 lives.

–Posted by Donald Kaufman

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