LATINO VOICES
02/04/2013 03:42 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2013

Why Are Venezuelan Prisoners Sewing Their Mouths Shut?

Venezuela may have the worst prisons in Latin America. The country's 30 or so facilities were built for 12,000 inmates, but hold nearly four times that many. In many institutions, guards have surrendered control to armed gangs headed by prisoner-tyrants called pranes. Inmates exchange drugs and weapons openly. Riots occur frequently. In 2011, there were more than 500 violent deaths in the country's penitentiaries.

At the lowest end of the prison power structure are los anegados -- the unwanted ones -- prisoners who have angered the pranes or allies of the pranes, on the inside or outside, and fear for their lives. And so, in an act of desperation, they stitch their mouths shut. Within the country's prisons there is an unspoken, but religiously followed, agreement among inmates: When one sews his lips, no one can kill him.

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