Fifty-eight prisoners escaped at dawn from a police station on Margarita Island, 40 kilometers from the Venezuelan mainland. Overcrowding in detention facilities has become a problem.
The prisoners were being held in Los Cocos Preventive Detention Center, which is under Venezuelan military control, on the hilly Caribbean island of Margarita in the state of Nueva Esparta. The main jail on the island was closed two years ago.
"In total 58 inmates escaped through a 60-centimeter-by-40-centimeter (23-inch-by-15-inch) hole in one of the walls," local newspaper El Sol de Margarita reported.
The prisoners escaped at dawn. Four individuals were quickly recaptured. A major search was launched to find the others. There were juveniles among the prisoners, according to the newspaper report.
Nueva Esparta's director of security, Henry Jaspe, said the detention center had been under military control since the government had ordered the army to take over the state police forces last October.
"We have not been allowed access to the police facilities," Jaspe told EFE news agency on Friday. "Therefore we are not in control of them and only know from the officers' reports about the chaotic situation. ... For that reason, I think that structural damage facilitated the escape."
Jaspe said there was overcrowding in the police stations "and this favors the climate for this type of thing to happen," he said. "Some prisoners suffer from scabies and malnutrition," he admitted.
He said the region had been "militarized" because a meeting of the Association of Caribbean States was being held with representatives from a number of Latin American states.
Margarita is made up of two islands connected by a mangrove-filled lagoon in a national park. The island's beaches attract tourists for windsurfing and scuba diving and also golf and horseback riding. There are flights and a ferry to the mainland.
The Spanish colonial fortress of San Carlos de Borromeo was completed in 1684 to defend against pirates
jm/sms (EFE, AFP)