The San Antonio prison on Margarita Island looks like any other prison in Venezuela. But when you get inside it looks more like a Las-Vegas style playboy club than a prison. Over 2,000 Venezuelans and foreigners are kept there, in most cases because they have been caught dealing with drugs.
Margarita Island is starting point for drug shipments to the United States, Mexico and the islands nearby. People who get arrested here often wander directly to San Antonio prison.
Although the blocks for women and men are separate they mix with each other on the prison’s grounds. Women in their bikinis lie near a swimming pool. Prisoners smoke marijuana, and reggae music fills the air. There is even a cockfighting arena where prisoner and visitors can place bets .
Prisoners who have the money can organize anything they want for their cells . Some have satellite TV or air conditioning . The prison has a total of four swimming pools. The inmate boss of the prison is Teófilo Rodriguez, a convicted drug trafficker who, more or less, runs the place and has more authority than prison guards .
Although possessing guns and other weapons in the prison is quite normal, some inmates insist that it’s safer in the prison than outside where the risk of getting shot is much higher.
Guards at San Antonio prison shrug their shoulders when they are asked about the special situation of the prison. They say that it is relatively quiet and safer than most other places.
The prison system in Venezuela has many problems. Prisoners often have extended freedom in their cells. They are allowed laptops, cell phones and organize crime, killings and drug deals from the prison. Authorities say that these conditions are because prisons are overcrowded , there are not enough guards and many prison guards are corrupt and get money from the inmates .
Although Margarita Island is a quiet place, crime runs very high in the prisons of the country. In 2010 a total of 476 prisoners were killed in Venezuelan prisons, about 1% of the prison population .