Maduro celebrates the Helicoide, the political prison of Chavismo, as "a moral reference" | International

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The detention center known as El Helicoide, in Caracas (Venezuela), in September 2022.Ariana Cubillos (AP)

The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, received as a gift this week a model of the Helicoide, headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) and prison for opposition political prisoners questioned for its overcrowding and deplorable conditions. According to the United Nations, serious violations of human rights have been committed inside. The delivery of the gift has been broadcast on television during an act of promotion and promotion of agents of the Bolivarian National Police. When thanking the gesture of a group of uniformed men, Maduro commented on the detention center: “It is a moral reference. I thank you for this gift, this institutional present that you give me, it is very significant. There is its national headquarters, there are its different functions. I receive it with much love."

At Helicoide, the administrative and operational seat of part of the Venezuelan police force, some 290 political prisoners are currently being held, including journalist Roland Carreño, a militant of Voluntad Popular and close to Leopoldo López, accused of rebellion and treason. to the motherland

In the first decade of the 20th century, the Helicoide brought together a handful of political prisoners –mainly police and military officers opposed to Hugo Chávez since the beginning of his government- in interconnected cells two meters wide by two meters long. Some of them are still in those dungeons. The best known was Iván Simonovis, whom the government blamed for the attempted coup on April 11, 2002, and who spent 15 years in detention. The circular corridors of the prison are long and gloomy. The visiting room is opaque and hermetic. Family members of prisoners are often abused. The shacks in the hills of San Agustín are almost the only visual resource for inmates and visitors.

The social and economic deterioration, along with the worsening of the political crisis and the harsh repression that Chavismo has exerted against the Venezuelan opposition in the following decade, dramatically packed Helicoide with prisoners. It is then that his black legend was born. As of 2014, their spaces became terribly overcrowded. Up to 12 prisoners accumulated in cells, rats and cockroaches proliferated, there were no latrines or water service. Abuses proliferated. The treatment of the police, especially when the inmate just entered, was surly and cynical.

The harsh conditions of the Helicoide prison were collected and detailed by the Fact Verification Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, directed by Michelle Bachelet, and also by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Most of the Helicoide prisoners have been political activists and civil dissidents, party leaders such as Freddy Guevara, Juan Requessens, Jon Goicoechea or Manuel Rosales. But known drug traffickers also entered their cells, such as Walid Makled; merchants prosecuted by the Government; bankers accused of fraud, hired assassins with pending accounts with Chavismo, police and military dissidents.

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The number of prisoners reached 900, and began to decrease progressively around 2020, in the midst of a relaxation advanced by the Chavista regime in the framework of political negotiations.

El Helicoide was going to be, in the 50s, an ambitious shopping center that General Marcos Pérez Jiménez planned to build. The fall of the Venezuelan dictator, in January 1958, completely halted the work on El Helicoide, and the anti-perezjimenista wave that spread at the beginning of democracy meant that the project was condemned to oblivion for several decades. Over the years, moreover, the urban environment of El Helicoide, between the areas of San Agustín and Roca Tarpeya, became considerably impoverished.

Delsa Solórzano, opposition candidate for the primary election for her party, Encuentro Ciudadano, was outraged by the contents of this act, affirming that the Helicoide prison "is one of the symbols of repression and crimes against humanity that have been committed in Venezuela”

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