The prisons in Latin America have a horrible reputation overall. Known for overcrowding and bloody riots, Latin American prisons are home to some of the most ruthless murderers and drug kingpins in the world. The same is true for prisons in Venezuela, but one facility has changed the game.
Netflix series, Narcos, will undoubtedly depict Pablo Escobar’s La Catedral, the super-swaggy luxury prison “El Padrino” built for himself. While that’s still to be topped, San Antonio Prison on Margarita Island in Venezuela is a contender. The NY Times dubbed San Antonio the “party prison,” due to its swimming pools, nightclub and BBQ restaurant. Women in bikinis come in and out to party with the night away with the inmates, imbibed with booze and weed, to the tunes of the club’s DJ.
Margarita Island is a jump-off point for tons of cocaine headed to the Caribbean and United States, so naturally, San Antonio is where many-a-high-profile drug smuggler finds himself. Having made small fortunes on the outside, they want the life they are more accustomed to on the outside. The environment is credited to drug trafficker Teófilo Rodríguez, who is serving time there. Rodríguez is the “pran” or leader of the inmates. Going by the moniker “El Conejo” (“The Rabbit”), Playboy bunnies are plastered on the walls of the facility. El Conejo’s armed guards patrol the inside, as state-commissioned guards watch the outside. Convicted cocaine smuggler and San Antonio inmate Paul Makin, 33, said of El Canejo’s arsenal, “I was in the army for 10 years, I’ve played with guns all my life. I’ve seen some guns in here that I’ve never seen before. Handguns, machine guns, you name it, it’s in here.”
Inmates also have means of making of money. Inmates and tourists alike make wagers at the prison’s cockfighting arena. Knowing that guards search everyone as they enter and never when they exit, prisoners sell marijuana and crack to visitors. Both prisoners and visitors indulge in the drugs in an alleyway in the prison.
Though this is a wild scenario, San Antonio has served as an example in Latin America for violence reduction in prison. There is clearly order, and everyone’s having a good time. Nevertheless, this is a dream destination for drug runners around the globe.