People take their boxes of food staples, such as beans, rice, tuna and powdered milk, provided by the government program “CLAP,” which stands for Local Committees of Supply and Production, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Years of mismanagement have steadily eroded the once-robust oil industry, Venezuela’s chief source of income, and the squeeze of financial sanctions by the Trump administration is choking the cash-starved government as it struggles to feed its people. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

CARACAS, Venezuela — The latest on Venezuela’s presidential election amid an economic and political crisis (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

Venezuelan officials say they’re transferring 72 inmates from a jail a day after several detainees sent urgent messages begging for outside help.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced on Twitter Thursday the inmates would first get medical check-ups before being been taken to other detention centers.

A day earlier, inmates protested poor conditions and posted on social media that their lives were in danger. Officials haven’t said which inmates they’re moving.

An estimated 340 inmates are held in the Helicoide, a building run by Venezuela’s political police.

One of the inmates is jailed Utah man Joshua Holt, detained for two years on what U.S. officials call trumped up weapons charges.

The unrest flared up days before Sunday’s election when President Nicolas Maduro seeks a second term.

7:10 p.m.

Authorities in Colombia say they have confiscated over 25,000 boxes of food infested with bugs that were destined for low-income Venezuelans.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday that the boxes were part of a Venezuelan food program that critics accuse Venezuela’s socialist government of using to sway votes.

Investigators in Colombia seized 15 containers Wednesday with 400 tons of food like rice and pasta that officials say wasn’t fit for human consumption.

Authorities say they have identified more than 23 companies involved in the food distribution that have ties to corruption and money laundering.

Santos also says that “trusted intelligence sources” have uncovered a plan by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government to transport Colombians to vote for the embattled socialist leader in Sunday’s presidential election. He did not provide any evidence.


5:45 p.m.

President Nicolas Maduro says he’s predicting a decisive victory in this weekend’s election that’s drawn broad international condemnation.

Maduro on Thursday closed his campaign in an energized speech in the capital of Caracas before thousands of cheering supporters.

However, several nations including the United States have rejected it as rigged to ensure Maduro a second six-year term despite a crashing economy.

A once-wealthy oil state, Venezuelans struggle to find food and medicine as runaway inflation has pulverized the value of their money.

Soccer legend Diego Maradona took the stage with Maduro to show his support, dancing in shorts and waving a Venezuelan flag.

Maduro in his remarks asked for all of Venezuela’s turning around the economy, vowing to fight corruption and criminals he blamed for destroying it.


4:05 p.m.

Families are gathered outside the Venezuelan intelligence police headquarters, demanding answers a day after inmates held there posted urgent pleas for help online.

Caracas resident Yesabel Brito was among the angry crowd Thursday pacing outside the building known as the Helicoide. She said officials would tell her nothing about her brother inside.

Unrest in the Caracas jail comes days before Sunday’s presidential elections.

The Helicoide also holds Utah’s Joshua Holt, jailed for two years without trial. Posts from Holt and other inmates say jailers were bent on hurting them.

Brito says officials have jailed her brother three years on suspicion of robbery without justice.

The crowd threw water on presidential candidate Javier Bertucci, who stopped by. They shouted that he was exploiting their quest for justice.

Officials downplayed the unrest, saying the inmates were safely in their cells.

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