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Deprivations in Colombian Prisons

October 26, 2010
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BY NIXON BARRERA

Inmate of High Security Prison, Combita, Boyaca

Translated by Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (Montreal)

In this country, due to the merciless and unordered attack of the government of the security forces against working class sectors and the opposition, and also due to the social and armed conflict that we suffer, prisons have filled up following massive selective captures that abandon the introduction of “Democratic Security” (old doctrine of National Security), in a mad attempt to put a stop to discontent and society’s demands for change.

We, the prisoners who arrive at the prisons have many different profiles; among us there are prisoners charged with political crimes (rebellion) and common crimes, social prisoners, friends of the government (read: parapoliticians, paracos, “the reinserted,” etc.) Of this heterogeneous group of prisoners, the most harmed and sought after are we, the political prisoners, for having opposed the regime. The government puts all of the weight of its repression, with its foundation in anti-insurgent plans, on us.

In our nation there exists no coherent or fair politics of criminality, nor does there exist programs of socialization which offer opportunities for academic and professional achievement that influence the development of prisoners’ lives. The politics of criminality in Colombia are driven by the whims of the government in power, which have turned it into a staunch revenge against detainees. In recent years, with the direct interference of the federal bureau of prisons of Uncle Sam and the funds from Plan Colombia, high security prisons have been built which are, in reality, true concentration camps where respect and human dignity are left to the guards’ determination.

In these prisons taxed by gringos it seems that we have returned to medieval times; they tie our hands and feet with heavy chains before going out to do any sort of errand, as if we were headed towards the gallows instead of to a simple medical or judicial appointment. Here, like in concentration camps, prison guards control the use of all basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, television, etc. Those services are cut and returned as the prison guards please, obligating us with this manipulation to live as they want, and affecting our autonomy and self-determination as human beings.

The prisons of Colombia, which are products of despair, abandonment, and lack of opportunity, have turned into true “pots” of commercialization, purchase and consumption of hallucinogens (marijuana, basuco, cocaine, etc.) with the complicity and participation of the guards in this lucrative business. Also, there exists another phenomenon which is growing at an alarming rate, which is the indiscriminate consumption of psychiatric drugs with the complicity of medical professionals. For prisoners all of these vices are a refuge which “helps” them to drive away their problems and to “disconnect” them from the harsh reality of their lives which they refuse to confront. But this whole problem is understandable when one considers the impact a 70-year prison sentence must have on a prisoner, who discovers that he or she will remain buried for life in a dungeon far from family and with very few possibilities.

Who is to blame for this ill-fated politics of criminality? Without a doubt, the guilty ones are the state and the governments which only go after effects without addressing the real causes that generate, on the one hand, discontent and rebellion and, on the other, the sinking of youth into petty crime as their only opportunity for survival. The state and its government thus are responsible for not offering equality and opportunities for the well-being of citizens.

In the prison, we political prisoners have always been the counterpart to the frightening politics of decomposition, and with our social vision of a new state, we have created spaces for study and coexistence which are free of consumption of psychoactive substances. In the same vein, through judicial-political struggle and permanent denunciation, we carry on battling the silencing and repression, turning ourselves into the stone in the shoe of our executioners. We also teach inmates to fight for their rights; that is why we remain hopeful despite the fact that in a decade the regime has done away with five spaces for political prisoners, disseminating us in different prisons in the country. INPEC is interested in seeing prisoners go about in a lost world, far from reality, because that way we neither reclaim our rights nor denounce their atrocities.

The deprivations political prisoners face are enormous and they distance us from our reality as opponents of the ruling system. The majority of us are confined in these concentration camps called high security prisons, dispersed throughout the country. The first thing they deprive us of is family, putting our loved ones in real viacrucis to visit us; other prisoners are totally separated from their families who for security and economic situations they will never again be able to see.

In spousal relationships, the deprivation and the subjugation is degrading; each month they lock us in a cold room for 45 minutes, giving us no control over the time which leaves us with the constant sensation that the tombo is about to come knocking. A couple’s relationship under such conditions of lack of dignity is the cruellest that could happen to a prisoner, and still they dare deny that these pigsties are concentration camps.

In terms of material possessions, they deprive us of any object of service or personal presentation, such as watches, transistor radios, belts, literature, etc., obligating us to live lost in time and very uninformed. They also deprive us of our rights to equality and access to justice. At a glance one can see the differences in prison regimen applied to us, the opposition, compared to the friends of the government, para-política prisoners, those imprisoned for corruption and for “false positives,” etc. The latter, the friends of the government, are kept in special prisons near their families, with every sort of commodity, with chat programs, casinos, and all types of appliances, three visits per week, etc. We the opposition are locked in concentration camps far from our families and deprived of everything imaginable.

What this means is that the laws in our country continue to be applied only to the poor and that the white-collared petty thieves and friends of the government have clubs for prisons with all the state’s guarantees.

The only thing the regime has not been able to deprive us of nor confiscate from us is the sacred right to continue being rebels and to continue with our heads high defending our convictions and principles, constructing a new homeland from this trench of temporary struggle, unmasking and combating day by day the traps of their rotten system.

With courage and force we will continue to fight through action and through judicial-political systems with the support of NGOs, social and working class sectors, syndicates, students, human rights professionals, our families and the international community, so that in Colombia a politics of criminality that is in agreement with the reality of the country may be established, with alternative penalties where administrative profits protect all of us without exception. A unique prison regimen must also be established in all prisons in the country allowing for family visits every eight days and eight hours and prisoners’ placement must be such that we remain near to our families.

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