Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Life as a Political Prisoner in Colombia

by VINCENZO GONZALEZ

If you are a political prisoner in one of Colombia’s prisons you have to fight for your life every single day of your detention. A substantial section of the prison guard, working with the police and the army openly supply paramilitary prisoners with the weapons and logistical support to intimidate and attack guerrilla prisoners of war or other political prisoners.

On 31 March 2000, an agreement on “cooperation regarding prisons” was signed by the US ambassador to Colombia and the then Colombian Minister for Justice which was called “Programme for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System”.

Using the pretext that it was to control the illegal activities inside prisons of people who were allegedly involved in drugs trafficking the government of the United States would provide financial and technical aid for a new style of penitentiary establishment.

The new model imposed on Colombia’s prisons by the Federal Prisons Bureau (FPB), supreme examples being the high-security units at Valledupar, Acacias and Girardot, in which more than 4.5 million dollars have been invested, has been designed to increase the repression and intimidation of those who are fighting for the rights of the people. With the new agreement, Colombian prisons have been turned into “theatres of military operation”, where civil authority is subordinate to military and police authority and where universal and constitutional human rights are persistently violated.

Early in 2001, the former government of Andres Pastrana and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) struck a deal to reignite the peace process in which both parties would release an agreed number of their prisoners of war. The FARC kept their side of the bargain of releasing an initial 50 prisoners and then, by their own decision, went beyond that as a gesture of goodwill towards the peace process, since unilaterally terminated by Andres Pastrana under pressure from the United States, and released a total of around 250 prisoners.

The government on the other hand only released 14 of the approximately 50 sick prisoners initially agreed. Many of those not released were immediately sent to the new US-designed high-security prisons. They had their heads shaved and their feet shackled and they were put in almost permanent solitary confinement with greatly restricted visiting. Many suffer serious health problems and receive no medical care. One such political prisoner who had been on the release list has lost the sight in one eye through glaucoma and is close to losing his sight in the other if he does not get an operation quickly.

It appears that political prisoners are invariably sent to those prisons with the highest concentrations of paramilitary inmates. Here, the National Police, military Rapid Response Forces and the US-trained Inpec Prison Guard frequently parade through the corridors and cells where political prisoners are being held, making intimidating references to their murderous paramilitary house guests.

There is complacency and at times open complicity by the prison authorities with the paramilitary groups inside prisons who not only get preferential treatment, but are openly supplied with money and weapons which they then use to provoke, attack and kill political prisoners.

At Palmira prison in Valle; the Modelo in Bucaramanga; Bellavista prison in Medellin; and, just last year, in the National Modelo prison in Bogota, heavily armed paramilitary units inside the prisons in collusion with the prison guard and the national police orchestrated vicious attacks on the political prisoners being held there.

The open interference of the United States in matters of justice and the manipulation of Colombia’s prison system by the Federal Prisons Bureau has led to new levels of intimidation, humiliation and the constant violation of human rights.

According to the Political Prisoners Collective “Adan Izquierdo”, founded by FARC-EP prisoners in Valledupar high security prison, their members are severely tortured and grossly mistreated by the Inpec prison guard. Every time the FARC takes any action against paramilitaries on the outside, the prison guard punishes the prisoners inside with beatings and other forms of torture. It is their way of demonstrating their allegiance to the state paramilitary strategy.

The prisoners are denied the right to stay in touch with events outside the prison walls and are forbidden to receive newspapers or magazines. They are not allowed radio or television. Getting medical treatment requires extreme measures such as cutting the veins in their own wrists to attract attention. This is what one prisoner Enrique Horta Valle was forced to do when he desperately needed to see a doctor. They are frequently kept in their cells for 24 hours a day.

Visiting family and friends are warned by the paramilitaries patrolling the prisons that they will be killed if they ever come back. The Inpec guard goes to great lengths to point out which visitors are coming to see political prisoners.

Life inside is a constant battle for survival both physically and mentally. When Inpec gave the order for FARC political prisoner Yesid Arteta to be transferred to Valledupar prison, which operates under such high security measures that it violates the constitutional rights of the inmates, his head was completely shaved, he was made to wear a prisoner’s uniform and he was kept chained up in his cell almost all the time.

He is not able to go outside for even the short amount of time allowed by the penitentiary regime because the paramilitaries being detained in the same prison have orders to assassinate him and no one in authority is likely to stop them. Contact with his lawyer, Jose Absalon Achury, is difficult, if not impossible, because he has received death threats and for security reasons cannot travel to Valledupar.

Jorge Augusto Bernal is another FARC political prisoner with a price on his head. Paramilitaries are offering money to whoever kills him first.

The Collective has written to the current government of Alvaro Uribe Velez about the conditions for political prisoners. It may come of no surprise that their pleas have gone unheeded by a regime set on (para)militarizing prisons still further.

“We are certain that the prisoners being held by our organization in the mountains of Colombia are in better conditions than us,” they maintain. And add, “Our revolutionary fighting spirit will never be beaten out of us, but our health and life deteriorate a little more every day.”

Few people are aware of the conditions in which political prisoners are kept, especially since the new high-security prison culture was foist upon Colombia by the Federal Prisons Bureau (FPB) of the United States. Chained hands and feet, shaven heads, uniforms and solitary confinement, moving prisoners to locations far, far away from their families, friends and legal support, all techniques designed to break the spirit, have become standard practice. The prisons are run to the dictates of the FPB and are staffed by paramilitaries disguised as Inpec guards.

Perhaps of most concern in Valledupar is the safety of those political prisoners kept in the cells of Tower One, 5th Floor, and Tower Five, Isolation and Special Treatment Wing. Humanitarian organizations never get to inspect these areas of the prison. The prison management and Inpec will not permit it.

VINCENZO GONZALEZ is a member of the Colombia Peace Association. This story was published originally by ANNCOL.

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]