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The Women in Good Sheperd Prison

Colombia’s Forgotten Prisoners

by ALFREDO CASTRO

Along with dozens of other female political prisoners, campesino leader Luz Perly Cordoba lives behind bars in the Bogota women’s prison, El Buen Pastor. They are forced to sleep in the dirt of the floor, and their babies will grow up in confinement.

"These women live each day as if it were their last" says journalist Sara Cifuentes of the Colombian weekly VOZ.

Cifuentes follows the desperate situation of the women imprisoned in the "Buen Pastor" prison closely. The women lack milk, towels, linen and toys for their children. They sleep bundled together on the floor.

According to Cifuentes, "they are an example of tenacity, valor and solidarity. They preserve for themselves and for their children the hope that the world can be made better, even though it today denies them milk, linen and medicine for their babies."

84 women are confined in Yard Six of the "Buen Pastor": "The Good Shepherd" in English. Of these 84, 54 are accused of various crimes such as rebellion and terrorism, and only 29 have been convicted–ten to terms between 16 and 40 years. The remainder have not been judged guilty, but remain detained, many together with their small children.

Several are victims of so called "miraculous fishing expeditions", massive detentions carried out by the Armed Forces with the objective of capturing opponents of the regime.

One of the prisoners is Luz Perly Cordoba, a leader of the National Trade Union Federation of Rural Workers, FENSUAGRO. Known as an energetic defender of peasant rights, she is now imprisoned, accused of rebellion.

In a letter sent to ANNCOL from The Good Shepherd, she writes: "Today, there are hundreds of leaders from the rural workers’ movement and other popular movements who, like me, are denied their liberty, torn from their families and their communities, accused of rebellion. This is the product of the intolerance of a regime which has taken to demonizing and stigmatizing as rebels all those who dare to differ and to dissent from their unacceptable social and economic policies."

She adds that, despite the persecution, "we will not renounce our struggle and our dreams, which are more alive today than ever."

Two women share each of the cells of Yard Six in the women’s prison, one sleeping on the floor and the other on the bunk. There are six mothers with babies between two and nine months old, and one with a girl of three years.

"But the circumstances are more difficult than one would think", explains Sara Cifuentes.

"Of the 84 prisoners, 63 are single parents. There are 20 women with one child, 17 with two children, 11 with three, nine with four and three with five."

ALFREDO CASTRO writes for ANNCOL.