Inmates from all over Colombia have initiated a period of strikes and civil disobedience in response to what they call a “criminal, unjust, and elitist policy.” They are denouncing the prison and jail system which subjects them to a bad diet, severely lacks in its provision of health care, is ineffective in dealing with legal and administrative procedures, and has violated human rights.
The call for action was made by the National Prison Movement (MNC) with the intention to position these demands before public opinion, and thus put pressure the government to solve the prison crisis in Colombia. A crisis that has been going on for far too long and does not only affect the 9,500 political prisoners but the entire incarcerated population.
Amongst the demands is the installation of a national roundtable agreement that gives civil society as much of a voice as the national government to construct a solution to the social and humanitarian emergency declared by the prisoners. Additionally, they back the Law 082 project that is currently in the Congress of the Republic, and would effectively reduce the sentences of the incarcerated people in the country by 20%. They highlight that this step is not being discussed in the peace talks for the solution to the armed conflict in Havana, Cuba.
In addition to visibilizing the conditions of inequality in the visits and the disregard for the health care of prisoners, in their communique they made their position clear about extradition: “No to extradition, yes to the repatriation of nationals to foreign jails.”
The protests this week have been taking place in the prison modelo in Bogotá and Baranquilla, La Picota in Bogotá, Ternera in Cartagena, Tramacúa in Valledupar, Cómbita and Barne in Boyacá, La Dorada in Caldas, Acacías in Villavicencio, and in Santa Marta and Arauca. In the case of the strike in Arauca, the person in charge of human rights had to resign because of pressure from the National Jail and Prison Institute (INPEC). According to the MNC, there are 3,000 prisoners going on a hunger strike in La Picota.
Deiler Santiago, political prisoner from the National Liberation Army (ELN) affirmed that the peaceful civil disobedience should lead to the declaration of a social and humanitarian emergency where the government acknowledges this crisis and intervenes. Nonetheless, up until now, the response has been indifference. Jorge Otálora in his position as public defender has made the same request.
There are carceral centers where the overcrowding exceeds 350%, and the same INPEC staged a protest in which they refused to receive one more inmate.
Wednesday October 22, the director of INPEC met with the inmates from La Picota prison in Bogotá in order to guarantee the entry of lawyers and human rights defenders for the next day and to monitor and follow up on the situation. The Senator Iván Cepeda Castro of the political party Polo Democrático was one of the only ones who participated. The human rights defender Uldarico Flórez Peña, visited this penitentiary center but the guards did not allow for his entry despite the fact that he had the authorization of the penal director. One of the arguments of the guards, who did not want to identify themselves and did not have their last names written on their uniforms as is stipulated, was that the lawyer had a copy of Semanario Voz which contained an article about the prison crisis and the situation of political prisoners.
Another one of the themes that has been highlighted in these days of action is the revision of the criminal policy of the government that has been tougher on the sentences for minor crimes. This policy, coupled by the lack of celerity in the justice process has caused the sharp growth in prison populations. These points were brought up during the International Conference on Political Crime organized by the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, collectives and family members of the incarcerated people, the National Pedagogical University, and The People’s Congress (Congreso de los Pueblos). Another issue discussed at said conference was the idea of political crime as a mechanism to advance towards a political solution to the armed conflict, where the liberties are rights to organize and construct peace from a critical perspective are recognized and granted. The interventions in this event from Carlos Gaviria and Carlos Alberto Ruiz, discussed the necessity to reverse the juridical process of the devaluation of political crime. This event also emphasized the deep importance of the participation of political prisoners in the next delegation of victims in Havana peace talks as a guarantee of an agreement that thinks of peace without departing from the reality of justice.