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Colombian prisoners ask for medical help and receive bullets

By staff |
March 26, 2020
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Inside of a Colombian prison.
Inside of a Colombian prison.

The National Prison Movement (Movimiento Nacional Carcelario) and other prisoner rights groups called a demonstration in Colombian prisons on March 21, to protest the lack of protection against the COVID-19 virus and the general lack of decent healthcare in the Colombian prisons. Twelve Colombian prisons answered the call for a ‘cacerolazo,’ a protest where one bangs on pots and pans to make enough noise so that the protest is heard.

The protest in the prison Carcel Nacional Modelo de Bogotá began at 9 p.m. on March 21. The prisoners were mostly on lockdown in their cells and began banging on their pots and pans and chanting, “If the virus enters here, we will all die.” Rather than negotiate or open a dialogue, the prison called in armed guards who immediately began firing tear gas canisters at the prisoners, most of whom were locked in cells with poor ventilation. They then started firing their rifles at the prisoners. At the end of this attack 23 prisoners were killed and another 85 injured. The human rights organization Fundación Lazos de Dignidad called this massacre a “state crime.”

Colombian prisons are infamous for overcrowding, poor hygiene and lousy medical services. There are some 120,000 prisoners in Colombian prisons and it is estimated that there is an overcrowding rate of 54%. Included in this prison population are around 1500 political prisoners who, three and a half years after the signing of the Colombian peace agreement, remain imprisoned. Many of these political prisoners qualify for release and a referral to the special peace court (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz). Due to government inaction, these prisoners remain incarcerated and one of them, a FARC political prisoner, was killed in this massacre.

Meanwhile, the Colombian political Simón Trinidad, unjustly imprisoned in the United States, languishes in long term isolation in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Despite the fact that Trinidad is a key spokesman and symbol for peace, there is no evidence that the Colombian government has taken any action to involve him in the Colombian peace process.

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