La Modelo, or the nightmare of detention in Colombia

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jeremie CNT
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Oct 25 2007 23:36
La Modelo, or the nightmare of detention in Colombia

La Modelo, or the nightmare of detention in Colombia.

Friday August 4th, 2007, 10:30am: two members of the Political Prisoners' Solidarity
committee (CSPP) are waiting for us outside of La Modelo prison. Thanks to them the
doors of this hellish prison were opened to us. LA Modelo is one of Bogota's five
prisons, slong with Picota, Buen Pastor, la Distrital and UPJ. You could almost
believe that the Colombian state respects the dignity of its prisoners when you read
the slogans that the authorities have painted on the walls, such as: "Su dignidad y
la mia son inviolables" The reality is completely different, in this high-security
prison, designed for 1800 prisoners a total of 5000 people have been crammed in.

This prison is different from others as they do not seperate the prisoners.
Paramilitaries, corrupt cops, drug traffickers, normal prisoners, dealers and
guerilleros (politicals) share the same cells and courtyards. The authorities argue
that the prison is supposed to reconcile former enemies. But in the safe environment
of the prison wings and courtyards, during exercise and football matches, no one
mixes, people do their best to ignore each other. Only last week a guerillero was
almost stabbed during a meal by a paramilitary prisoner from the Aguilas Negras
group. In June 2001 clashes between guerilleros and traffickers left ten dead. The
previous year 25 had died in similar violence. The other notable difference between
this prison and others that affects the day to day life of prisoners is that here
the guerilleros are in the minority.


The Philosopher

Camilo, a fifty-something professor of philosophy, is responsible for guerilla
group's ideological training. He was caught 15 years ago as he travelled the
country, moving from town to town, teaching his lessons. He'll be there for a long
time, his various sentences add up to a total of 185 years. Since the beginning of
his incarceration his life has been regulate by regular changes of 'residence'.
Camilo has been in almost all of the country's prisons. He's experienced
psychological pressures, torture, beatings and the simple impossibility of
developing relationships with other prisoners. The aim is obvious, to dehumanise the
individual, to permanently humiliate him. He gets transferred from one prison to
another with only a day's notice.

In Modelo he shares his cell with a paramilitary, a cop and a smal-time dealer. He
doesn't complain, at least he has a bed, which is not the case for many of his
'political' comrades who do not have the means to buy one from the bosses of the
small mafias that run the wings. For them there is no choice other than sleeping on
the floor in the corridors, or even on the stairs.

Camilo still has dreams; of being able to return to teaching philosphy, his lifelong
passion, of a prisoner exchange between the guerilla movement and the fascist Uribe
government. When asked whether he is afraid for his life in a prison where
paramilitaries are the majority the response is simple: no, they know him and they
know who he is.

Danny and Victor...Hugo

Another change of wings. We head towards wing 2A, the screws keeps us waiting for a
good hour. Long enough for us to see the hostile looks of the normal prisoners in
transit. Their faces worn by drugs and poverty the 'normals' can instil fear in you.
They are the ones that usually end up as killers, joining the ranks of the
paramilitaries for a few pesos. In the courtyard of this wing a wild game football
starts, most of the 200 prisoners here are paramilitaries and they've made us for
'politicals. When we get to the wing a group of ten guerilleros are waiting for us.
A young afro-colmbian tells us of the difficulties of prison life. Paramilitaries
and 'normals' receive preferential treatment. In contrast to Camilo's wing, here in
2A there are more 'politicals' and they can stand up for themselves better.

The discussion begins with Danny and Victor Hugo. Both are in their thirties and are
originally from the Arauca region in the east. They rarely get visits, Arauca is far
from Bogota and their families don't have cash to pay for bus journeys to the
capital. For Danny and Victor their familly will be, for a year and two years
respectively, their cellmates. Hector, a baby-faced 23 year old isn't so lucky. He
still has six years left of his sentence. Victor and Danny retrace their journey
here. The guerilla group, girls, the dead, comrades, familly, hope... Victor is
particularly affected by the difficulties that La Modelo imposes upon them by
putting them in with paramilitaries. Amongst them three black eagles who are in
prison for the murder, among others, of his younger brother. Antonio was 16 years
old, the paramilitaries murdered him and, using a tactic common to paramilitaries,
cut off his hands and feet. His only crime was to be the brother of a guerillero.

Y. and J.
International Secretary of the french CNT.