Speaking in Bogota in May, UN official Christian Salazar reported that "forced disappearances" total 57,200 now, with 38,000 of them carried out between 2007 and 2009. The CIMEC human rights group indicates they have accelerated under the current Juan Manuel Santos Government.
Revelations like these, plus steady reports of assassinations, displacement from land, and social divisions have overshadowed the problem of Colombia’s political prisoners.
Now, new developments have emerged regarding prisoners, two of them relating to Venezuela.
International solidarity is on the rise against that manifestation of political and social disaster. It’s the creature of a U.S. protÃ©gÃ©e regime serving a wealthy elite. Sulata Taruka, a "mother [and] survivor of the Patriotic Union [persecution]," reports on Venezuela’s anticipated delivery to Colombia of Guillermo Enrique Torres, captured May 31 in Barinas state.
Torres, a singer known to leftist admirers as "Julian Conrado," is a general staff member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He too joined the Patriotic Union (UP). Some 5000 members of that leftist electoral coalition have been massacred over 25 years. Taruka’s article "Another Handover?" appeared on the Venezuelan Communist Party’s website. http://www.tribuna-popular.org/index.php/opinion/usuarios/8484-iotra-entrega-pregunta-a-chavez-una-madre-de-asesinado-por-el-regimen-colombiano
Taruka recalls that when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez handed over Swedish journalist Joaquin Perez Becerra to the Santos government on April 23, he affirmed "unbreakable commitment to fight terrorism." "We expected," she notes, "the Bolivarian government’s commitment would have been against Colombian state terrorism, not against the oppressed, persecuted, and survivors in [Colombia]." "Once the Colombian pack of hounds has Torres," she adds, "will they pack him off to the United States, the greatest criminal, terrorist state on the planet? They’ll abuse, shackle, and humiliate someone rebelling against this riff-raff system of extermination."
Swedish citizen Perez Becerra ended up in a Colombian jail in late April after arriving in Caracas from Germany. President Chavez’s quick delivery of the ANNCOL website editor to Colombia on Santos’ request triggered a storm of protest. Venezuelan communists say his government bypassed legal norms on extradition and deportations. International advocacy for other emblematic prisoners has brought attention to Colombian political prisoners. Liliany Obando was serving as human rights director for the Fensuagro agricultural workers union when she was arrested in August, 2008. Her case is stalled because defense evidence is unavailable.
Human rights activist and communist leader David Ravelo, arrested in September, 2010, had circulated a video demonstrating ex-president Uribe’s association with paramilitaries. Trade union leader Aracely CaÃ±averal VÃ©lez has been jailed since January 2010, Cucuta poet Angie Gaona, since January 2011. Mexican authorities seized university professor Miguel Angel Beltran in May, 2009, extraditing him in Colombia. Over 1000 British academicians signed a letter demanding his release from prison. A former Colombian intelligence agent who monitored Beltran in Mexico claimed recently government evidence is non-existent. Obando, Beltran, Perez Becerra, and Julian Conrado, all with UP loyalties, are accused of supporting the FARC.
The Government’s case against these and other prisoners is based on material from computers seized on March 1, 2008 after the Colombian military bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador. In May, in a related case, Colombia’s Supreme Judicial Tribunal invalidated such evidence because a judicially competent chain of custody was never demonstrated. In response, a court on June 3 ordered Miguel Beltran’s release.
There is a history: a British report condemned prison torture in 1970. The United Nations in 2001 found "corruption, maltreatment, and misgovernment in most Colombian prisons." In 2000, because of overcrowding, the governmentÂ began construction of 16 new prisons to accommodate 24,000 inmates. Washington helped out with funding and supervision under its "Plan Colombia."
Arrests and incarcerations mounted, however. The prison population expanded over 10 years from 60,000 to over 100,000 prisoners. In the first three months of 2011, 23,160 people entered Colombian prisons, up from 12,415 during that period a year earlier. In the facility harboring Miguel Beltran, four inmates live in a space measuring nine feet square, washing and toilet facilities included. Columbia’s 7500 political prisoners include unionists, peasant leaders, human rights activists, journalists, teachers, environmentalists, and assorted leftists. Only 500 were guerrilla fighters.
From 2002 to 2006, 8000 new political prisoners entered Colombian prisons, most being discharged within two to three years without trial, conviction, or sentencing. Plan Colombia, phase two, fostered judicial "infrastructure created to subdue unrest and dissent." According to international observers, prisoners experience severe water shortages, contaminated food and water, family visits disrupted, medical care denied, endemic violence, and abuse from privileged paramilitary inmates.
In April, authorities at La TramacÃºa prison in Valledupar were releasing water for ten minutes every 48 hours. Excreta ended up in plastic bags. Political prisoners Hernan Rodriguez Diaz and Reiner Polania began hunger strikes on May 2. Guards delivered beatings. On May 9, 300 prisoners launched a strike, refusing to comply with prison routines. On June 1, prisoners at the "ERON torture prison" undertook a "civil disobedience action."
According to analyst Azalea Robles, "The disappeared are made invisible by a state desirous of perpetuating its genocidal mechanism of accumulating capital in a few hands, under the cloak of impunity." The "practice of genocide allows for the plunder of resources," she says. The victims were protesting "the ongoing aberration under which Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world, while its people are hungry." http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=129256
In 2008 Colombia’s 0.59 Gini co-efficient (measuring income inequalities) was the world’s fourth worst. Prisons, too, fit within the reign of terror she describes. Political prisoners are reminders that an insecure regime will stop at nothing to enforce its will.
Sulata Taruka declares that to undo such a criminal, death dealing regime, collaboration won’t work. That includes delivering anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolutionaries to the Colombian lions’ den. She admits, "I don’t understand what kind of revolution Venezuela is making. If it goes only half way, it’s digging its own grave." She warns Chavez, who named Santos as his ‘new best friend,’ "You can not only expect betrayal…neither the USSR nor revolutionary Cuba handed over international revolutionaries."
Chavez, perhaps, has reasons of state, among them the hope Santos will help keep marauding Colombian paramilitaries out of Venezuela, join in promoting bilateral commercial networks, and persuade U.S. colleagues to go easy on Venezuela’s government.
June 7, 2011