Tarnished Innocence - Stories from prison

By Liliany Obando, March, 2015

Little Manuela, like all the children living with their mothers in a Colombian prison, is less than three years old. She and her mother are of Indigenous origin; her mother is a valiant political prisoner 聽

Every morning Manuela had to go to the prison nursery school. It's required of mothers who have their babies and children with them in prison to send them to the nursery school. Otherwise they lose the slot given for these little ones to stay with their mothers until they are three years old. Once they arrive at that age, the young children are abruptly and irrevocably separated from their mothers. There is no psychological treatment afterwards for anyone that helps in overcoming the trauma of separation in any way.

Some professional personnel worked at the nursery school, but some inmates work there too. It was their way of deducting time from their sentences, with work, in accordance with the Colombian penal code. We don't know if there is some type of evaluation for this type of very delicate work for determining the fitness of inmates who would perform it. It looks like that was not the case.聽 聽

One day Manuela returned from the nursery school of the pavilion with a sad, frightened face. She looked like she had been crying a lot.聽 Without even having learned to speak clearly, she told her mother that she hurt and she pointed her finger at her pubic area. Her mother checked her and observed that the intimate parts appeared really irritated and on checking her underwear she noticed a large brownish-red spot.聽 聽

Right away her mother came to some of us, her most trusted comrades, and told us what happened. Soon after hearing her, we looked at each other in silence and soon tears began to show in our eyes. We told our comrade that we must urgently protest what happened, but to organizations that defend human rights and children's rights, rather than go to prison officials.聽聽聽 聽

We had to act promptly but we needed the mother's consent. Heartsick and full of fear, she could only cry.聽 If we made a protest, the prison officials could decide to remove the permission she had of having the child at her side. Then right away she would only with difficulty get to see the child. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison. We succeeded in convincing her, arguing that the rights of the girl took precedence over any other consideration. Finally we called first one organization and then others, even the offices of some congresspersons. But time for those who are outside is quite different from those who are deprived of their freedom.聽聽 聽

While we were waiting for a response, her mother had to take the child to a prison doctor who would check her, a general doctor. There is no pediatric service in prison.聽 The prison directors immediately turned on the alert. The doctor handed over the preliminary results to the mother in a sealed envelope and warned her expressly that she must not open it before delivering it to another doctor who in a hospital outside the prison would be seeing the small child. The girl was left in the hospital for several days.聽 To our "surprise" - although nothing that happens in the prison really surprises - the legal medicine people, the doctors, and the prison directors all told the mother that nothing "unusual" had happened. 聽

Some days afterwards I received a call from the office of the congresswoman we had called upon for help.聽 They asked me if we were sure of the denunciation, because they had talked with the directors of the prison and had been informed by them that nothing bad had happened to the child.聽 聽

Nevertheless, what with our first denunciations, the Attorney General's Technical Investigation Corps visited Manuela's mother on several occasions, including in her cell. We presumed that an investigation process was beginning. 聽

The inmate working in the nursery school was a social prisoner. That's what they are called who are in prison for common crimes.聽 We knew afterwards that she had been moved to another type of work assignment for a reduced sentence. We found that out one day when she arrived at the political prisoners pavilion to bring supplies for the food store that's in the patio. Those foods are sold to inmates who can buy them. But when she entered the patio, Manuela was upset and pointed with her finger to the inmate and at the same time touched her private parts. It was her way of communicating to her mother that she was her attacker. That was the person the prison directors dealt with solely by changing the place where she worked. 聽

A little time afterwards in the early morning hours, guards burst into our pavilion interrupting our sleep. They passed cell by cell giving the order to several of our comrades to pack up what they could because they were going to be transferred to another prison. We never knew where.聽 These were moments of uncertainty, anger, and powerlessness.聽 Among those who were transferred were comrades of mine, for I was involved both in coordinating the political prisoners' collective of the patio and in issuing denunciations in regards to human rights. Manuela's mother was one of those who were going to be transferred, but the child was still with her in the prison. And we pointed that fact out so that she would not be transferred. I myself was not transferred that night for two reasons: I was still in preventative detention, because I had not been convicted and, more importantly, there was a strong campaign that was publicizing my case. In return, the harassment from the guards I was already living with became more unendurable with each denunciation of human rights violations I presented on behalf of the permanent prisoners.

Within a few days we knew that our comrades had been transferred to one of the worst penitentiary centers in Colombia - La Tramac煤a, in Valledupar, better known as the "Guant谩namo" of Colombia.聽 It's a penitentiary center built to house men with long sentences. But they have also fitted out a tower there to be occupied by some 100 women considered to be "problematic prisoners". Women imprisoned there are convicted of all sorts of crimes. International and national laws establish that management of prisoners is based on classifying them by the acts for which they are being punished. That procedure, in this prison, is a dead letter.聽聽聽 聽

From the beginning, the women imprisoned there suffered every adversity of being in prison. But there was more: it was a torture center, with no water, often with high temperatures and sicknesses, without anything to do the whole day and far away from families. It was a place where women practically didn't exist. The prison regimen was arranged especially for men.聽 聽

But those invisible women rebelled and fought. And in regard to the tower where women in La Tramac煤a were imprisoned, we finally did succeed in having it explicitly proscribed. We did so with the accompaniment of various human rights organizations and with the pressure that we, the political prisoners' collectives, exercised on our own. The women were then transferred to other centers of imprisonment.聽聽 聽
聽聽聽聽聽聽 聽
Meanwhile Manuela became three years old, and the day came when she was painfully torn away from the side of her mother, and from us too, we who now were her aunts.聽 A little later her mother was transferred to another prison far away from us. We never got to know anything about the investigation process in Manuela's case.聽聽聽聽 聽

Author Liliany Obando was a political prisoner. She is a teacher, sociologist, and human rights defender. The name of the child who is the subject of this essay is changed to protect her identity.
W. T. Whitney Jr. translated the article.
Source: http://www.inspp.org/news/liliany-obando/inocencia-mancillada


Tan absurda como la deuda externa, la extradici贸n en Colombia es una herramienta pol铆tica que, lejos de hacer justicia, impide su eficaz ejercicio, con el argumento que carece de capacidad operativa implementando a un alto costo pol铆tico acuerdos de 鈥渃ooperaci贸n鈥 para entregar ciudadanos colombianos a tribunales m谩s all谩 de las fronteras nacionales. Esta supuesta 鈥渃ooperaci贸n鈥 es, en la mayor铆a de los casos, un acuerdo unilateral que pone en peligro la soberan铆a de los pueblos, al imponer una justicia mercantilizada que no fortalece la democracia, la defensa de los derechos humanos ni la construcci贸n de paz.

Desde 2002 el Estado colombiano ha entregado en extradici贸n, seg煤n el Ministerio de Justicia, a m谩s de 2.104 personas, siendo Estados Unidos el pa铆s que m谩s solicitudes aprobadas ha realizado, con 1.748 colombianos judicializados, entre los que se encuentran narcotraficantes, paramilitares, insurgentes y ciudadanos del com煤n, cada uno con una modalidad de extradici贸n diferente. Por eso no ser铆a exagerado afirmar que la extradici贸n es un arma con la que se hace pol铆tica, se imponen poderes, se otorgan garant铆as, se niegan otras, se oculta la verdad y se persigue a la oposici贸n. Lejos de ser un mecanismo rec铆proco, neutral y efectivo al servicio de la justicia y los derechos humanos, la figura de la extradici贸n en Colombia ha servido para consolidar un proyecto pol铆tico que desconoce los principios de soberan铆a y la autodeterminaci贸n de los pueblos sometiendo a algunas personas extraditadas a tratos crueles, inhumanos y degradantes.

Mientras que el 93% de los extraditados colombianos son requeridos por el Gobierno de Estados Unidos, en sentido inverso la cifra no llega a cinco. Estas estad铆sticas se帽alan un panorama distorsionado. Basta s贸lo con revisar qu茅 papel ha jugado el Gobierno de Estados Unidos en el conflicto armado colombiano, para preguntarse si no tenemos nosotros m谩s legitimidad en juzgar los cr铆menes cometidos por ciudadanos estadounidenses en el territorio nacional, sobre todo cuando la mayor铆a de ellos fueron orientados por sus propias agencias de seguridad e inteligencia.

Durante los 煤ltimos a帽os han salido a la luz los 鈥渆rrores鈥 judiciales que han cometido las cortes estadounidenses, con la complicidad de sectores nacionales, contra colombianos inocentes que, entre otras cosas, deben sobrevivir a las injusticias del modelo carcelario y penitenciario de los pa铆ses requirentes.

Adem谩s de esto, se han encontrado casos donde grandes narcotraficantes, muchos de ellos articulados con el paramilitarismo y responsables de la muerte y el despojo de miles de personas, han salido en libertad en seis a帽os o menos. As铆 mismo, algunos de estos narcoparamilitares han sido condenados sin que se pueda acceder, desde la justicia colombiana, a sus procesos, violando el derecho de las v铆ctimas y del pa铆s a conocer la verdad sobre hechos que tuvieron graves implicaciones para la sociedad. La extradici贸n es sin贸nimo de impunidad, y ha sido un fracaso en el desmonte de las estructuras nacionales e internacionales asociadas al crimen.

Por esta raz贸n, convocamos a todos los colombianos y colombianas, a los familiares y amigos de los presos, a la comunidad internacional, a las organizaciones de derechos humanos, a los colectivos de presos pol铆ticos y al movimiento social, a unir fuerzas en la campa帽a 鈥淧or la soberan铆a, no a la extradici贸n鈥, para la defensa de los derechos humanos, la democracia y la paz con el objetivo de:

路 Rechazar y denunciar el uso de la extradici贸n como una violaci贸n a nuestra soberan铆a.

路 Defender los procesos de paz entre el Gobierno y las insurgencias y promover su construcci贸n democr谩tica.

路 Visibilizar la grave situaci贸n carcelaria y jur铆dica que tienen que soportar las personas extraditadas por orden del Estado colombiano.

路 Exigir la suspensi贸n y cesaci贸n definitiva del constante flujo de connacionales en extradici贸n y la repatriaci贸n de quienes ya est谩n extraditados.

路 Promover reformas legislativas por la no extradici贸n como aporte聽 a una pol铆tica criminal alternativa bajo el paradigma de una justicia restaurativa.

La soberan铆a de los pueblos no es un concepto vac铆o sino un escenario en permanente disputa pol铆tica dentro y fuera del pa铆s; es una condici贸n necesaria para la paz con justicia social y el derecho de la libre autodeterminaci贸n de los pueblos: no a la extradici贸n!

Campa帽a por la Soberan铆a, no a la Extradici贸n

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