Close Colombia’s La Tramacúa, US Funded and Designed Prison


Para leer la denuncia original en español, hace clic aquí

Sign a petition demanding that La Tramacúa be closed

We, the members of the Alliance for Global Justice, are very concerned about the news we have received from the Colombian organization Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity), in reference to the recent abuses against the political prisoners and prisoners of war in the Penitentiary Establishment of Valledupar, commonly known as “La Tramacúa”.

On the other hand, we welcome the news we have received regarding JUDGEMENT T-282, pronounced in 2014 by the Constitutional Court demanding an end to the arbitrary abuses committed against the prisoners of the Penitentiary Establishment of Valledupar, and the end of the unjust conditions to which they are subjected. The deadline established by the Constitutional Court behind this sentence is that by October, 2015 the penitentiary must guarantee conditions respectful of the human dignity of the inmates or if, on the contrary, the demands of the court are not complied with, the prison must be closed. Another important point that also has been included in this judgment is the court’s demand that an official protocol be established in the event of protests by the jail’s inmates that will be respected by the authorities and the prison guards. Unfortunately, despite the decision of the Constitutional Court we have received new reports of abuses on the part of the penitentiary toward the prisoners.

Therefore, we find ourselves moved to make this statement due to the reports we have received regarding the events that occurred between October, 2014 and January, 2015. We refer specifically to the case of the death of the prisoner JOSÉ LUIS POLO TORREGROSA this past October 25, 2014, for lack of adequate medical treatment (medial neglect); the abuse of authority and the disproportionate use of force on the part of the penitentiary guards in the month of December, 2014, regarding the prisoner ELKIN FIGUEROA RIVERA and his demands for medical attention, for which Elkin was beaten and handcuffed, and afterward, alongside his brother OSCAR FIGUEROA RIVERA who came to his aid and was also subjected to a state in which he could not defend himself, were transferred to cells of solitary confinement where they remained all night, subjected to tortures and beating; and the violent attacks that occurred this past January 12, 2015 against the prisoners held in the penitentiary’s Tower Five, initiated by the prison guards against the prisoner LEONARDO YEPES, who was being defended by his prison companions.

In reference to the case of the tragic death of JOSE LUIS POLO TORREGROSA, of which we were informed by the Fundación Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity Foundation), we learned that Torregrosa asked repeatedly for adequate treatment for a pulmonary infection that was afflicting him. He brought and won various legal actions wherein medical attention was ordered for him, judgments that were never accepted, and finally, thanks to measures taken by his mother before the office of Colombia’s Ombudsman (People’s Defender), due to the deteriorating health of her son, he received medical treatment, diagnosing him with advanced tuberculosis. Lamentably, he only received attention in a hospital in the latest hours of his life. We at the Alliance for Global Justice are familiar with these kinds of stories and our observations are that the health of the prisoners is not a priority for La Tramacúa, which has been built in the image of the prison system in the United States. This negligence in the provision of health services for inmates is epidemic for both the US and Colombian prison systems, and in many occasions, constitutes a form of torture and, in the worst cases, an extrajudicial death sentence.

Equally, we are pained to hear about the cruel and inhuman treatment received by the prisoner ELKIN FIGUEROA RIVERA when he pressed for medical attention. This past month of December 2014, Figueroa expressed his complaints for not having received medical attention, and the response he got was to be beaten and handcuffed by the prison guards. His brother and jail mate OSCAR FIGUEROA RIVERA came to his defense, which generated an operation by the guards, due to which the inmates climbed a structure in the jail where Oscar Figueroa Rivera, in his desperation, was at the point of committing suicide. After reestablishing the calm, according to a report from Lazos de Dignidad, the agents of INPEC (National Jail and Penitentiary Institute) (Lieutenant SACHICA, Corporal GUERRERO and Corporal MENDOZA) “promised to not beat them and proceeded to transfer the inmates to isolation cells in a state of total defenselessness, where they remained throughout the night, being tortured wit the use of tear gas applied to the genitals, beatings and being pelted with fecal material, being returned to the unit the following day.”

With respect to the information we received on January 12, 2015, it was reported that LEONARDO YEPES was found by prison guards in a restricted area. The guards demanded that Yepes submit to an inspection, with which he complied without resistance. But in place of the inspections, the guards began to beat Yepes. According to a dispatch from Lazos de Dignidad, “The 12th of January, 2015…the Prisoners of Tower Five…denounced that around 3:30AM, two guards physically attacked the inmate LEONARDO YEPES (TD 3592), who was aided by his companions in the unit, the cause of which the Immediate Reaction Unit (GRI) began a disproportional operation, launching tear gas canisters and beating all who intervened, using maces and unconventional weapons described by the prisoners as ‘a square stick, a shovel handle, a table leg and two tasers.’ Due to the abuse of power and disproportional use of force on the part of the GRI, some of the prisoners climbed the tower.

At the height of four floors, the guards, among them PRIVATE REYES, sprayed peper spray in their eyes and faces, striking their hands with billy clubs with the intention of making them fall, putting the prisoners’ lives at risk. For this reason, various prisoners intervened to help their companions, being also attacked by the guards and, finally, the inmates at risk lowered themselves from the structure using ropes improvised from sheets.”

Because of these actions, the Fundación Lazos de Dignidad has informed us that the inmates Alex Jimi Jimi, Jorge Luís Barrera Martinez and Cristian Herrera Calero were jailed for “…four days of solitary confinement in a dungeon that measures approximately 3 X 2 meters, known as ‘Mosquito Village’ due to it being plagued by mosquitoes, where the prisoners have no access to light, water and according to the denunciations of the prisoners, the guards constantly subject them to tear gas.”

We are personally aware of the history of this penitentiary. Raquel Mogollón visited La Tramacúa in June, 2011 in the name of the Alliance, two days after a massive attack by the INPEC guards against inmates who were maintaining a nonviolent protest against the jail’s bad conditions. She participated in a delegation lead by Iván Cepeda, then a Representative and now a Senator in the Colombian Congress, and also including members of the Fundación Lazos de Dignidad and Justice for Colombia (a British solidarity organization).

Mogollón told us, “It was unbelievable….I saw several prisoners who needed medical treatment from the recent assault: people with open cuts, deep bruises and rashes from pepper spray.” According to witnesses, the June 11th and 12th assault was carried out on orders of from the Minister of the Interior and Justice. According to Mogollón, “Some of the prisoners still had pepper spray on their shirts and in their hair, although it had been two days since the attack. There was no extra water to clean with….Many of the striking prisoners had fashioned makeshift harnesses and hammocks and had been suspended, hanging from balconies up to five floors high, as a form of protest. One prisoner, Wilson Rodriguez, told Mogollón that, “They cut us all down because they didn’t want you to see us.” He and the other prisoners had been hanging from the balconies for 33 days. “There wasn’t much more we could do.”

In regards to the issue of the water supply, she told us, “It’s important to understand that this is an area of rivers, ranches and farms. But about a mile up, where the water comes down from, all the piping is old….Right now the inmates say they’re getting access to water about ten minutes a day.

…The prison was absolutely, suffocatingly hot with just a few water pipes. What was really bad—I got a look at the water bottles. They were full of mold. They aren’t able to clean their water jugs. There’s just not enough water available. At one point, you could hear the water coming through the pipes. All the men started running….”

As United States-ers, we have much responsibility with respect to this institution. We know that it was constructed in 2000 with funding, training and advise from the United States, and that the jail was the first in a program to restructure the Colombian penitentiary system on a US model, that is to say, a model of mass incarceration and institutional humiliation for the inmates in place of policies and programs of rehabilitation. In deed, from the beginning of this program, the overcrowding in Colombian jails has reached 58%, the highest level in the country’s history. It is a source of shame for us that we must recognize the abuses and bad conditions of La Tramacúa as a result of policies and projects carried out in our names, with the US people’s resources. Thus, we join our voices with those of Colombians, and with international voices to demand that La Tramacúa be closed immediately.

Sign the petition to close La Tramacúa!

We have followed the events at La Tramacúa with special attention and are well informed about its entire history. For years we have campaigned and advocated for better conditions and in regards to human rights.

We have also collected more than 1,000 signatures for a petition regarding La Trmacúa and have published an open letter with the signatures of well-known and respected individuals and organizations. We have spoken with officials of the Congress and US Department of State about the role of the United States in the institution. We have visited INPEC officials and have mobilized hundreds of letters, phone calls and emails from our followers in support of the prisoners’ human rights. But our international pleas have been ignored the same as the pleas of the prisoners. In fact, after our visit to La Tramacúa in 2011, in every request we have made since then asking permission to visit La Tramacúa again or other prisons built or advised through US agencies, we have been denied entrance. That is to say, the lack of adequate responses to these measures, the infulfillment of the responsible parties in bettering the conditions of La Tramacúa, the constant flow of denunciations of aggressions, tortures and other outrages committed against the inmates, and the abuses committed after the judgment of the Constitutional Court, have all convinced us that the only just solution for the extreme problems at La Tramacúa must be its immediate closure.

With respect to the US Congress, the White House, the Department of State and the US Bureau of Prisons, we demand that they stop all funding for and participation in the Program for the Improvement of Colombia’s Penitentiary System. According to this accord,

“In conformity with the law and policies of the United States, US funds will not be administrated under this accord to finance projects presented by the Ministry of Justice and Law–INPEC if evidence exists that its functionaries have committed grave violations against human rights, unless the Secretary of State determines that there have been taken effective measures to bring to justice the functionaries responsible for such violations.

The parts understand that ‘effective measures’ signifies that the disciplinary investigations or penalties that might take place proceed in conformity with Colombian law.”

It has been almost 15 years since the signing of this accord, and its legacy has been a story of violations, abuses and bad conditions in La Tramacúa. With these reports of abuses committed since the SENTENCE T-282 in 2014 of the Constitutional Court, we can see that the reality is that neither INPEC nor the Colombian government have taken the steps that we could call “effective measures” to resolve this situation.

Therfore we additionally declare our support for the other demands announced by Lazos de Dignidad and the political prisoners of La Tramacúa, including:

“1. That the COLOMBIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT declare the noncompliance with the SENTENCE T-282 of 2014 and in consequence order the IMMEDIATE CLOSURE of the Penitentiary Establishment and High and Medium Security Prison (La Tramacúa) of Valledupar for the reason of the deeds denounced in the present report.”

2. That the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE NATION exercise the PREFERENTIAL POWER and open a disciplinary investigation against the INPEC functionaries responsible for the grave human rights violations consummated January 12, 2015 against the priseonrs of the Penitentiary Establishment and High and Medium Security Prison (La Tramacúa) of Valledupar.


a. Conduct an URGENT VISIT of verification and collection of testimonies from the Prisoners in Tower 5 of the Penitentiary Establishment and High and Medium Security Prison (La Tramacúa) of Valledupar.

b. Solicit the National Institute of Legal Medicine to realize an URGENT EVALUATION of the prisoners wounded during the events of January 12, 2015, in order to determine the legal medical incapacities of the victims.

c. Solicit the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE NATION to open a PENAL INVESTIGATION against the INPEC functionaries responsible for the grave human rights violations and crimes consummated on January 12, 2015 against the prisoners of the Penitentiary Establishment and High and Medium Security Prison (La Tramacúa) of Valledupar.

d. Submit our petition to the COLOMBIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT for the IMMEDIATE CLOSURE of the Penitentiary Establishment and High and Medium Security Prison (La Tramacúa) of Valledupar for grave human rights violations committed against the inmates by the prison guards, providing the evidence collected during the [proposed] verification visit.

e. Submit to the Attorney General of the nation our solicitude of the exercise of Preferential Power and open a disciplinary investigation against the INPEC functionaries responsible for the grave human rights violations consummated against the prisoners on January 12, 2015.

The Alliance for Global Justice and Colombia’s Lazos de Dignidad are soliciting organizational statements concerning the bad situation and human rights abuses at La Tramacúa. If at all possible, it is best if these statements are written in Spanish. English translations are also encouraged. Please contact [email protected] for more information or to share your group’s statement.