Join Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, others in Colombia Prisoner Solidarity

Prisoners at La Tramacúa have access to water only ten minutes per day. Fifty-Four Prisoners at La Tramacúa started a hunger strike and eight prisoners sew their own lips shut.

Please Add Your Signature to Those of Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Rev. John Fife and Others and Sign this Open Letter Calling for La Tramacúa to Be Closed!

The International Network in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners (the Alliance for Global Justice is a founding member) will be sending this open letter to Colombian, US and international authorities on Wednesday, June 29th. PLEASE SIGN ON TODAY! With 54 prisoners on a hunger strike at La Tramacúa, the situation is truly urgent. Send your name, city and country, and organizational affiliation (for identification purposes only) to: james@afgj.org

HERE IS THE TEXT OF THE LETTER, WITH INITIAL SIGNERS:

To: President Juan Manuel Santos, Minister of the Interior and Justice German Vargas Lleras, Brigadier General Gustavo Adolfo Ricaurte Tapia and members of the Colombian Congress; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the United States Congress.

We are deeply concerned over reports about conditions at the High Security Penitentiary at Valledupar, Department of César, Colombia, commonly known as La Tramacúa. We join a growing chorus of voices calling for La Tramacúa to be closed. These include the prisoners themselves, current and former members of the Colombian Congress, the mayor of Valledupar, the César Public Defender, and national and international human rights advocates. For those of us in the United States, we are particularly troubled knowing that La Tramacúa was built with US funding and advice.

The situation has become such a crisis that 54 inmates started a hunger strike on June 19th and on June 22nd, eight of them sewed their own mouths shut, refusing to take anything into their bodies but water. These actions were preceded by a 44 day hunger strike by Felix Sanabria which began in September, 2010, a 24 day hunger strike by Hernan Rodriguez in May, 2011, and a nonviolent general strike by 60 prisoners from May 14-June 12th. While these actions are drastic, they reflect desperate conditions, the lack of recourse available and the determination of the inmates to hold onto the hope that their struggle might win some degree of dignified treatment. We recognize that at least in part, the extreme act of sewing one’s mouth shut is a silent call that we open our mouths in protest concerning the terrible conditions in La Tramacúa.

Construction at La Tramacúa was finished in November, 2000 and the institution was hailed as a model of a “New Penitentiary Culture”. However, this modern prison has become notorious for its bad conditions, including:

* Severe Restriction of Access to Water–Inmates have an average ten minutes daily access to running water in a place where temperatures regularly climb to 100 degrees (38 Celsius). Access to running water has been suspended altogether for days at a time as a form of collective punishment. Water was shut off from April 29th until June 2nd, 2011, sparking a widespread and nonviolent prison strike.
* Fecal Contamination of Food–Officials from the United Nations, the César Department of Health and various other government agencies and NGOs have verified this on different occasions. An international delegation visited on June 13th, reporting filthy kitchen and food preparation areas swarming with flies.
* Unsanitary toilets–Because of water restrictions, toilet facilities are usually non-functioning. Sewage is frequently backed up, running into cells and kitchen areas.
* Repeated Reports of Torture, Beatings and Armed Attacks–Reports of violence in La Tramacúa are frequent and often horrifying. As recently as June 11th and 12th, guards attacked five units in order to end the peaceful prison strike. Witnesses said guards caused some prisoners to fall as far as four and five floors. Other guards were reported stripping prisoners and firing “non-lethal weapons” at their genitals. Especially targeted for violence are political prisoners at La Tramacúa, one of several harsh prisons where Colombia’s more than 7,500 political prisoners are concentrated.
* Extreme Isolation from Family and Friends– One of the most frequent complaints of prisoners at La Tramacúa is that they are being held far from their homes and are unable to receive visits from family members because costs are so prohibitive.

As people of conscience, we support the prisoners in their two demands that the Colombian government close La Tramacúa and transfer inmates to institutions near their families.

We also call on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the situation at La Tramacúa as well as the treatment of Colombia’s political prisoners throughout the penal system.

We call on Pres. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to add their voices to those calling for La Tramacúa to be closed. We call on the United States Congress to investigate the roles played by the US Agency for International Development and the US Bureau of Prisons in allowing these conditions to develop at La Tramacúa.

We also insist that Congress reject attempts to pass the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. There is no justifiable reason to pass this FTA, especially while Colombia, with US support, allows such inhumane treatment to occur in its jails and while it continues to lock up 7,500 political prisoners-most of whom are peasant farmers, unionists and students who were engaged in nonviolent mobilizations.

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology*

Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Code Pink*

Isabel Garcia, Founder of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos and recipient of Mexico’s National Human Rights Prize*

Dan Kovalik, Senior Counsel, United Steel Workers*

David Bacon, US labor journalist and photographer*

Rev. John Fife, Co-Founder of the Sanctuary Movement, No More Deaths and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA*

Peter and Gail Mott, Co-Editors, INTERCONNECT newsletter

Raquel Mogollón, President of Pan Left Video Collective*

Mark Burton, Law Offices of Mark Burton and National Lawyers Guild*

Mary Ann Tenuto, Coordinator for the Chiapas Support Committee*

Jerry Pendergrast, US-El Salvador Sister Cities Project*

Chuck Kaufman, Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice*

James Jordan, International Network in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners*

(*: Organizational affiliations listed for identification purposes only.)

READ THIS STIRRING REPORT ON RAQUEL MOGOLLÓN’S VISIT TO LA TRAMACÚA (Please Feel Free to Re-post)

On June 13th, Raquel Mogollón was part of a small delegation of human rights defenders and members of the Colombian Congress who were allowed to visit inside the walls of La Tramacúa. Click here to read an article that recounts the recent prison strike as well as Mogollon’s visit. Mogollón is Chair of AFGJ’s Colombia Committee, a member of the International Network in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners and President of Pan Left Video Collective.

*Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity) was the source for the reports cited in this message.