Torture and Abuse at La Tramacua Penitentiary in Colombia

The Alliance for Global Justice has received alarming news from our Colombian partners, Traspasa los Muros, about torture, deprivation of water, filthy conditions and other abuses. We are particularly worried about the life and well-being of Hernan Rodriguez Diaz who has been the victim of torture and beatings since he began a hunger strike on May 2nd. We have just received word that Rodriguez Díaz’ condition is deteriorating rapidly due to illness, lack of nourishment and incidents of torture that have left him unable to stand on his own strength.

Since April 29th, the following events have occurred:

* Between April 29th and May 2nd, the water supply at La Tramacúa was turned off, even though the temperatures were reaching 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This left inmates rationing water already collected for drinking and unable to bathe or clean dishes and clothing. Inmates were forced to use plastic bags for the elimination of bodily waste, with urine and fecal matter festering in inoperative toilets.

* On May 2nd, Political Prisoner Hernan Rodriguez Díaz began a hunger strike demanding better conditions plus medical attention for himself and a transfer to Bogotá, where his family lives. He also was demanding an end to restrictions on communication preventing him from sending or receiving letters or phone calls even from his wife and five children. Diaz had become sick due to the poor quality of food at La Tramacúa, which has been repeatedly found to contain fecal matter. This has been corroborated by the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia, the Office of the Secretary of Health for the Department of César, Colombia, as well as national and international NGOs. Inmates have also complained of being served rotten food and food contaminated with maggots. A central demand for the hunger strike is access to clean food and water.

* On May 3rd, Rodriguez Díaz was taken by prison guards to an isolated patio where he was forced to stay outside in the sun from 8am to 6pm, causing severe dehydration.

* On May 6th, La Tramacúa prisoners made a special appeal to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon and Minister of the Interior and of Justice Germán Vargas Lleras calling on them to intervene to stop the torture and the restrictions on the water supply.

* On May 7th, Rodriguez Díaz was put into isolation and beaten by prison guards trying to pressure him to end his hunger strike.

* On May 9th, 300 prisoners inside of La Tramacúa began a strike, refusing to participate in prisoner counts, to wear uniforms or to cooperate with prison authorities in any way. They are striking in support of Rodriguez Diaz’ demands and are again calling for adequate access to water. They specifically complained of the practice of collective punishment by turning water off for days at a time or restricting access to water for five minutes every 48 hours, during which time inmates are expected to collect water in plastic jugs for the next two days’ use. Even under best conditions, access to water is available for around ten minutes per day per inmate.

* Also on May 9th, Lazos de Dignidad (who provide legal services for political prisoners) received reports that Rodriguez Díaz was in grave physical condition, fainting frequently and unable to stand on his own.

* On May 10th, prison guards attacked striking prisoners in Tower Four, beating them and firing tear gas indiscriminately into the pavilion, leaving five prisoners wounded. Prison guards attacked Osman Polo Carrillo in Tower Five, beating him and firing tear gas canisters into his cell.

* On May 10th, 60 prisoners from Tower Five denounced the terrible sanitary conditions and the widespread infirmities resulting from these conditions, including diarrhea, vomiting, bloody stools, skin rashes and constant coughs.

La Tramacúa was built in 2000 with funding from USAID and oversight from the US Bureau of Prisons. It was supposed to be a model of a “New Penitentiary Culture”, but the name La Tramacúa has become synonymous with the harshest and most inhumane conditions in any Colombian prison.


1) Please send the following sample email, or one in your own words, to the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the International Red Cross. Use either the Spanish or English versions below. Send to:,,,

Please also send a bcc copy to


Subject Line: Exijo Justicia en La Tramacúa

Estoy escribiendo su organización para pedirles a EXHORTAR al Estado Colombiano a SOLUCIONAR LAS SITUACION URGENTES de los Prisioneros en la Penitenciaria de Alta Seguridad de Valledupar (“La Tramacúa) y CERRARde inmediato dicho establecimiento; así como a INVESTIGAR, JUZGAR Y CASTIGAR cualquier instancia de tortura y tratos crueles, inhumanos y degradantes que haya tenido lugar en él.

Más, les pido que realizen una VISITA DE VERIFICACIÓN de las graves condiciones a las que han sido sometidos los prisioneros y EMITIR recomendaciones al Estado colombiano para se ordene el traslado inmediato del prisionero político HERNAN RODRIGUEZ DIAZ y cesen las violaciones a los derechos humanos en dicho establecimiento.


Subject Line: I Demand Justice in La Tramacúa

I am writing your organization in order to ask that you exhort the Colombian government to resolve the urgent situations of the prisoners held in the High Security Penitentiary of Valledupar (“La Tramacúa”) and immediately close said establishment. I also call on you to investigate, judge and castigate whatever instance of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that may have taken place there.

I also call on your organizations to undertake a visit of verification concerning the grave conditions to which the prisoners have been subjected and release recommendations to the Colombian government that they order the immediate transfer of the Political Prisoner Hernan Rodriguez Diaz and cease the violations of human rights in said establishment.

2) Please cut, paste and send the Spanish email sample (English translation included below) or write a personal email in Spanish to Colombian authorities. (Non-Spanish emails are discarded, unread.) Send to the following email addresses:,,,,,,

Please also send a bcc copy to:

NOTE: Email alerts to the Colombian President often bounce back. We are aware of that, but have included it anyway. Hopefully by adding the Colombian embassy in the US, the message will get through!


Subject line: Exijo Jusiticia en La Tramacúa

Exijo que el Presidente Juan Manuel Calderón y el Ministro del Interior y de Jusitica INTERVENIR DE MANERA INMEDIATAa fin de que cesen las torturas sistemáticas a las que son sometidos los prisioneros en la penitenciaría de Valledupar y en consecuencia se resuelva el problema de restricción al derecho al acceso de agua potable y un ambiente sano, así como también se les garanticen los derechos a un trato digno, comunicación con el exterior, dotación personal,sana alimentación, entre otros derechos actualmente limitados arbitrariamente.

Exijo que INPEC ORDENAR El TRASLADO INMEDIANTO del prisionero político HERNAN RODRIGUEZ DIAZ a un establecimiento de reclusión en la ciudad de Bogotá, lugar donde se encuentra su núcleo familiar, en garantía a su derecho a la traslado por cercanía familiar, y a la dignidad humana, vida en relación con la salud, integridad física y psicológica.

Exijo que el Defensor Nacional del Pueblo VERIFICAR DE MANERA INMEDIATA las graves condiciones a las que han sido sometidos los prisioneros en la Penitenciaria de Alta Seguridad de Valledupar, así como el estado de salud del prisionero político HERNAN RODRIGUEZ DIAZ; EMITIR UN INFORME PÚBLICOsobre la situación verificada.


Subject Line: I Demand Justice at La Tramacúa

I demand that President Juan Manuel Calderón and the Minister of the Interior and of Justice intervene immediately to stop the systematic tortures to which the prisoners of Valledupar are submitted and resolve the problem of the restriction of the right to access to potable water and a health environmente. I also demand that you guarantee the rights to dignified treatment, communication with the outside world, the right to keep and have access to personal items, clean and unspoiled food, among other rights presently and arbitrarily limited.

I demand that INPEC (the Colombian Bureau of Prisons) order the immediate transfer of the Political Prisoner Hernan Rodriguez Diaz to a penitentiary in the city of Bogotá, where his nuclear family is located, in guarantee of his right to be transferred to a place near his family. I demand that he be treated with the human dignity and guaranteed healthy life and physical and psychological integrity.

I demand that the National Public Defender verify immediately the grave conditions to which the prisoners of the High Security Penitentiary of Valledupar have been subjected, including the physical condition of Hernan Rodriguez Díaz; and that the office release a public report regarding the verified situation.

THE EXTRA MILE: It would be very useful for persons to contact their Representatives and ask them to intervene in this situation, especially since construction at La Tramacúa was funded by USAID and the prison system redesigned on the basis of advice from the US Bureau of Prisons. To find your Representative’s contact information, go to: