CSPP – Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners
Comite de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos

This is Colombia's oldest NGO, and defends prisoners' rights to general security and dignity. The only regional office now is in Cauca, and also includes the departments of Narino and Valle Cauca. Marta's colleague Everardo de Jesus Puerta ("Chucho") was killed by paras on January 30 or 31, 1999. He was attempting to visit his family.

Telling of their work with prisoners

CSPP attends to both general and political prisoners.
1.They attempt to accompany them in a political manner.
2. Offer advice re: political rights.
3. They do a lot of the prisoners' paperwork when they seek redress for the violation of rights.

Re: recently detained prisoners: As conflict has worsened, and under the rhetoric of terrorism, more people are being detained for political reasons, including members of social organizations and people simply living in contested areas.

In 1997 the government was sued because of a lack of dignified conditions in national prisons. The case went to the Constitutional Court and judgment [T153] was rendered, citing over-crowding, bureaucratic congestion regarding the processing of claims, and the lack of educational opportunities. The Colombian government was given four years to get prisons up to the minimal conditions of dignity, in accord with UN mandate. That four year term ran out April 28, 2001. The Colombian government began to create an agreement between the Federal Bureau of Prisons of the US, especially the narcotics division, in order to re-organize the Colombian prisons more along the US model.

The pilot prison was a high-security prison. Prisoners detained there were uniformed, shaved, and homogenized. They had no contact among themselves. Prior to this, there was opportunity for communication among prisoners and outside work via the "work tables." But government argued that this organizing "allowed for ongoing delinquency." So no communication is allowed in new prisons.

Per Marta, the fundamental objective of the government was to end the organizing potential of the political prisoners, because of their human rights projects and their conscientisizing of other prisoners. In the fulfilling of the '97 judgment, the government has been able to further control the prison population and repress organizing efforts.

And now a new situation is developing along with the creation of the new prisons and regulations. Along with the homogenizing of the prison population, there is the escalation of the war. More paras are entering the prisons. There have been massacres in Valle Cauca and Cauca, and so there have been paras detained as a result of those massacres. It appears the paras are being inserted into prisons to counter the progressive organizing. This type of detained person seems to be favored by prison officials, insofar as they seem to have a pacifying effect on the prison population.

Some strikes now being used by progressive forces in the prisons include:
• no visiting,
• no eating, and
• the holding of guards.

Paras undermine such tactics by employing "norms for coexistence." Paras are allowed to stay in one prison; guaranteed to have some spaces others cannot have -- more fresh air, the "working tables," and access to prison leadership. By contrast, the political prisoners are moved from prison to prison.

Explanation of "working tables": These are organizing spaces that resulted from '97, because of the work of political prisoners. As a result of Law ___ [sorry], prisoners were able to get the national penitentiary board to accept their validity. Each cell block has a representative that can deliver proposals to the national penitentiary board, as well as to the general population.

Since March 2001 in Valle Cauca there have been five massive prisoner movements, i.e., the movement of prisoners from progressive cell blocks to Bogota. This is an attempt to deconstruct progressive organizing as it exists and insert a contrary paramilitary influence. The National Penitentiary Board's officer basically affirmed this interpretation when he said that they affirm the "working tables," but only when they function as they do in the Medellin prison, i.e., under the control of the paras.

In the Via Hermosa prison, the working table was able to come up with its own proposals up to the end of 2001, and could take them to the community outside the government They could take proposals right to Congress that could improve prison conditions.

The San Isidro Penitentiary in Popayan has become very repressive. Many prisoners have tried to commit suicide; we also know of a man killed by the guards who was made to look like a suicide. Currently 60 prisoners there are trying to organize. They are being punished, not allowed to be leaders on the cell block, "treated" [with drugs ?], etc. San Isidro is one of the new prisons built under the advisement of the US Fed. BOP.

Poster on the wall

Even the Defender of the People's office, the Solicitor General, and other governmental bodies do not have access to these prisons!

Specific request: Please accompany both the political  prisoners (who are being painted as terrorists) and the social organizations working on their behalf. This situation is independent of the escalation of the war.

The UN has made one denunciation against a Colombian prison; they have visited the Popayan prison but made no denunciation.

We see that with the increase of international support to fight terrorism, we need to see international support for political prisoners and their rights. The Dignity Campaign is ongoing.

Q. What constitutes the grounds for being a political prisoner in Colombia ?
1. Many prisoners are members of the guerrilla groups. We have tried to make clear to the government that while we work with these prisoners, we are not connected to them. The guerrillas are altruistically motivated in response to pauperization.
2. Conscientious objectors
3. People who have been named as collaborators, including unionists. Amnesty International has not taken these people on, Many prisoners who are deemed collaborators go to prison without due process, with no understanding of CSPP's work, and with no knowledge of how to reach CSPP.

More on paras in prison: They are able to "buy" the thinking of others, because they have easy access to money from the outside, and with that they can bribe cell block leaders. In confrontations between political prisoners and the paras, the paras will even threaten the families of the progressives.

Marta repeated request for solidarity and accompaniment of prisoners and CSPP.

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