In a seemingly eternal return, the Colombian government is declaring a new prison emergency this Monday. Justice Minister Néstor Osuna stated that the executive branch wanted to confront a wave of violence against prison officials after this Sunday two hitmen killed guard Jesús Cárdenas Barrera as he was leaving the prison of Cartagena de Indias. So far this year, security guard Carlos Sandoval has also been murdered in Cúcuta, and Nancy Canencio in Medellín, Juan Rosero and Diego Espinosa in La Plata (Huila), and Andrés Agredo in Jamundí (Valle del Cauca) have suffered attacks. It is the fourth declaration by the Colombian state in two decades.
The minister assured that the attacks on officials were in retaliation for the “very severe blows against the leaders of highly effective criminal structures” achieved by the government. In addition to these attacks against specific officials, unknown people shot at the entrance to the prison in the city of Armenia in early February, and last Thursday the place appeared with threatening leaflets. “After 12, anyone who gets caught will be released, whoever it is, we don't pay attention to ranks or anything like that.” We want dialogue and they have ignored us. “We will do what we have to do for you,” says the anonymous person.
Among the measures taken as a result of the declaration, the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) will restrict the visitation and communication rights of some inmates. In addition, the government will increase police and military presence around all prisons in the country. The company said on Sunday that security rings had been set up in the Picaleña prisons in Ibagué and in La Picota in Bogotá.
INPEC union Union of Penitentiary Workers (UTP) has highlighted the existence of a group called Death to Oppressive Guardians (MAGO), which is said to be responsible for the recent attacks. More precisely, the anonymous one that appeared in Armenia bears this name. Christian Edisson López Mora, national vice president of the association, tells EL PAIS that 82 INPEC officials have been murdered in the last five years.
The situation in Colombian prisons has been criticized for several decades. In 1998, the Constitutional Court found that overcrowding, violence and general conditions in prisons constitute systematic human rights violations, which is why it declared the situation unconstitutional. In 2022, it was confirmed that the situation remains the same almost a quarter of a century later. In addition to the poor conditions of inmates, it is common for them to maintain control over their criminal organizations, as recently revealed by the extortionate audio recordings sent from a prison in Bogotá by the leader of the Rastrojos Costeños gang.
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