Open letter to the public.
Tramacua Maximum and Medium Security Jail, Valledupar, Colombia.
Dear readers, leaders of the rural communities of El Carmen de Bolivar, San Jacinto, María la Baja and the other municipalities of Montes de María, state institutions, national and international human rights organizations, organizations supporting the victims of the conflict and others:
On this opportunity, I write to you to let you know of the grave situation of human rights violations in the jails of our country, in particular the one in which I find myself detained.
I can say with much clarity, as it is something I am living in the flesh, that here in Colombia these jails are not places of re-socialization as they like to call them, but instead centers to torture the human beings detained in these dens of the state.
It is evident that systematic violations of human rights should constitute a non-bailable offense, but here in Colombia, which is the country of a thousand and one marvels, this is not the case. They can torture prisoners left and right and we can’t denounce it because the torture will just get worse. In this opportunity, I’m going to mention three serious violations that were committed against me, which are not the only ones I’ve suffered, because they commit thousands of violations each day against the almost 2,000 prisoners who are detained in the Tramacua prison of Valledupar. In this place they have forgotten that the human being or citizen enjoys the right of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty of the crimes they are being charged with.
If we observe my situation in which I am innocent from the A to Z of the process I am facing, as is known by everyone who has known me since I was a child, but even so for the staff of the penitentiary system I am an outcast of society. I want to mention three aspects of life in this place:
- It is a grave violation of the right to preserve family unity, which is guaranteed in the penal code, the constitution and other norms, that despite the fact that I am a native of the province of Bolivar, and being presumed innocent, they have sent me to the province of Cesar, some seven hours from my hometown, despite the fact that there are prisons in Cartagena, which is three hours from my family, as well as in Baranquilla, another three hours away from them, and near Sincelejo, a mere one hour from my mother and the rest of my family. However, the Prosecutor argued that because of the grave threat to society that I represent despite my innocence, I should be in a maximum security prison. In the same way, I was denied the right to receive my family as visitors, though that is a right of prisoners, for a period of six months. I was detained on Sept. 9, 2013, and I was only allowed visitors starting March 2014. I consider this torture because I have a daughter who at this time is six years old and am the guardian for five nieces and nephews who are orphans, lacking both mother and father. They became orphaned a mere 26 days before I was picked up and I have still not been able to see them since it is so costly to travel this distance to where I am incarcerated. For 95% of my family it is not possible to visit me as the cost is almost 150,000 pesos ($75 dollars) per person roundtrip.
- On May 9, 2014, I suffered a collapse, fainting and losing consciousness, hitting a cement wall which caused a wound in my left eye which required six stitches. However, in this place no one believes that you fainted or that something else happened, they simply took me to the infirmary, stitched me up, gave me a shot of the antibiotic Gentamicin for the infection and Diprona (something they give to the prisoners regardless of what their ailment is). And they didn’t give me anything else for either the infection or the strong pain I had because for the doctors there and the guards the inmates don’t suffer from anything except the results from fighting. The doctor asked me, ‘What happened?’ and I responded, ‘I fainted while urinating and passed out.’ The doctor responded to me, ‘so the bathroom is wrapped up in knuckles’ insinuating that my wound was from being punched. I later complained of a strong headache and great weakness all over my body and when in my pain I said ‘aw, man’ the doctor responded as if he were continuing a line in a song. Then for seven days all they did was once a day clean the wound with alcohol, all the while I insisted on something for the pain and the infection which didn’t let me sleep at night. Despite asking each day for something I was never given so much as one pill. One of the nurses, who is the only one who seemed nice to me, said,’ I’ll give you a blood sugar test to see how your sugar levels are’ and she told me my level was high. After that I appeared on a list to see the doctor who I told what had happened to me, and as at the moment I had a cold she prescribed me a cough syrup. I told her I’ve suffered from gastritis for a long time and she asked me what I was normally given for it and I told her aluminum hydroxide and omeprazole. Eight days after that appointment with the doctor I was given the cough syrup and I am still waiting for the other medicines. The day that I was admitted to the prison I was not given the respective admittance to know what health issues I had, what they call a clinical history, and the root of my great discomfort due to the gastritis. The truth is I feel in very poor health. I wrote a letter to the director asking why they didn’t do a medical evaluation or my clinical history when I was admitted and nearly a month later he responded textually: ‘You appear on a list to see the doctor. Tell the doctor to do that.’ But I had already seen the doctor and told her and she had very formally told me, ‘ Montes, they didn’t do the proper admittance, so make a request for one to be done.’ So one can deduce that it’s unknown as to whose responsibility it is. As you can observe this is a serious violation to the right to health and it didn’t only happen to me, but with all the inmates, and the truth is I feel very sick.
- It causes much indignation that the torture is so extensive that the first of June, when my daughter Dianis Carolina Montes Vásquez came to see me after nearly nine months, at the entrance to the penitentiary her mother showed both photos of her and her birth certificate and was told that my daughter couldn’t enter without a legal document made by a notary authorizing by the girl’s mother despite the fact that it was the mother herself who was bringing the girl to the prison. There they humiliated the girl who in the midst of cries begged to be let in to see her daddy. However, the guards were not moved by this and they turned her away after she had managed to get within 500 meters of seeing me. They do all this without seeing the psychological damage that is being done to a little girl just six years old. It caused me much pain and impotence when I later called her and she said,’ those men didn’t let me in’ when she had come with so much happiness because she had just had her birthday and I had a few little things for her. Just as they did this to me, they do it with the other inmates.
In this place you can’t ask that even the most basic rights be respected like health and food because if you do they take it out on the people who visit you and retaliate through the requests or complaints that are made.
I ask all the human rights defense organizations and the state institutions themselves to take action in these issues because I know that once this letter gets out to the public the torture against me will get worse.
It causes much indignation that in a state where the constitution is sacred, where no person should be subjected to torture or cruel or inhumane treatment, that these things should happen so blatantly.
We ask the organs of control that upon arriving to the jails they interview the victims themselves, not with the victimizers, because the inmates can speak to what they are suffering from. However, if the administrative staff of the penitentiary is interviewed, they will never say they violate the rights of the inmates.
I would like to say to all my communities that despite all this I do not feel defeated.
I feel in very poor health, but with much desire to continue struggling so that these communities develop as we have dreamed. I must give thanks for the economic and moral support that I have been given and ask that people continue to pray to the All Mighty because the word says that prayers of the just can do much.
I ask you from my heart to not let this process fall. It requires filling ourselves with strength until we reach the goal that we have proposed. Remember that perhaps it won’t be us who will enjoy the progress we reach, but it will be our legacy for our children and grandchildren who will enjoy it and who will thank us for the progress that we left them. That will be their inheritance.
I cannot close this missive without directing some words to those who consider themselves my enemies. To say to them that every day I pray to God to give them strength to them and their families, that they receive blessings from High, and that may I forgive them in my heart and that I have to be grateful to them because thanks to them I have known Hell and I would not desire that on them. Even if I have the basis to incarcerate them I would not do it because vengeance is that of God and he will pay each one in accordance with their deeds. Thanks to him I do not hold resentments nor thirst of vengeance and for those enemies who are Christians, or rather profess to be Christians, I say it was God who said, ‘he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword’. For this reason I advise you to repent before the All Powerful so that you are not affected by his wrath. How sad it would be that people who have been members of a church like the 7th Day Adventists, who have so much knowledge and who’ve been there for some 15 or 20 years, have to be lost because of an injustice, so I say that there is still time to confess to the All Powerful who is late in wrath and great in benevolence in face of this mistakes. I wish you all the blessings from above.
To the organizations that have supported the peaceful process of the High Mountain zone of El Carmen de Bolivar, a thousand thanks. I invite you to keep betting on peace and reconciliation in our communities given that the violence only left us in disgrace and with many victims who, like me, continue to be victimized for defending our rights.
I want you to know that I will soon be facing trial on seven charges that I have never even dreamed of committing. It is worrisome because I have seen thousands of guilty verdicts given to innocent people, but I have faith in the All Powerful that he will not let his children be ridiculed and it strengthens me to know that in his word it says he will not abandon the innocent and will do justice to the wicked. I give my heartfelt thanks to those people and communities who have believed in me and who in one way or another have supported me.
I hope to be very soon with all of you.
I sign off sending you much strength and wishing that God be with you all and your families and I remind you that you are the bedrock of my struggle.
A thousand Greetings.
Jorge Luís Montes Hernández