TODAY COLOMBIA (Insightcrime.org) Colombia’s prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces, prison authorities have joined them, while multiple government efforts to reform the system have failed.
The first explosions rang out shortly after the day’s visitors had left Bogota’s La Modelo prison on July 2, 2001. They were the opening shots of a battle that would rage inside for around 20 hours as Marxist guerrillas fought off an assault by right-wing paramilitaries, while the authorities watched, powerless to intervene.
The attack began when paramilitaries blew open the doors to the wings housing guerrillas with explosives and around 150 inmates poured in, assault rifles and machine guns blazing, and grenade launchers firing. Word of the assault had already reached the patio’s 400 guerrilla inmates, who had retrieved their weapons from stash holes in walls, floors, and bathrooms, and had positioned themselves behind barricades.
By the time 500 police and guards retook the prison the following morning, ten lay dead, another 15 were wounded and the guerrilla wing of the prison was in flames. La Modelo was left as one more smoking ruin consumed by Colombia’s civil conflict.
Fifteen years on, and a new investigation into the dark secrets of La Modelo (pictured below) has revealed this was no isolated event — Colombia’s war had entered the prison system.
Prosecutors are investigating the 2001 battle and two more massacres along with the disappearance of over a hundred people inside the prison as well as cases of arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and extortion. It was all part of an orchestrated campaign, says Carlos Villamil, director of the Transitional Justice unit of the Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the case.