Colombia is a country rife with social and political conflict, dating back to the colonial epoch of 1550-1810. The conflict became armed between 1948-1960, and of course it remains so today.
It has its roots in a variety of factors: the total monopoly landowners have over the land, the displacement of peasants to urban centres, ‘gamonalismo’ or the concentration of power into the hands of an elite minority, social inequality and extreme poverty, neglect by the state, lack of education, the transition of fundamental rights to paid ‘services’ as is the case with public health, socio-economic problems in the traditional family unit, and the systematic violation of human rights—among other things.
In the last few decades, human rights violations have increased dramatically; between 1998 and 2008, approximately 760,000 campesino families were forcibly displaced, leaving behind 5.5 million (abandoned or pillaged) hectares of land.
Furthermore, the Colombian government, in its eagerness to demonstrate the ‘positive’ results of its policy of democratic ‘security’, has squashed the lives of more than 1,171 people—victims of extra-judicial killings attributed to the national military.
In response to the grave structural crisis that the Colombian state is facing in social, economic, and political matters, its leadership has developed a politics of systematic repression against anyone who speaks up for or proposes the possibility of change.
Colombian social movements, in all of their heterogeneous ways of expressing themselves, are criminalized, and the government openly calls for the repression of the opposition—in real terms, about 7,000 men and women currently sit in confinement for political reasons in Colombian jails.
Thus, the existence of political prisoners in Colombia is a consequence of the social, political, and armed conflict that criss-crosses the country. The Colombian government’s evasive attitude—refusing to acknowledge the existence of such a crisis and its causes—is a fundamental problem for the advancement of new social proposals which seek to free political prisoners, which, as ‘peace offerings’, themselves resemble the kinds of steps that it would be necessary to take to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict.
For their part, political prisoners have lived their own kind of conflict in jail, characterized by protests, strikes, riots, civil disobedience and violent confrontations. These actions come in response to multiple problems: ‘infrahuman’ conditions of retention, total lack of respect for the basic human dignity of prisoners, basic violations of human rights and the most minimal regulations in place for the treatment of detained persons.
And more recently, the conflict between the State and insurgents has shifted to the prisons themselves thanks to paramilitary forces, adding on top of everything the meddling of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons in the administration of prisons in Colombia.