Part I: Prisoners and pardoned of the FARC demand respect for agreements
Six months have passed after the pardon granted to 30 members of the guerrilla group, but the former prisoners have experienced several problems in their return to civilian life.
Despite being studying and being trained as peacemakers, their health conditions have not improved and security guarantees are far from ideal. In prisons the situation does not improve.
The day William Antonio López was granted freedom, one of his wishes was to move to the municipality of Envigado, Antioquia, to visit his family and from there start the path of reintegration into civilian life, taking advantage of the benefit of the pardon which, for health reasons, the national government had granted him and 29 other guerrillas detained in various prisons in the country in November last year.
However, days after his arrival at the farm of his parents, members of the so-called “Oficina de Envigado” threatened López repeatedly and ordered him to leave the region on the grounds that he was a military target as a member of the FARC. The situation forced him to move and leave his family.
Meanwhile, Aristides Luna together with seven other pardoned guerrillas seriously ill, believed that after leaving prison their health care would improve; however, they found that after being affiliated to the EPS Capital Health, appointments would be delayed, they would not receive the medication they needed and their assistance would not be a priority for institutions.
VerdadAbierta.com spoke with Sandra Patricia Isaza and Ulises Ever Verbel, two of the 30 people granted pardon by the national government. Both live in a house in the west of Bogota, where they joined the reintegration program agreed with the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and carried out by the Colombian Agency for Reintegration.
The purpose of this conversation was to identify the challenges that they have to face in their transition to civilian life, know the current situation of prisoners of the illegal armed group, their approach to the talks in Havana and their role in a post-agreement scenario.
Despite their actual everyday life being very different from that in the guerrilla ranks, in the house some things that evoke everyday life in the camps are still working: there are specific times for studying, where besides discussing the agreements they prepare the pedagogies they then give to prisons, other times are for leisure, there are those who read the Bible, and those who consult the informative material arriving from Havana.
Ever and Sandra ensure that the release from prison helped them to regroup and regain the discipline they were observing in the mountains.
To date, the group being granted pardon is being trained in a course system provided by Sena and those who have not reached secondary education are waiting to start in August a leveling course and graduate as bachelors.
“I was afraid to start studying because I believed that being in the FARC we had isolated ourselves from the advancement of society, but the reality is that, in the guerrilla ranks we have vision, there are many things that the forest teaches us that titles can’t provide” says Sandra, who has participated in forums and academic events to publicize the prison situation and the commitment of prisoners and pardoned guerrillas facing the post-agreement phase.
The most latent concerns remain the same they were demanding when they were still deprived of freedom: safety conditions and health care. Although the National Protection Unit (NPU) established a mechanism to ensure the integrity of each of the pardoned, only one has made use of the protocol, others believe it is better to avoid giving much evidence and ensure that the only guarantee they could actually have is “the dismantling of paramilitary structures.”
“The condition of being guerrillas puts us in an extraordinary risk, that is, by our political condition we feel threatened. Who will ensure that nothing happen to us from here to Acacias? Or that on the Ibagué route, the Chaparral do not attack us? Until paramilitary groups are not defeated it will be very difficult to have optimal conditions for the exercise of political opposition”, says Sandra.
In the house, the weight of the armed confrontation is seen in each of the bodies of the ex-combatants: there are people with amputated limbs, others with disabilities and some with kidney disease because of the “aftermath of war” as they call it. They ensure that despite holding EPS the access to services are not guaranteed due to the shortcomings of the health system.
Also read: Subcommission on prisoners
They demand greater diligence in the attention, especially of the eight priority cases they have, because they want to avoid a repetition of what happened with John Jairo Moreno, who died on 5 February in the San Jorge Pereira hospital because of a liver disease.
Paradoxically, their situation is not so different from the humanitarian crisis that exists in prisons, and which has been denounced since 2013 by the Ombudsman, state agency that repeatedly warns about the deterioration of sanitation and overcrowding.
Part II: Prisoners and pardoned FARC guerrillas expose the non implementation of agreements reached on prisons.
The commitment that never was
After the pardon, one of the commitments of the national government was to establish special areas within prisons to concentrate FARC members and initiate a series of health brigades at national level to give special treatment to prisoners with serious illnesses. However, failure has led prisoners to go on hunger strikes and call ”peaceful disobedience” actions on several occasions; the last one started in Bogota two weeks ago and has spread to other prisons.
From La Picota prison in Bogota, René Nariño a prisoner of the insurgent group, who is serving a 13 years sentence, told VerdadAbierta.com that the special yards within prisons remained on paper because to date they are mixed with common criminals: “Although several censuses were made by both Inpec as by us, we never had a yard where only the FARC prisoners go. This has led to threats being still present and some other tension with prisoners in other yards who saw us as a target.”
As to health conditions, according to figures from the Solidarity Legal Corporation, out of the 324 urgent cases existing, about 80% have been assessed. According to John Leon, spokesman for the organization, this has become a “salute to the flag.”
“Those who have been assessed have seen their illnesses confirmed, but for example prisoners with orthopedic problems are not taken care of, there are no medical specialists, nor terminally ill cases are being prioritized” points out the leader.
The proposal made by those granted pardon to the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace is that they allow international non-governmental organizations that act as guarantors of the process and have offered to provide services, are allowed to enter prisons to establish the brigades. It is pertinent to recall that since July 2015 a group of intellectuals from several countries called for the release of 71 political prisoners who are in serious health conditions, ensuring that they have the willingness to help expedite the process.
For now, the various agents keep pushing at institutional level so that what has been agreed is also implemented and the most urgent cases are given the attention they deserve. Meanwhile, political and war prisoners have decided to continue the strike prison parallel to the development of educational activities, such as theatre plays, in detention centers to raise awareness about the crisis in the health system nationwide.