Prison Revolts in Colombia


In March 2020, when a large part of the world was getting into lockdown to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it became all too clear that entire parts of societies were being left out from any sort of protection. Prisoners in most countries formed one of these parts, in particular in Colombia, where prison rebellions against this acute vulnerability to death were suppressed in blood. Léopold talked with Alejandro Rodríguez Pabón to understand better the history of prison revolts in the Colombian context.

Rodriguez Pabon Funambulist 1
“May my death contribute to freedom” ; “Jhonatan Sabogal lives, the struggle continues” ; “I participated in the social movement of 2021 in Bugalagrande. I was illegally deprived of my freedom on December 9, 2021 with eight other political leaders of the national strike. I was confined in yard 8 of the Tulua prison and the contempt of the Colombian State for the rights of the prisoners led to my death and that of fifty other comrades in the yard on June 28, 2022. I demand the release of the youths accused of being vandals and I demand the reform of the prison policy.” / Congreso de los Pueblos (July 2022).

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Could you tell us about the role the carceral regime has played in Colombian history?

ALEJANDRO RODRÍGUEZ PABÓN: If we want to talk about the systemic oppression here in Colombia, we need to talk about the political context across the history of the country. In the 20th century, the prison system and the penal code in Colombia had a strict relation with the conservative hegemony. At that moment, the Constitution in Colombia was the one written by the Conservative Party in 1886. That Constitution was valid for more than 100 years. This Constitution and the conservative hegemony consolidated the repression of the liberties and this was particularly done through the prison system, in a context of a fear of socialist and liberal ideas. Within this hegemony, the socialists, the liberals, the non-religious, the homosexuals, and the poor people were some of the citizens that were persecuted by the political system. In 1928, the unions in the north of the country started a strike against the labor conditions provided by the United Fruit Company (an international company)—the labor in relation to bananas in particular, at a time when the production of bananas was a very important economic field in the country. The answer to this strike was the use of lethal force against the unionists, which resulted in what today we call “the banana slaughter.” It is described in Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘s Hundreds Years of Solitude. This historical event is important, because in response to that strike and the protests that came with it, the Congress created many laws against any kind of social organization, and the principal punishment was imprisonment. That legal context imposed the need to build more prisons in the country.