"I am serving a sentence for the crimes of organized rebellion" - Interview with ELN member inside prison.

I interviewed an ELN guerrillero inside a colombian "security prison". On his Facebook he is posting photos with guns inside his cell. The ELN is strong inside Colombian prisons.

If you are tracking activities of insurgents, social media is one of your strongest tools. During my routine check for Colombian guerillas on Facebook, I stumbled upon something extraordinary. “Are those ELN guerilla members organizing openly in jail? Oh what, they are currently hosting a Facebook livestream? Wait, is that guy having an AK-47 leaning on the wall in his cell?”. - I asked myself in disbelief.

I came across a page of a guerillero in a Colombian prison, dressed up in the typical ELN style clothing and posting pictures of his gun online.

This guy is not the exception. The ELN guerilla is strong inside Colombian prisons and bragging about it on social media. Footage of large parades of militant prisoners under their flag, TV shows via live-streams and more are propagandized on central ELN channels.

What previously could not be recorded by any television camera is now being made public by the prisoners themselves via smuggled smartphones: The Colombian state has little control over what goes on in its prisons, while the guerrilla opposition organizes prisoner collectives across the country.

I interviewed an inmate of the "security prison" in El Cauca, who is posting about his life in jail on his Facebook.

F[O]: Who are you and why are you in jail?

I am Andres “El Indio” (the Indian), this is how they call me in the family of the 'Ejercito de Liberación Nacional', ELN (National Liberation Army). I am serving a sentence for the crimes of organized rebellion and aggravated extortion. Currently I have been already 5 years in high and medium security prison in the province of Cauca.

F[O]:What conditions are you facing in prison?

The conditions of an inmate in prisons of the Colombian State is quite precarious, you can say it like that, why ? The simple reason that fundamental rights are violated in prisons.

A prison should not be a place outside the law, the people held in a penitentiary establishment should not be eliminated from society, every person deprived of liberty should be treated humanely and with the respect due to the inherent dignity of the human being. But here in Colombia, the constitutional rights are only on paper, in reality they are not implemented.

F[O]:Do you face a different treatment, because you are an enemy of the state?

As a revolutionary in Colombian prisons we are treated as simple common criminals, there is no difference between a common law prisoner and a revolutionary. The work of a revolutionary is full time, for us revolutionaries there are no borders, dungeons cannot be a reason to let go of our revolutionary goals.

This regime does not care about the universal declaration of human rights. Right to freedom of opinion, expression and communication: they violate the article 19, which reads “Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes the right not to be troubled because of his opinions and to disseminate them, without limitation of borders, by any means of expression.”

A revolutionary has the task to take initiatives, to continue fighting from any place we can find ourselves in during this arduous journey. From these prisons we continue working for the prison population, where day by day we are treated as animals. There is no respect for our lives, there is no program or policy that helps prisoner rehabilitation, as we enter so we leave. Some will reflect but most others will take the same criminal path, not seeing other alternatives, it can be said that this prison does not help to the resocialization of the individual.

The prisons are only for the poor, because the corrupt white-collars, those who commit crimes from the circles of power are in 5-star hotels or farms with all the imaginable comfort. Just like “the Catedra”, the self-designed prison of the narco (drug trafficker) Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria.

F[O]:Many pictures and videos show the ELN openly organizing inside prisons, how is that possible?

The ELN is organizing prisoners and political prisoners collectives nationwide. Anywhere a revolutionary steps inside a jail, there must happen a development of consciousness together with the prisoners for our struggle. There are no forbidden places for us, we have to face the oppressors anywhere. Today four walls separate us but our will to fight remains intact, because when men carry the same ideal in their minds nothing can isolate them, not the walls of a prison, nor the earth of graveyard, from the graveyard our ideas will spring like water sources in winter time.

The prison system prohibits all political activity to the revolutionary organizations, but through our initiatives, we invented all kinds of ways to spread the propaganda of our organization. In a country where corruption reigns, it is not difficult to have access to things that are forbidden, as you can see right now I’m having this conversation on a high-end telephone.

It is also possible for high security prisons to be centers of contamination of hallucinogenic substances like crack, coke, marijuana, liquor, in short, all hallucinogenic substances. Also at the time of the Uribe government in the Picota prison of Bogota, there were great confrontations between guerrillas and paramilitaries with all types of firearms. It is nothing new in a country permeated by corruption.

F[O]:Can you tell us more about the life of a guerillero inside prison?

The mission of a rebel is to continue to fight for the civil rights that the government system continues to violate. As prisoners all our rights are violated, those related to our health, nutrition, the sewage system, discrimination, in short many essential things for the human being are stripped from us. From the collectives we transmit written demands with the help of friends that have knowledge of civil and criminal rights.

The life of any prisoner is not the same whether he has money or not. Freedom is priceless, but some who have a stable economic position are given the luxury of having more comforts, because there are no upright officiers with any ethical values, they are capable to sell even the soul of their mothers. A revolutionary with a clear conscience always maintains a high morale, tough while doing the years that the system has imposed on him.

Revolutionaries are only restricted in their physical freedom, because in our conscience we are free and we let our imaginations fly and dream, a revolutionary breaks these physical borders of the confinement every day.

F[O]:You have photos of weapons inside the prison on your Facebook, how is that possible?

Weapons are means of self-defense, as I said in a previous paragraph the guerrilla and paramilitaries are located in the same sections, and it is not rare to carry weapons, be it a knife or a firearm. We learned from the stories of the prisons in Picota, Modelo or Bogota. (Cases of clashes inside prisons between leftist guerrilas and right wing paramilitaries.)

I hope I could give the best answers to your questions, but it is not easy to write adequatly in a penitentiary. We have to be very alert not to be discovered by the cameras or the eyes of the guards who like to hunt us. Guards will earn a revenue if they catch us. There will certainly be retaliations by the prison system for having made these accusations.

Translated by Pierre