Bolivian Drug War Prisoners: We Were Tortured
Congressmen Investigate Prisoners’ Claims Against Authorities
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief
April 21, 2004
Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 2004: Several political prisoners here, labeled by the Bolivian State as “terrorists,” have reported conditions of torture, humiliation and human rights violations during their arrests and incarceration.
From their cells in the San Pedro prison in La Paz and Conchocoro Prison in nearby El Alto, Daniel Escóbar Bascopé, León Jesús Andrade, Leonardo Condori Paredes, Mamerto Aldana Fernández, Francisco Cortés Aguilar, Carmelo Peñaranda Rosas, Claudio Ramírez Cuevas and Marcelino Janko Cruz, all confirmed that they had been tortured in a notarized letter to the Human Rights Comission of the Bolivian Congress.
In the case of Marcelino Janko, leader of the coca growers’ Federation of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the letter claims that the torture was enough to break one of his ribs. The authorities kicked, punched and clubbed him endlessly, even threatening to throw him from the helicopter in which they were transporting him, unless he signed the statement they wanted.
“He was beaten, bound and gagged,” the letter says, “in front of public prosecutor Silvia Blacut and other authorities, after which they transferred him to the city of La Paz, where they continued torturing him and asked him to sign a pre-written statement.”
The agents pressured the prisoner to testify that Evo Morales was the person who ordered the deaths of soldiers shot and killed in an unsolved crime in the Chapare, and that Colombian coca growers’ leader Francisco Cortes, in prison charged with terrorism, was working with Janko. Jako answered that he did not know Cortes, and that Morales had nothing to do with the attacks in the Chapare.
“Marcelino Janko’s torture was so severe that when he arrived in La Paz, he could not even sit down by himself after having been beaten for so long. It is in this state that had to meet with prosecutor René Arzabe, who, as always, was pleased about what has happened. In this injured state Janko also had to appear before Attorney General Calos Sánchez Castelú, where he asked to be allowed to speak and denounced what had happened to him. The authorities neither said nor did anything in response to Janko’s accusations.”
For the first three months of his incarceration at San Pedro prison, Janko’s injuries kept him confined to his bed.
The Bolivian Congress received the letter on April 2. Members of the Human Rights Commission said that they were beginning investigations into all the human rights abuses committed under the current and previous administrations.
The Cases Pile Up
Claudio Ramírez Cuevas and Carmelo Peñaranda Rosas were detained along with Francisco “Pacho” Cortés on April 10, 2003. They claim that they were subjected to a number of abuses, illegal acts, tortures and humiliations that were later covered up.
Public prosecutors René Arzabe and Silvia Blacutt are accused of violating the Bolivian Constitution and international treaties in their handling of these three detentions.
In an exclusive interview with Narco News last month, “Pacho” Cortés reported that, aside from being very ill, he had been in solitary confinement for three months in Chonchocoro prison. Despite a complete lack of evidence against him, he is held as “a dangerous terrorist.”
Since then, Pacho has been transferred to slightly better conditions in the San Pedro prison.
On October 23, says the letter, coca grower Daniel Escóbar Bascopé was detained and tortured in front of his wife and eight-year-old son in Tacopaya, in the Chapare. The beating left him a broken arm.
Escóbar has declared himself innocent of charges that he set one of the bombs in the Chapare last fall that killed a soldier and wounded several others. He is being held in the San Pedro prison.
The case of Mamerto Aldana, Leonardo Condori and León Jesús Andrade has also been brought to the attention of the Congressional Human Rights Commission, as the three also claim to have been tortured at the hands of both the military and the police.
In October 2003, says the complaint to the Comission, Aldana and Condori were detained and then beaten and tortured by a group of uniformed men. “The soldiers jumped on their backs, saying ‘you’re going to be stupid cripples!’”
Andrade was shot in the neck, as he returned from a river where he had been fishing.
The three prisoners were taken to Chimoré, to see Blacutt, the prosecutor. “They were blindfolded, gagged and handcuffed. Then right there, in front of the prosecutors and police chiefs, the soldiers continued beating the prisoners before transferring them to the city of La Paz.”
The Prisoners’ Demands
The political prisoners now held in the San Pedro and Conchocoro prisons are demanding that human rights authorities send medical experts to examine them and verify their claims. Although all of them have now been in prison for several months, they still have wounds, scars, and lesions on their bodies. The prisoners also demand that authorities visit them in the prisons to hear their testimony and complaints of mistreatment.
“In conclusion,” reads the letter to the Commission, “we have been tortured, humiliated, injured, and horribly mistreated with the complicity of the legal authorities and the police. They have helped cover up our mistreatment and brought us here as prisoners.”
The prisoners have requested that Attorney General Carlos Sánchez Castelú and prosecutors René Arzabe and Silvia Blacutt, as well as other military and police officials, be prosecuted and sanctioned.
Defense attorney Mary Carrasco confirmed that congressmen are now analysing the prisoners’ letter, and that further action will soon be taken.
It must be remembered that all these people claiming to have been tortured were arrested during the administration of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Sánchez de Lozada was forced out of office during the popular uprising of last October.
Arrested and detained amid rhetoric about “terrorism” and “narco-terrorism,” the prisoners have been denied due process and even sentencing hearings.
Upon hearing of the complaints raised by the imprisoned coca growers, Feliciano Mamani, a collegue of Marcelino Janko in the Federation of the Tropic of Cochabamba, said that he and his organization were outraged with the Bolivian justice system. Above all, he blamed the government’s drug policy, which he said was imposed by the US government.
During the coca growers’ recent negotiations with the government, government representatives assured that they would win the prisoners’ freedom. If not, said the coca growers, they would return to their more confrontational tactics.
“The Carlos Mesa administration seems to be no more than a continuation of Sánchez de Lozada’s,” warned Mamani. “There is no change happening in the country. That is why, if they do not free all of our unjustly imprisoned comrades, and if they do not lift all charges of terrorism against the coca growers’ leaders, we will begin to put new pressure on the government.”
The Bolivian Government, which feels cornered right now by the pressures coming from different social sectors, could bring a new conflict upon itself with this dishonest war…
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