Military officials and the Minister of Defense were pressured with an investigation and an early morning surprise inspection of a military prison that has been accused of allowing its prisoners to live lavishly.
Before the Second Commission of the Senate, Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera defended the military’s reaction to reports that surfaced about luxurious conditions and parties for former military officials incarcerated in the Tolemaida prison.
“When they met with the irregularities, discovered by the military command itself, they reacted with diligence. And heads rolled, of officials and sub-officials that lost confidence in the military institution. That which was happening in the Tolemaida prison, as said by General Navas, were acts of corruption but not an institutional attitude,” said Rivera.
In his turn, Senator Camilo Romero of the Polo Democratica party stated before the commission that irregularities were anticipated in a document from the Inspector General’s Office in 2009 and in a document from the army, however the official said there was neglect of the contents of those documents reported El Espectador.
Rodrigo Rivera agreed to members of the commission tracking military prisons to verify conditions and to join the Minister of Defense in inspections of military penitentiaries.
“Presented with the theme of the commission I would have no problem, I think it’s part of the legislative function to achieve works of political control. I would have no problem, our disposition is of total transparency, complete openness and any findings will be subject to determinations by the part of the military mandate and the Ministry of Defense,” said Rivera.
Before the same commission, Army commander General Alejandro Navas, admitted his responsibility for the irregularities in the Tolemaida military prison from August 6, 2010 when he was appointed, to January 17, 2011 when the scandal broke.
Speaking about what a government commission found on a surprise inspection of the prison, the military commander stated, “68 motorcycles, 14 automobiles, and eight motor-taxis administered by the detainees, honorable senators, there is corruption.”
The surprise inspection at 2:30 AM Tuesday by the Temporary Commission of Verification found irregularities in the prison which included the discovery that cabins on the property normally used for visitors had, up until recently, been housing inmates. They also encountered a food stand in the prison that was owned by a prisoner along with other usually prohibited items such as refrigerators and new televisions.
The investigating commission included, Vice-Minister of Defense, Rafael Guarin, prison authority INPEC director, General Gustavo Adolfo Ricaurte, and inspectors from military forces including Navy Admiral Jose Sanabria, and Army General Luis Perez.
Previously the military had prohibited prison authority INPEC to inspect the Tolemaida prison which houses hundreds of former military members, some of which are accused of crimes against humanity.
Senator Romero reported during the hearing that the cabins on the property were built with money from the brigade and lamented that special treatment was given to some former military members.
Defense Minister, Rodrigo Rivera, ordered the commission to make a report within the next 20 days detailing the irregularities in the prison and suggestions for administrative changes.
“We are not going to tolerate extravagances or privileges in military prisons,” said the minister in a report from RCN Radio.
In a separate report from Caracol Radio, Rodrigo Rivera qualified initial versions of what was reportedly found in the prison by the commission as speculation. He also said that since revelations of abuses of privileges at the Tolemida prison surfaced in January, the authorities have made changes to the manner in which they manage the prison.