Colombian Senate President Armando Benedetti has slammed Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera after a report by magazine Semana revealed significant privileges granted to inmates of the military jail in Tolemaida.
Speaking to Caracol Radio, Benedetti said, “It seems the state is behaving worse than terrorists or worse than the murderers, or anyone who goes against the institution or the state.”
“The first person who is called to respond and investigate such complaints … is the defense minister,” he added.
Benedetti’s comments came after an investigative report by Semana magazine on Saturday revealed the extravagant benefits which soldiers sentenced for human rights abuses enjoy in the military detention centre at Tolemaida, 62 miles south of Bogota.
Among the several cases highlighted is that of Sergeant Sandro Fernando Barrero who was sentenced to 40 years by the Supreme Court in 2008 for the torture and slaughter of four peasants in 2000. According to Semana, Barrero has been given a “job” of an undisclosed nature that permits him to enter and leave the prison at his will.
In addition, the magazine showed how some prisoners were allowed to go on vacation to coastal resorts such as Cartagena or the island of San Andres as well as being allowed to have cell phones while in the prison.
The revelations about Tolemaida’s leniency with its prisoners are nothing particularly new with it already being reported in January how some imprisoned officers were allowed to host high-profile parties and invite prostitutes into the jail. However, Semana’s report underscores the apparent endemic nature of the special treatment granted to inmates.
In response to Benedetti’s condemnation of him, Rivera has said that the responsibility for monitoring conditions in the prison should be a joint effort between the country’s national prison authority INPEC and the military, Radio Santa Fe reported.
Commander of the Armed Forces, General Edgar Cely, added that a review of the situation will take place.