BOGOTA — A Colombian prison known for harboring some of the country’s most dangerous criminals was the site of at least 100 murders over four years, Colombian prosecutors say.
Caterina Heyck, an investigator for Colombia’s attorney general, said paramilitary gangs operating in Bogota’s La Modelo jail managed to kill dozens of inmates and visitors to the prison between 1999 and 2003 without being caught.
Heyck told Colombian radio station Caracol that the gangs involved in the killings quartered their victims and threw their remains into the prison’s sewage system.
She said testimonies only recently emerged about how so many people may have “disappeared” from the notorious prison.
“It’s hard to tell how many people disappeared because the number also includes people who visited the prison,” Heyck said on Wednesday.
“We believe there was corruption and complicity (from prison officials),” she added.
Heyck said that information on what transpired inside La Modelo began to come to light late last year during interrogations of former paramilitaries seeking shorter prison sentences in exchange for detailing horrors committed during Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict.
The killings were apparently conducted to settle scores between paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and members of leftist guerrilla organizations who are held in the prison.
Heyck said as the Colombian government prepares to sign a long-sought peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and society debates who should go to jail over war crimes, the country should also “reflect upon” the state of its prisons.
“Justice doesn’t just mean taking people to a prison where they become worse,” Heyck said. “We can’t allow these sorts of crimes to repeat themselves.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.