“When a prison riot starts, even those who accept the rules of society are roused by the noble temptation of freedom; when the ceilings of the prisons are pulled off by fire or rebels, we throw their hands off our shoulders and identify the enemy.”
Editor’s note: In their zeal, these words have no intention of victimizing the prisoners of the Bolivian State, but rather simply describing events that took place in the jails here. The echoes of our anarchist will reach those living confined in the State’s cold slave pens.
Mass riots in Bolivian jails began a year ago, calling for the resignation of Ramiro Llanos, the director of the penal system; demanding an end to delays of justice, “humane” treatment, and transportation to hearings. Foreign prisoners demanded to be sent to their countries of origin, and everyone demands an increase to the daily expenses that feed each individual [prediario]. Added to the protests is the unfulfilled agreement signed in February 2013 between the prisoners in San Pedro (La Paz) and the penal system, which brought a recess and a suspension of the riots, giving a period of three months for compliance with all of the agreed-upon points. Ramiro Llanos denied knowledge of this document, and to this day the prisoners’ demands have not been met.
The State plans to apply new rules on the penal system that fix harsher conditions for prisoners as well as visitors. They are ordering the systematic transfer of prisoners from San Pedro to other panopticon-style prisons far from the city of La Paz. They plan on not receiving new prisoners beginning on July 17th, and have announced the closure of this prison as a repressive measure against the constant protests that have arisen in the La Paz penitentiary. The riots are frequent, and the State intents to break them up through the transfer of prisoners to more distant jails. The transfer of the San Pedro inmates [that oftentimes live with their families on the inside] will cause more isolation due to the distance of the prisons where they are to be sent; this will mean that their families will have even more difficulty visiting them, since 80% of the prisoners and their families are poor.
Summary of the 2013 riots
On January 17th Llanos (director of the penal system) was taken hostage by the prisoners in San Pedro as a response to the constant threats to move them to other prisons if they mobilize or make demands. The repressive forces confronted the prisoners to rescue him. Llanos saved himself thanks to a few prisoner delegates, who prevented him from being strung up. Protests were unleashed as prisoners resisted the plan for 39 minors from the Calahuma Center for Youth Rehabilitation to be transferred to San Pedro in La Paz. After that day, Llanos no longer had the guts to reenter that combative prison. During the whole month, the prison was in a state of mutiny and riot, with all nine sections taking over all of the jail buildings. Flames were seen on the roofs and yards.
On this latest 10th of June, prisoners in the territory began new uprisings and protests, condemning the fact that only four of every hundred preliminary injunction hearings take place, while the rest are suspended. The principal slogan was a call for the resignation of Llanos. The State’s intention is to close the San Pedro prison, sending the convicts to the “Chonchoro” maximum security prison, and those less than 25 years of age to the Calahuma Center for Youth Rehabilitation, and the preventive prisoners to jails in Patacamaya and Sica Sica, hundreds of kilometers from the city of La Paz, as a reprisal and punishment for the fact that this prison has been in a state of emergency since 2012, demanding the director’s resignation.
Beginning on June 24th, simultaneous protests were initiated in the jails of El Abra in the city of Cochabamba and San Pedro in the city of Oruro. They demanded that their water and electrical services not be cut, as the State had not paid the bills.
On June 26th, the reaction in the Chonchocoro maximum security prison did not wait long after the announcement that prisoners from San Pedro would be transferred there.
On July 2nd, the Chonchocoro and Calahuma prisons protested and announced that they would be in a state of alert, facing the possible transfer of inmates from another prison, which would cause overcrowding in both facilities.
We hope for unity and solidarity among prisoners in Bolivian territory, and that they don’t let the State divide them by “sectional negotiations” (turning one group against the other), as it has frequently done to end riots.
Poverty is punished with prison
“Crime is not punished, but poverty is.”
(Words of an elder in the San Pedro prison)
In the prisons here, the majority of the population is poor. Nevertheless, the wealthier can live more comfortably, because cash rules. The poor have to survive miserable conditions, sickness, and destitution. For example, in the jail of San Pedro in La Paz the maintenance of cells, infrastructure, recreational space, the kitchen, cleaning materials, medications, and other goods are self-directed by the prisoners themselves. The State has knowledge of this context, but in its insensitivity and contempt toward the poor, it forces them to pay for their stint in prison with their own resources.
It is the poor who feel the harsh impact of prison society, both those in the hands of a judge who will determine whether or not they go to jail, and the preventive prisoners who must show that they have an established family, a home, personal guarantors, or an economic guarantee or job. All of these factors diminish one’s ability to move to house arrest. Thus, the question is: Are all prisoners in an economic position to benefit from this? The permanence of a poor majority in prisons is continually perpetuated, and for them the penal system is even harsher, with scarce opportunities to get out. The maximum period of preventive detention is 36 months. In Bolivian prisons, there are preventive detainees who have been in for more than three years without being sentenced (in some cases five or eight years). This cruel setting causes intentional overcrowding in prisons, and ensures that they are filled with the poor. The State is going to implement one more condition for release into house arrest: If a prisoner wants to get out, they must buy an anklet with a GPS chip at a cost of $4,000. This will only benefit those who have the ability to pay the cost. For those without means, there is only the hope that one day they will be able to get out. There are many older prisoners, and many with medical conditions, who request a move to house arrest; with the pardon law passed on December 24th, 2012, very few walked free. There is no adequate medical care or efficient method for medical leave, even in cases of emergency treatment. While bureaucratic paperwork slows everything down, the result of this inefficiency is that individuals’ health continues to deteriorate, and in many cases prisoners die from lack of medication or medical attention. Additionally, after being imprisoned it is difficult to find a job with a prior criminal record. This is all permitted by the State’s indifference.
In the maximum security prison of Chonchocoro, located in Viacha, there is no potable water; they have only one well to provide their water, which is still not potable.
Life in prisons in Bolivia is determined by one’s economic status. The majority have to work at whatever they can to survive and pay for their housing, bed, blanket, medication, and other goods. Among prisoners, food and clothing is bought and sold, and everything is a commodity. Prison makes visible the misery of an authoritarian society that chooses who to protect and who to leave in the dungeon.
The role of yellow, sensationalist journalism is to adjust “information” to state versions, causing prisoners to be seen with disdain, and causing a broader “societal” rejection for them.
To this day, the penal establishment has diverted attention in other directions thanks to collaborationist coverage from the Press. As well, they have claimed that there was a supposed child rape in San Pedro, and that there is a drug lab inside the La Paz prison; these facts were made up by Llanos, but were refuted by the prisoners.
The State has succeeded in minimizing and smearing the prison riots through yellow journalists, as well as the frequent threats to send the prisoner representatives to other prisons, as they have them identified. The servile role of the disinformation media packages all of this to create an unfavorable situation for the prisoners. In San Pedro, they agreed voluntarily to the removal of children older than 11, and on July 8th they met again with state representatives and agreed to include all children older than 6 years of age.
Repudiation of rapists
In the Palma Sola jail, in the city of Santa Cruz de La Sierra, it came out that minors had been sexually abused. These deeds are detestable, and we repudiate them. Lamentably, this happens not only in Bolivian prisons where children live, but also in schools, churches, shelters, and orphanages, while these same spaces are also prisons by other names. Ramiro Llanos, director of the penal system, used these detestable acts to generalize about all prisoners, and take advantage of “public opinion.” Among the San Pedro prisoners, a collective agreement to prohibit the entrance of inmates who had committed rape emerged as another means of struggle. From the posters that remain on the walls and door of the prison, they do not simply call for Llanos to resign, but call for the prison population to reject rapists.
The State’s well known repressive strategy is the division, infiltration, intimidation, and punishment to make an example of individuals; thus the government is able to weaken, divide, and break up movements through negotiations per prison section. The increase in conditions of control and surveillance in the penal system are part of the maintenance of bourgeois society. It is thought that prison is the solution for “citizen security” or to reduce “delinquency.” Through this paradigm the State’s only real intention is to protect privileges and maintain the interests of the rich. This background undeniably shows us, for example, that some steal to eat, while others infringe on the law in order to avoid complicity with the impositions of this decadent society. Prisons in Bolivia, as in the world as a whole, reflect this society on a small scale; they are small cities wherein the imperfections of the system we live in are made visible: There are the privileged, the poor, those who serve as snitches for the police or administrators of “justice.” There are drugs and alcohol in prisons because the same administrators and police want these small worlds to rot with vice and sicknesses. Thus, as Power secures the privileges of the State/Capital, it shows its disdain for the poor and those who struggle against it.
Anarchist solidarity is extended to those who suffer punishment, those who do not bend to norms, those who survive in any way they can while the powerful exploit and destroy the earth. This is a humble call to struggle for a different world than the one that they have imposed on us.
Fight against the State with all your strength; the constant wait for a generalized mass revolt is a truly utopian desire that only perpetuates, strengthens, and assures the enemy’s continued existence. Move to the offensive, conspire, act; there is no reason to wait for the masses to rise, or for the appropriate conditions. While we are waiting, authority, repression, surveillance, and punishment are extended ever stronger against the poor and those who have decided to take the offensive. Attack loving that which you dream and feel inside, and hating society’s penury.
We do not forget our comrades who are locked up in the hateful enemy’s dungeons. Neither do we forget those who have decided to flee, showing their rejections of state persecution in a society that is falling apart and needs prisons to keep us scared and allow itself to continue. To our comrades: our sincerest greetings, laden with anarchist complicity.
Towards a community of free association and informal organization, without prisons, State, or Capital.
Fire to the prisons, fire to authority, solidarity with the prisoners in Bolivian territory!