In another example of the very limited progress achieved by the Bolivarian governments of Latin America, whose model is in essence developist socialdemocracy, Bolivian prisoners have risen up against a regime that punishes the poor and is getting worse by means of punishments that disperse the inmates the system wants to punish (not necessarily those deserving punishment).
Bolivian prisons rise up
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
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
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
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 complicity of Press and Power
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
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
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!