Ecuador requests the repatriation of 1.500 Colombian prisoners in its jails, in the context of the prison and security crisis that the country has been experiencing since last weekend and which has led to the decree of a state of emergency and, yesterday, to the presidential declaration of “internal armed conflict”. The Colombian Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna, has confirmed the news, but has also assured that the conditions have not yet been established.
The pronouncement comes after the Ecuadorian president, Daniel Noboa, communicated the decision to expel all foreign prisoners soon, in order to recover security in their prisons.
Repatriation of foreign prisoners
The Ecuadorian head of state expects to return at least 1,500 inmates from Colombia and as many from Peru and Venezuela to their countries of origin. “Those who have an enforceable sentence of five years or more will be expelled from the country. There are approximately 1,500 people who came to this country to commit crimes and they are not simple crimes, they are serious crimes”, Noboa detailed in a press conference.
This measure, announced in the midst of Ecuador’s serious security crisis, was already being considered by the country’s presidency in mid-December. However, the repatriation must follow certain legal requirements, including the consent of the sentenced person, a statement of reasons why he deserves to be repatriated, the fulfillment of 50% of the determined sentence and the prior approval of the Ecuadorian authorities. In addition, a series of conditions are contemplated if the request is based on humanitarian reasons, such as suffering from a serious illness, such as cancer, or chronic illnesses, such as HIV-AIDS, among others.
According to Minister Osuna, only seven Colombians meet the requirements for repatriation, out of the ten who requested it last year. However, the Colombian Minister of Justice expressed his government’s intention to collaborate with Ecuador. “Last week we received a written communication from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador and, of course, we fully intend to cooperate in a situation that may have a humanitarian nature: namely, that Colombian people, sentenced in Ecuador, can serve out their sentences close to their family environment”, said the minister.
The complex path of repatriation
The requirements are therefore complex and follow a long bureaucratic process that includes different conditions. Repatriation procedures are carried out through diplomatic channels and, on average, the process takes six months from the initial request to the final transfer, which is carried out by the Colombian prison institute. Once repatriation is approved, the case is assigned to an enforcement judge in Colombia to continue with the corresponding procedures that determine the return to Colombia of those who are granted this remedy.
The return of prisoners on humanitarian grounds is somewhat simpler, as it requires a serious or progressively deteriorating state of health of the prisoner; advanced age over 65 years; serious or irreversible illness of a first-line relative (spouse, children or peers) in the country of origin; or a situation of mental or physical disability of the prisoner resulting in them being totally dependent.
“Despite the spirit of collaboration that we have, the legislation obliges us to study process by process and look at which ones are appropriate and which ones are not. This repatriation is voluntary”, Minister Osuna pointed out.
Prison situation in Colombia
The serious events in the neighboring country have put Colombian authorities and society on alert, in case similar violent riots could happen in Colombia, where the lax situation in prisons is similar to that in Ecuador. That is to say that in Colombian prisons the authority of the State is undermined by the power of drug trafficking and criminal gangs, as in Ecuadorian prisons.
According to Blu Radio journalist Nestor Morales, the traditional armed groups in Colombia, ELN, FARC dissidents and others “are essentially rural gangs, in Ecuador they are urban”. The similarities would be more due to the multiplicity of groups that exist in both Ecuador and Colombia, and above all because of the impunity and misgovernment that exists in Colombian prisons, where imprisoned leaders of criminal gangs continue to commit crimes. This was denounced last week by the mayor of Tuluá, Gustavo Velez, who assured that “orders are being given from the prisons to continue the crime wave in Tulua”.
The lessons for Colombia should be to regain control and put an end to the prevailing corruption among prison officials, in order to ensure that a convicted criminal deprived of liberty can no longer participate in, or even direct, crime in the country.