For two years, parts of the overcrowded and infamous La Modelo prison in Bogota, Colombia, were controlled by the inmates. During that time, dozens of people went missing, and rumors swirled about where the bodies of at least 100 people likely ended up: in the sewer.
On Wednesday, 100 dismembered bodies — many of whom will likely never be identified — were discovered in the sewer, Fox News reported. Prosecutor Caterina Heyck said the victims were both inmates and outsiders.
“The victims were inmates, visitors and people who had nothing to do with the prison. Their remains were thrown into the drain pipes of the sewer system… The horrors of what happened in that prison should be analyzed in a criminal investigation, but also call for a deep reflection within Colombian society.”
She said the number of bodies may be much higher than 100.
According to BBC News, the investigation that has led to Wednesday’s grisly discovery was triggered by the case of Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya. She was the first person to look into reports of disappearances and armed trafficking inside the facility.
In 2000, her investigation into these reports resulted in her own kidnapping at the alleged hands of a paramilitaries and inmates named Mario Jaimes Mejía, aka “El Panadero” (The Baker) and Alejandro Cardenas Orozco, aka JJ.
Their activities inside the prison, and the potential disappearance and dismemberment of scores of people there, have been the focus of the more recent probe, which began at the end of last year.
Sixteen years ago, Bedoya went to La Modelo to meet with Jaimes, who’d promised to provide her with information. Instead, three men forced her into a car; she was drugged, tortured, and raped, then tied up in a pile of garbage on the side of the road three hours from Bogota.
Since then, Jaimes and Orozco have evaded justice, and Bedoya has sued the government for their alleged unwillingness to prosecute. As members of a paramilitary group, both men are eligible for reduced sentences if they lay down their arms and confess to their crimes; Heyck wants to prosecute them as common criminals instead.
Both men had been silent about the kidnapping over the years. Earlier this month, Jaimes confessed to ordering the abduction, and Orozco admitted to being one of the three who kidnapped, raped, and tortured her.
“I’m grateful for the actions being taken today, but it should’ve happen years ago,” Bedoya said, according to CNN. “El Panadero’s testimony taken more than 15 years ago, his version of the story, which is completely false, was endorsed by a prosecutor (with the Colombian attorney general’s office) and that allowed for the process to stall and the case to remain in impunity.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors will continue to probe the 100 bodies found in the sewer.
Left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, and drug dealers are all incarcerated at La Modelo. Between 1999 and 2001, the rebels and paramilitaries claimed and patrolled territory inside the prison, guarding it with grenades and automatic weapons.
It was during this period that the 100 bodies were disposed of in the drainage system. Jaimes ran one of the yards from which many people went missing and may be behind other disappearances. In 2000, the body of an inmate was found inside a drain in the jail; he’d disappeared eight days earlier. A day later, 17 more men vanished after a prison fight and were never found. After that point, rumors swirled that anyone who disappeared in La Modelo had been disposed of in the sewer.
Now that the investigation is moving forward, Bedoya wants the truth behind the 100 bodies discovered in the sewer to come out. To her, that’s the justice system’s priority.
Guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, and security forces have been fighting in Colombia for 50 years. A peace agreement with the largest rebel group is currently being negotiated.
[Photo by AP]