Colombia Prison
An inmate looks through his cell window during a press tour of the new maximum security pavilion at La Picota prison in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez

Overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and poor treatment by prison staff: “there is still a lot to be done” according to a committee from the International Red Cross (ICRC) to preserve the dignity of Colombia’s 121,000 inmates across the country.

An international delegation from the Red Cross added that “the solution to the humanitarian problem in Colombian prisons needs to come from a joint effort.” Daily El Espectador reports.

“There’s still a lot to be done. Nevertheless, I’m sure that the conversation we will have will provide important ideas that we need to keep working on, across our areas of work, to ensure the dignity of those deprived of their freedom,” Christoph Harnisch, Head of the delegation from the ICRC added.

Behind bars

Overcrowding is a problem in 55 percent of Colombian prisons according to the ICRC, active in Colombia since 1969.

“The ICRC is beginning it’s second cycle of work in prisons with the aim of improving conditions in detention centers across the country as much as possible.” Harnisch added.

Yet could there be alternatives to prison time for Colombia’s current inmates?

“When a country has over 120,000 inmates at a rate of 254 percent per every 100,000 inhabitants, which exceeds the global average, one has to ask if there are too many people in prison. There are too many inmates in Colombian prisons, not because they are innocent, but because amongst those incarcerated there will be people whose crime could be treated in a different manner.” Deborah Schibler, a Swiss lawyer on the delegation told El Tiempo.

But even if those guilty of committing more severe crimes such as murder or homicide are locked away, this doesn’t ensure that those outside are any safer, Schibler adds.

“If you capture the person guilty of committing these crimes (homicide), two hours later they will be replaced by other thieves, murderers, they form part of a network. Citizens’ safety isn’t necessarily any better if they (the criminals) are locked away. Colombia needs to improve as a society to prevent crime.”

For the time being, those facing a sentence remain in cramped conditions. As the committee’s work continues, Colombia could hopefully soon provide prisoners with more “dignified” conditions to serve their sentence.

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Nicaragua Canal Protest
Farmers opposed to the construction of Nicaragua's transoceanic canal, wave representations of their country's national flag as they take part in a national protest march against the canal project, in Juigalpa, Nicaragua, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Photo: AP Photo/Esteban Felix

What has happened to Nicaragua’s planned $50 billion trans-oceanic canal project, set to span 175-miles across the country?

Construction, supposed to begin last year, has now been postponed until March next year, as increasing numbers of studies and lack of financial input, continue to plague the ambitious project.

Environmental concerns

A 14-page study released by British consultancy firm ERM outlines concerns over seismic activity along the proposed canal route, and worryingly, if there will even be enough water to fill the locks along the canal, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“We and (Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega) have made the decision that all studies recommended by the environmental groups have to be undertaken,”  said Paul Oquist, executive director of the Nicaragua Grand Canal Commission.

Yet the greatest environmental concern has arisen as a result of the proposed dredging of Lake Nicaragua, home to hundreds of species of wildlife, flora and fauna.

The lake, the largest drinking water reservoir in the region, will be cut in half by the canal, much to the dismay of indigenous communities and farmers, who face losing their homes as a result. Some 15,000 protestors took to the streets in June, protesting the canal project, financed by Chinese businessman Wang Jing, according to Indian Country Today.

Indigenous populations placed under threat

A total of 13 of Nicaragua’s municipalities will be affected by the proposed canal route, that’s 10 percent of the national territory.

According to the Nicaraguan Development Institute, some 373,225 people or 6 percent of the Nicaraguan population live in the affected areas.

A total of 119,298 people living in these 13 municipalities will be forcibly displaced, the Havana Times reports. This total consists of 24,100 families living in 282 populated areas of different sizes and represents 32 percent of the municipalities’ inhabitants.

To make matters worse, the population hailing from these rural areas are predominantly agricultural sector workers, or owners of small land-holdings, living in extreme poverty. With access to education scarce, displaced families will find it increasingly difficult to obtain jobs or access to state social security if forced to move to larger towns across the country.

Furthermore, for many indigenous communities these lands have formed part of their territories for hundreds of years. A move will not only affect their livelihood but also cultural and social traditions.

Money to burn

Yet the canal project has also been bad news for Wang Jing.

The businessman has lost an estimated 84 percent of his fortune, invested into the Nicaragua Grand Canal project.

Once one of the world’s 200 richest with an estimated $10,200 billion in June, Jing’s fortune has now dropped to around $1,100 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire IndexCrítica reports.

Yet as environmental and indigenous concerns continue to rise, it looks like the Nicaragua canal has been more of a loss than a profit for Jing, even before construction works have commenced.

See also:

Study finds Nicaragua canal “viable”, but details still secret

Chinese company says Nicaragua canal will create 25,000 jobs