Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz Orejuela described as an unfortunate event what happened this Tuesday afternoon in the Tuluá prison, Valle del Cauca, where 52 inmates died and 23 were injured after a fire inside the establishment generated after a fight between arrested.
In passing, Ruiz Orejuela assured that the Attorney General’s Office and the Institute of Legal Medicine are at the forefront of the situation to clarify the facts.
The minister said that the Prosecutor’s Office will give the preliminary report of the first 46 identified bodies in the next few hours.
Similarly, he indicated that “it was established that in the early hours of the morning two inmates had a fight and one of them irresponsibly set fire to a mattress and finally there was the conflagration that the whole country knows.”
“The vast majority of the inmates died after inhaling the smoke,” said the official, saying that two people were burned in this event and that Legal Medicine will deliver the names of these two inmates.
“We will continue to investigate to find out if there are really 26 injured or 52 deceased,” added the minister.
He also noted that everything that happened is under investigation. “This is a preliminary report, to reassure the families of the inmates who are here (Tuluá, Valle), both convicted and accused,” he said.
Details of what happened in the Tuluá prison
It all started with a fight on the night of June 27, when the inmates of pavilion eight of the Tuluá prison attacked each other with toothbrushes that they used as daggers. The guards tried to control the situation, but the inmates were already untied.
In the early morning of June 28, they took what they found and set it on fire. The mats engulfed in flames caused the fire to spread. Some took the opportunity to flee, others were not so lucky and were trapped. More than fifty people died from inhalation.
The pavilion, about 60 years old, housed about 160 accused and sentenced to medium security level. The site did not have a fire fighting system. According to the director of Inpec, Brigadier General Tito Yesid Castellanos, an approximate number of 1,267 people are in the Tuluá prison, 17% more than what the prison allows. There is overcrowding and sanitary conditions reduced to a minimum.
With the help of firefighters, the officers contained the fire and those affected, those who survived, were taken to the nearest hospital in Tuluá.
The CTI of the Prosecutor’s Office, which is in charge of identifying the victims and what happened in the prison. Subsequently, the entity will release the corresponding list. “The wounded are in the clinics and we are waiting for the doctors to finish their surgical procedures and for us to carry out their full identification. Those who are without news were initially socialized to the relatives and we are still counting others deprived of liberty because we are carrying out the ten-print identification,” said the director of Inpec.
From very early on, the relatives of the affected inmates arrived in the area. The site, cordoned off by the Police, received them with the news that several of their relatives had already died. Likewise, they gave the names of those who were unharmed and indicated that the only wounded belonged to pavilion 8, in addition to some Inpec officials who were injured.
“It is important to have a little prudence and patience because they have to verify exactly what is happening, but we are working quickly hand in hand with our Prosecutor’s Office, the National Police, the Army and the Fire Department, so that the names come out promptly,” Castellanos said about the list of the deceased that has not yet been fully delivered, as it is being updated over the hours.
In this regard, the representative of Tuluá, José Martín Hincapié, indicated that Inpec had not allowed them to enter the prison, but they managed to confirm that all the injured were evacuated and transferred to health centers in Tomás Uribe, San Francisco and the María Ángel clinic.
Special Commission of the Attorney
The Attorney General’s Office also referred to what happened and appointed a special commission to deal with the situation. “The Delegate for the Defense of Human Rights and the National Directorate of Special Investigations will act jointly with Regional Valle and Provincial Buga.” They also requested prompt action from the municipality’s health services.
For its part, the Prosecutor’s Office indicated that “a team of 25 people, made up of specialized prosecutors, investigators and criminalistics technicians from CTI, and forensic experts from Legal Medicine, undertook an investigation into events that occurred in the Tuluá prison, which resulted in several people dead and others injured”.
Message from Gustavo Petro
The elected president, Gustavo Petro, sent a message through his Twitter account, regretting what happened and expressed that the prison in Colombia has been seen as a space for revenge and not for rehabilitation and therefore “forces a complete rethinking of the prison policy in the face of the humanization of the prison and the dignity of the prisoner”.