Stripped of Human Dignity
On December 3rd and 4th I went to the belly of the beast. As a photographer of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights I get to follow their field work to document violations throughout the continent - and don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of work to be done - Latin America is the region with the most social inequality in the world. But what I saw this couple days in El Salvador prisons crossed the lines of human dignity in a way I could never experience anywhere else.
At Zacatecoluca maximum security jail, inmates are 5 years without receiving any visitors and up to 10 months not only without sun bath but not leaving their dark cells, where they have just the space for a bunk bed and a toilet to be shared by 3 people. They have to shower using water from the sink and plastic jars, each inmate get a bar of soup every 3 months. The whole context makes easy for tuberculosis take over the space, beside a lot of cases of malnutrition. One doctor, 3 nurses and one dentist are responsible for taking care of the 600+ inmates.
When we went to Izalco jail they were also 5 years without visitors, tuberculosis was also spread out, beside Sida and HIV. They were given medical masks to be used 24/7 to try to avoid tuberculosis. Some of the cells made for 28 people had 90+ living in it. At this facility at least they have access to sun bath and a soccer field once every 8 to 10 days.
The penitentiaries holds members of different rival gangs, mostly MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and 18 Sureños, who are divided by cells. Roughly 80% of the deaths are due to sickness, not gang violence. (find examples)
But maybe the most shocking scene was at a police station, which have some holding cells for 20 people each. When we got there we saw more than 100 young man packed inside just one cell sharing one toilet, the image wasn’t different on the others. This men are still waiting to be processed, some might be innocent, some might be guilty, fact is that they stay 24/7 in this cage waiting to be trialed for months in a roll. I spoke to people who were there for 26 months, without visitors and sun bath. Venereal and skin diseases are wide spread because of the lack of sun, hygiene and humidity of the place.