Web of testimonial of four indigenous prisoners in Chiapas
October 24, 2014
By: Aldabi Olvera
A heavy blanket of fog and rain densely covers the valleys, canyons and mountains of Chiapas. It seems that the strong threads of heaven are gradually forming a wall to convert the territory into a giant prison of the mind,
Travelling these roads, with compañeras and compañeros I visited four prisoners in a week:
Alejandro, indigenous Tsotsil, is imprisoned unjustly in CERESO 5 in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Mario, Juan Antonio and Roberto, Tseltal indigenous, are prisoners for political reasons. “Revenge of the police”, say his family. They have just been transferred to CERESO 12 in Yajalón.
A heavy blanket of fog and rain drowns the mountains from the north to the highlands of Chiapas. Despite the heaviness with which the huge threads of nature tie the soul, the walls raised by humans are more terrible. However, a profound word is emerging from the voice or the pen of the prisoners, and there is no density or wall that can stop this voice.
The letters of Alejandro
“I demand the freedom of all political prisoners and those imprisoned unjustly throughout the world…”
Two years ago he could not speak Spanish. Now, as we have documented in Másde131, the indigenous Tsotsil Alejandro Díaz Sántiz is responsible for publishing reports on the situation of the inmates of CERESO 5.
“I’m fine, I feel good,” says Alejandro smiling. At the time of the visit, he has been fasting for 16 days. He shows me his notebook where he has written that he will lift his fast on October 20th. His letters are clear, neat:
“Those who govern in our country and state, peoples, have governed backwards, as they have only caused harm to the rights of human beings, such as disappearances, unfair imprisonments, among others.”
“Do you write this for the students of Ayotzinapa?” I ask.
“The government itself does that,” he replies.
His words are like a complex textile leading into a deep freedom. When I watched him write, he does it slowly, carefully, like a craftsman. I remember when he told me months ago: “If I had not ended up in prison, I would be dead. I did not know how to speak or write, but I learned it through the struggle.”
“Today my lawyers, Sandino Rivero and Leonel Rivero requested remission of sentence from the governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte Ochoa, and Manuel Velasco Coello, governor of Chiapas.”
Remission of sentence is one of the last tools that Alexander has to obtain his release. His lawyers filed on October 16 that the government of Veracruz accept and order his release on account of his work and conduct in prison. He now has to wait for that information from the state government of Chiapas. The answer could take two weeks after it was filed for legal recourse.
On 11 May, Sántiz Diaz completed a period of 15 years in different prisons, from Veracruz, where he allegedly committed the crime of murdering his own daughter, to now in CERESO 5.
He finished reading his communiqué:
“Together we can win true justice. Alejandro Diaz Santiz, Solidarity with the Voice of el Amate, adherent to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle.”
I keep thinking about what Alejandro said on a previous visit, that he always wanted to struggle, that he wanted to be Zapatista since childhood, that now he can be an adherent to the Sixth in prison. He fulfilled his dream overcoming his fear of speaking, writing, expressing himself.
A compañera brings him a song. I tell Alejandro that now we are going to leave him a letter to set to music. He smiles and says yes, if he can.
“Why do not you weave hats and bracelets, Alex?” I asked a month ago.
“I do not have time, now I have to write a lot,” he replies.
Neatly, slowly, he begins to write a few lines for me to take out of prison. Then, he accompanies us to the exit. We learn that this October 24th he will spend another birthday in prison. All have gone, I stay until the end. I raise my left arm, close my fist, show him what it says in my notebook. Alejandro Diaz Santiz also raises his left arm and makes a fist, a ritual that we have woven without talking since I first met him, a series of words between the eyes and hands to be repeated until I see him get out of prison.
Threads and torture
The road to CERESO 12 Yajalon, where the three Tzeltal prisoners from San Sebastian Bachajón are held, is steep and curving. In Ocosingo, where there was heavy fighting between the EZLN and the army in 1994, the water forms small streams on the pavements. This does not erase our memory, in contrast, it reawakens it.
The journey is expensive. Sixty pesos from San Cristobal; another sixty from Ocosingo. The whole situation has a high cost for the families of the prisoners who we meet after entering the prison.
“This is costing us a lot, compañeros. It is costing us a lot. Sometimes we despair. We have the idea, but we do not know if we can do it,” they say when thinking what the possibilities are to get their three prisoners out of jail.
“Let’s go in, compañeros.”
“Today is only the day for family visits, but as you have come from far away we will let you in,” says the man in charge of the visitor’s book. This is extremely unusual, usually the watchword of the wardens and directors is to hinder visits to political prisoners.
Juan Antonio, Roberto and Mario, sitting in that order, are on a bench in the courtyard of the prison, full of looms for weaving hammocks. The first thing that strikes you is something that a compañera had told me: “They are very young”.
Nineteen, twenty and twenty-three, surrounded by their families, they look down. We do too. It is hard to know what to say, even when it is already agreed that each will make a presentation. That is why I am here.
“Help me to get my freedom. I have a wife and son, I cannot support them in here,” says Roberto. He cannot explain in a way other than with anger and powerlessness. His tears appear, want to fall and then pass.
Roberto is the best speaker of Spanish. He translates what the others say:
Mario is still in pain from the blows he received. He points to his ribs. He was kicked hard in the torso. He has a scar on his right eyebrow. He still feels dizzy. They put a bag on his head and threatened him if he did not incriminate his compañeros. The prosecutor from Chilón, Rodolfo Jiménez Pérez, said: “If you do not say that you were there, I’ll kill you, shoot you with a bullet and throw you in the river.”
Juan Antonio, Roberto and Mario tell how they were at the celebration of September 15, when early in the morning they and other young people from Bachajón were stopped by members of the police from Chilón who pointed out Juan Antonio. They went against the three of them, detained and tortured them.
Mario looks up suddenly, sadly. I notice a huge scar above his lip. We are left again not saying anything. It is as if we were all under sentence. Not shame, but a punishment that can hardly be expressed in words. Meanwhile, the other prisoners carry on weaving, looking at us sideways curiously.
They dragged Juan Antonio along the ground. His face is still scraped. They kicked him hard on the head. Blood came out of his ear. He has a headache.
He is the brother of Juan Carlos Gomez Silvano, who was a coordinator of the adherents of the Sixth until he was assassinated last March by the Chilón police. According to the three young men, their families and various communiqués released by the adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the arrests were made in retaliation for the capture and subsequent imprisonment of the police officer Sebastián Méndez Hernández in the prison of El Amate.
“They accused us of aggravated assault. As we did not know, we signed it. Bail was 300 thousand pesos. The public defender told us to sign. The witnesses are both police officers.”
An order of imprisonment for attempted homicide was the verdict of Omar Eleria Reyes, mixed trial judge in Ocosingo, issued on September 24 against Juan Carlos, Mario and Roberto, reclassifying the crime and leaving them no possibility of bail.
“My vision is dark, my sight is cloudy and I have to wait. Afterwards I recover,” says Roberto. The health situation of the three concerns their family members, they may have internal injuries.
Juan Antonio remains silent. He does not want to talk. “He has no means to work to support his family,” says Roberto, “we weave hammocks, but in here the ball of thread costs thirty pesos. There is little profit.”
The cost of weaving each hammock is 500 pesos. If the thread is bought in prison it is not worth doing. We talked about the urgent economic need and how they can get out of prison:
“Yes we knew Patishtan, we knew he got out. After all the years that he had done. So they tell us: Yes you will get out. But we are afraid that they will move us to el Amate (the prison far away where the indigenous Tsotsil Professor Alberto Patishtan was held.)”
“Here it is quiet,” says Roberto.
Juan Antonio, Roberto and Mario continue to rest on their arms. We ask what colour thread they need to start weaving: green, blue, red, yellow.
At one point, the families say:
“They cannot not stay like this. They will be ill.”
On leaving we look at their faces. My hand just touches the arm of Roberto. Again there are unshed tears, we look away. A tangle of wires spills water over the hills of Yajalon. We say goodbye. It has started to rain. Outside the prison is a sign that says, “Movement for the Defence of Territory: No to the Highway from San Cristobal to Palenque”. We are charged with bringing in threads to weave, and bringing out their own fabric of woven words.
A light blanket of fog and rain begins to cover the valleys, canyons and mountains of Chiapas. It seems that the water from the sky gradually forms a wall to make the territory into a giant prison of the mind. However, we carry on single sheets the means to climb over any wall: The woven fabric of the word.