A political prisoner dies

A recent letter to his wife
A recent letter to his wife

(I met Lissette González back in college, when we were both interns at the UCAB’s Institute for Social and Economic Research. We were never close – she, the hipster Sociologist; me, the neoliberal economist – but I liked her. I had not seen nor heard from her in many years, but I got hold of her again via Twitter and her blog, Conjeturas para Llevar. Lissette, now a Sociology professor at our alma mater, would use it to dissect different aspects of Venezuela’s social situation.

Last year, her blog – and her life – took an unexpected turn when her father was put in jail for political reasons.

Last night, her father passed away in Maduro’s political prison, under strange circumstances.

His death has touched me deeply. In his honor, I am translating her most recent post about her father from the original Spanish. In remembrance of all of Venezuela’s political prisoners, we will be changing the picture headlining our blog to Maduro’s nefarious Helicoide, the regime’s main political prison.)

A grandfather is a political prisoner, by Lissette González. Originally posted October 9th, 2014.

It all began the night of April 26th, a Saturday. We had gone to the movies with the kids, and a shiort while after we had separated, my mother called to tell me that the SEBIN (the government’s intelligence agency) had gone to their house with an order to arrest my father. The squad had seized the house, waiting for an authorization to search the premises. Just like that, with no proof nor background investigation, and no presumption of innocence. The only thing they were relying on was the anonymous testimony of a “collaborating patriot.” Thanks to that testimony, a 63 year-old man, his wife, his daughters and grandchildren have seen their lives turned upside down.

Early that morning, after being present while they searched the place, my mother, sister and brother-in-law went to the Helicoide to sign the documentation on what had transpired. They also brought with them basic stuff for my father such as a change of clothes and his toothbrush. When they are about to leave, the police decided to detain my mother as well – the second violation to any normal judicial procedure, because there was no order to arrest her.

The next day began our calvary: understanding what had happened; bringing them food, sheets, and clothes; containing the kids’ anguish; finding legal representation … That was not all, because on Sunday the 27th, my sister’s house in Santa Inés was also searched. They took computers, phones, and anything that could record information or surf the web. Again the nerves when my sister and her husband went to the SEBIN to testify, but thankfully there were no more detentions.

On Monday the 28th, the initial hearing was supposed to take place. As splitting our time between the Helicoide and the Justice Palace (the courts) to know if they would be transported, if there would be a hearing at all, etc., the small travel agency in Chacao that had been our family’s economic mainstay for more than 30 years was also searched. My aunt, who is more than 70 years old, along with several other employees were taken to SEBIN, and their personal belongings siezed. That day the hearing was suspended.

The hearing finally took place on the 29th, and it lasted several hours. During the course of the day, we found out that a student we did not know, Douglas Morillo, was being charged along with my parents with a supposed “association to commit a crime.” After the Prosecutors presented their case and the defense had presented theirs, during the break the judge took before issuing her ruling, President Maduro went on radio and TV in a mandatory broadcast to speak of “the aviator,” the supoposed mastermind of the “guarimbas,” the roadblocks that were still sweeping the country. The justice system had received a direct order by TV. We left the Justice Palace past 9 pm and the result of the hearing was as follows: jail awaiting trial for Rodolfo González, my father, as well as Douglas Morillo, with a duty to show up every 30 days for Josefa de González, my mother.

In the five months since that date, our lives have completely changed. The problems all Venezuelans suffer – inflation, crime, scarcity – have been compounded by constant worries about my father’s health, along with weekly visits to the SEBIN. Our children have lost a bit of their innocence when visiting their imprisoned grandfather. The problems in the bathroom pipes or with the air conditioning in the premises have not been taken care of, so along with the other relatives of the prisoners we have taken up many expenses to make their lives a little bit better. And, in spite of the fact that the case file says there is “no forensic evidence,” Ovnitours’ equipment and other documents have still not been returned. Neither have my sister’s belongings. Ever since being searched, the agency’s permission to sell tickets on public national airlines has been revoked. It is a shame that the company has had to suffer when it is not being charged with any wrongdoing.

After many suspensions, the initial hearing procedure ended yesterday. Two other people, Renzo Prieto and Yeimi Varela, have been included in the same case. These are people we only met after all this began. The judge decided they should all go to trial together, and they are all being held while the trial lasts. Now we must wait for a court to be assigned the case, and for the process to begin.

During the past few months, we have received the support of friends and family, along with the anonymous solidarity of many people who collect essentials to bring to political prisoners – everything from soap and toilet paper, to homemade meals and even letters of support. Our thanks go out to all those people who, day by day, contribute in their own small way.

Today I post this on the web because it is important to remember there are still many Venezuelans in jail, people who have not committed any crime. It is a reminder that when there is no rule of law and no judicial independence, anyone can be the victim.