Jailed for protesting, then released… but not freed

Very few people have experienced the recent round of protests like Alejandro has, from inside a cell. Although he’s free now, his captivity is still in his eyes and voice when he tells his story.

It’s been three months since Alejandro which is not his real name was released from hell.

He was arrested during the recent protests and spent a month in jail. Right after it happened, I talked to his mom, who told me how his detention set off an earthquake in their tight-knit family. Now he’s out… and I finally have a chance to get his side of the story.

I really don’t know how this skinny guy managed to survive an experience like that, but he’s back in his office, trying to lead as normal a life as Venezuela can offer.

I met him a few meters from the square where, almost a month ago, people came together to honor those killed during the protests. It’s hard to believe that the streets around Parque Cristal were a battlefield. The place is full of shoppers now; it’s Friday and office workers drink beer and mojitos after work.

Alejandro has a passion for politics. He’s calm as he remembers the day they picked him up. It was April 6th, when the struggle had just started.

I was close to the El Recreo mall when the Policía Nacional and the National Guard took me. First, they stole my cell phone, and took everything out of my wallet except for my ID. An officer asked me for 500,000 bolívares in cash to be released. And they had just robbed me. I told him to let me make some calls, but he wouldn’t. And he said I was fucked.

Alejandro was locked up, beaten and given electric shocks. He remembers fellow prisoners giving him hope. More often, though, he only heard threats: “You’ll see what happens to those who mess with the police.”

He heard the infamous “Me le echan gas del bueno” until it literally felt like it was tattooed into his eardrums. “They played chavista songs and blasted Chávez speeches at full volume, like a nightclub,” he said.  

They recorded two videos of me. The first was real quick, but the second was more serious. This dude asked me the same questions over and over again, differently phrased. If I was in any political party, if I received money from someone.

In El Helicoide, they took me to an office, chained to a door for a good while. Then a guy asked me for the password of every social media account I have. I told him, but I don’t know if I confused the Facebook password for the Instagram password. An officer came in raging; ‘You fucking liar.’ And in came the taser and, every time I received a shock, I fell to the floor. My legs were butter. And he kicked me. I needed, like, a minute to get back up. He did that three or four times.

Still, he’s passionate when talking about the future. He wants a change of government, but no longer trusts the opposition.

I’m angry, but not because the MUD runs for regional elections. Looks like they have a problem with how they communicate their actions.

He’s aghast that MUD leaders may forget about those still jail, “even with people from their own parties. I spent time with Los Morochos. It’s like they (the opposition) see it as a plus to have political prisoners, to have people pasando trabajo.”

Bitterness finally shows in his voice, thinking of politicians that led the protests and suddenly embraced the opposition primaries; they swapped the calle hasta que caiga” for election campaigning. “Look at Requesens. He’s from Baruta and he was on the forefront of the protest, but he changed it for elections in Táchira. And he lost.”

Carlos Ocariz, the opposition’s option for governorship in Miranda, (in)famously said that candidates are the new escuderos. Alejandro certainly disapproves.

I can’t even comment on that. Terrible. I remember when the team of Foro Penal asked me to be in an event and I met Pernalete’s mom. I didn’t have words, and she was all ‘it’s okay, son’. Yes, I spent a terrible month detained, but what about her? She lost her son and didn’t even have money for the funeral.

He sighs, disappointed. “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m voting in these elections. I know the MUD has the communication power, that’s why they have to call people onto the streets. When they say they stopped the protest to avoid more killings, that’s a straight up lie. Security forces have been killing protesters since 2014. The MUD threatened to break the status quo, but they never called to Miraflores. It’s sad, but I have more faith in Trump now than in any other option. The opposition believes in fairy-tale elections against a much more noble enemy than the real one.”

In between college classes and work, Alejandro sometimes meets the old chamos from the La Resistencia days.

If you take a walk around Altamira, they’re there, asking for money,” he tells me. “Months ago they were wounded with perdigones [rubber pellets] but they also used to get food from the people, las viejitas. Now that the protests are over, the food also stopped. They’re chamos who had nothing to lose and joined the fight. Now they’re forgotten again.

When Alejandro speaks, he’s very composed. It’s only after he’s been at it for a while that you notice the twitches in his reactions. His stare seems that of a man older than him. Maybe that’s recent. Maybe he’s just lived through a lot this year.

Gaby J. Miller

Gaby is a Caraqueña steeped in 90's pop culture who likes to talk and write politics.