Photo: El Espectador
Things continue to be very rough for our political prisoners. Alexander Tirado, Juan Poletti and Antonio Garbi were taken hostage by common prisoners in Tocuyito this February; Boris Quiñones, UPEL student arrested during the 2017 protests, attempted to kill himself for a second time on March 2; and Gilber Caro disappeared last week from the Tocuyito prison he was held in since January of last year. The terrible conditions he was in have now worsened.
Gilber, substitute deputy for the National Assembly, has been held under charges of treason for more than a year now. Processed by a military court (violating his parliamentary immunity), he was isolated in a 2 x 3 meters cell; a visit was allowed every two weeks, and the meager food rations handed once a day made him lose considerable weight. His visits could bring him food to eat during that hour, so he had a decent meal every fifteen days.
His friend Steyci Escalona, a human rights activist resident of Switzerland, was arrested with him. Knowing Gilber wouldn’t bow to torture easily, the government harassed her to force a confession out of him (unsuccessfully).
Though I knew Gilber had the strength to persevere, it’s painful to think someone without his experience was targeted only to break him. Five months into their imprisonment, I read a letter Steyci wrote him. “I don’t think I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she wrote. “I was at the right hour, place, day with the right friends. The wrong thing is what they’re doing. Period. You and I have a common project for our country and we are going to achieve it. You can count on me, always.”
His visits could bring him food to eat during that hour, so he had a decent meal every fifteen days.
Steyci is cofounder of NGO VSTmundo, which took signatures to the European Parliament and more than 100,000 signatures to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, denouncing government abuses. Her words evidence the fire of her convictions and the government wasn’t able to use her against Gilber. She was finally released towards the end of November, after more than ten months in jail. Her trial still pending, she has a prohibition to leave the country and must appear at court every fifteen days.
Last March 2, family members informed that Gilber disappeared. The next day, a picture of him holding a newspaper was leaked to the press as proof of life; the image can only be described as kidnapping. Two days later, journalist Eligio Rojas posted on twitter a video of Gilber eating, presumably at Barquisimeto’s Fénix Lara prison, from which pathetic images of indoctrination have been filmed.
His family members and lawyers weren’t able to see him until the 13th, when his trial was scheduled to begin (it was deferred once again). He’s isolated, in a cell without light. He was only allowed to receive sunlight twice in ten days, when he was taken out to have his picture taken. He is often left for hours without water. He has evidently lost a lot of weight. The government has stated that his transfer is due to supposed escape plans with fellow inmates, which is absurd, considering he has been isolated and under surveillance from the start.
Gilber Caro lived a life of crime in the nineties. He was jailed for the large part of that decade, until he found religion and became a social activist. He contributed to organizations like Liberados en Marcha, Techo and Negra Hipólita, and founded Santa Va a las Cárceles and Dale la Mano a tu Par (which works with socially excluded youths). He joined Voluntad Popular and studied Law at Universidad Santa María, turning alternate deputy in the 2015 parliamentary elections. He’s one of the very few brilliant cases of personal transformation after doing time in Venezuelan jails. Chavismo picked him as political prisoner because they think they can tarnish his image by pointing at his criminal past. Gilber stands out. His life is a shining example of courage, an evidence of chavismo’s contradictions, its barbarism. The abuse of his rights has been flagrant and cruel.
Maybe he’s a pebble in the goons’ shoes. But he’s a pebble that will come back to haunt them.