10) THE INFAMY OF DYING IN PRISON

Homage to the communist militant Francisco Luis Correa Gallego, by Liliany Obando

Translator’s note: Author Liliany Obando was a political prisoner in Colombia from 2008 until 2012 when she was released. She regained her political rights in January 2016 when the government dropped the charges remaining against her. A worldwide solidarity movement accompanied her in her ordeal. Liliany Obando in prison fought for the rights of her fellow prisoners, particularly women prisoners. In writings and interviews, she has honoured Nelson Mandela, reported on women in Colombian prisons and told about her own situation as a political prisoner. Political prisoners in Colombia now exceed 9,000. She has long been part of the fight for a new Colombia as seen in her documentary on farm worker struggles, made prior to her imprisonment.

            I’ve always thought that there’s nothing sadder and more outrageous than to die alone and sick in a prison. That’s why I couldn’t hold back tears when, as I was reading an article on the subject of prisons, I learned that my friend and comrade Francisco Luis Correa Gallego had died this past May 10 from an illness he acquired in prison and that was inadequately treated, just as are many such cases.

            Francisco was one of thousands of political prisoners who maintain their principles and revolutionary morale with stoicism. Like them, he was waiting with great anticipation to have his freedom restored through a Law of Amnesty and Pardon that has to be one result of the current peace process between the Santos government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

            After his detention some four years ago, he was transferred from one prison establishment to another. He was in the Garzón prison in Huila, Rivera prison in Neiva, Cunduy in Florencia, and the Modelo prison in Bogotá, which was the last of them. He was 69 years old this year, so they had him in the prison yard for the elderly there. That prison is well known for the nightmarish things that happen inside: disappearances, assassinations, and dismemberments by paramilitaries involving more than one hundred people, visitors and prisoners alike, for more than a decade.

            As happens with many others who are deprived of their freedom, the time after Francisco’s capture went by without any direct contact with members of his nuclear family who lived far away, in Caquetá. This was because of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute’s (INPEC) reliance on improvisation and the methods used for penitentiary–type punishment. Understandably, he was so glad when he received an occasional solidarity visit.

            I remember that at one of those visits, this one with a group of young student volunteers with the Solidarity Committee for Political Prisoners, Francisco introduced himself at the right time with a generous smile and warmth of a comrade and went into a rich historical recounting of the people’s revolutionary struggles in our country. He tried to establish the precise moment when he first began to be part of all this. Perhaps his histories were a bit unfocused for the younger generations, but as happens with grandparents’ stories, they never fail to captivate their listeners.

            He joined the revolutionary struggle way back and would never renounce it until the end of his days. He was brought into the ranks of the Colombian Communist Party in the region of the lower Orteguaza River in the governing municipality of Milán, Caquetá. There he ran up against that wild outburst of state terror unleashed in the era of Turbay Ayala. Recognised as a hardened, disciplined militant, he soaked up the experience of communists who, displaced, arrived there from Tolima and Huila.

            Committed to peace in his time, he supported the negotiating process underway at La Uribe, which ended up incubating the Patriotic Union political movement (UP). And he was a municipal council member for the Patriotic Union in the first years of its existence. He was telling with emotion how in the process of recruiting for the rising UP, he travelled the byways and through the little towns of Caquetá along with Iván Márquez, who today is a negotiator [in the peace process] with the FARC in Havana, and who then might have been assigned by that insurgent organisation to be doing legal politics.

            In 1988 he was promoted to fill a post for the UP in the first people’s mayoral office in the municipality of La Montañita in Caquetá, along with Omar Alfonso Cómbita, another revolutionary and former political prisoner. The latter describes Francisco as a “responsible comrade and a militant with great mystique … who was always severely critical if things weren’t going well”. And he also said about him that, “he never doubted the force of struggle for democratization of the country, for a political solution, and for achieving the broadest popular unity in order to gain power.”

            Of peasant origin, Francisco was always worrying about strengthening his ideological, political, and cultural formation through persistent reading, a concern that continued in prison also.

            In the region where he grew up, Francisco did survive the paramilitaries who tried to make him pay for his communist militancy. But he didn’t succeed in overcoming the bars the state imposes on those who dare challenge its power.

            Prison is a place for testing revolutionary character, and Francisco was up to meeting that challenge. In a pair of letters, one he wrote me that I save with special love and another directed to a political audience, he openly expresses his deep pride on being a communist.

            [Referring to UP and Communist Party members who were assassinated, he writes:] “I cannot forget the comrades: Manuel Cepeda Vargas, José Antequera, Jaime Pardo Leal, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, and Henry Millán Gonzáles. They are the ones who made me into a disciple of political revolution and who linked me up with being part of that army exploited by capitalism.”

            He also gave vent to his iron convictions, demonstrating that even from prison he felt “the urge to keep on struggling for construction of a new society without excluding anybody.”

            From the first time that I visited Francisco in the Modelo prison I wanted to recognise his fortitude, his mystique, his example, and I thought I would write an article about him and his struggle. It’s better to offer our comrades in struggle the homage and recognition they deserve while they are alive. Nevertheless, given the harshness of conditions taken on by militants in our country, we very often run into eventualities like this, ominous ones.

            Francisco was not expecting me. I was there ready with my packet. It contained the book “Fidel and Religion”, the “Political Constitution”, and the latest editions of Voz - and the highlighter you asked to me bring you at our next encounter. The one after that would be when I gave you an embrace of welcome to freedom, after the amnesty. This wouldn’t happen now and you can’t imagine how much it hurts.

            Francisco, now it’s raining in my heart because of your absence. I can only render you tribute by joining myself to your dreams, gathering up your flags and your revolutionary commitment. You left us your commitment expressed in your own handwriting:

            “Comrades: I call upon all of you who are on the outside and those of us who are [in prison,] deprived of freedom, to keep on fighting to build the Colombia that we want, in peace and with social justice.”

            For always, dear Francisco! You are now one of the indispensable ones!

            (May 29, 2016. Source: www.pacocol.org. Translated by WT Whitney Jr.)

(The above article is from the July 1-31, 2016, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)