<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Letter to Valentina Palma, Cristina Valls and María Sostres, Foreign Women Deported from Mexico

“It is so good that you are talking about what just happened to you! So good for you and so good for us…”

By Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar
Mexico City

May 18, 2006

México City, May 11, 2006

Dear and beloved Valentina, Cristina and María,

I am one woman out of the many in México who have, over the last few days, learned of the horrendous experience that you and other women prisoners were made to suffer. What happened to you, sisters, at first filled me with an immeasurable rage, which was then followed by a deep and profound pain. As I write to you now, all of this emotion has overflowed to fill me with an infinite tenderness, and an immense longing to embrace you, even just with words, to make you feel that you are not alone and that so many of us have been moved by the violence that was forced upon your bodies.

I am writing specifically to you, my dear deported sisters, because when I saw the photograph of your fresh young faces in the newspaper and read your words plagued with anguish, I could not help but relive my own personal history of being detained and deported from another country that was, at the time, in the throes of civil war. Let me share a few pieces of my own story with you, which, I hope, may give you strength and encouragement.

When I was more or less the same age as you are now, I was in El Salvador. It was 1984 and, as I already mentioned, the country was torn apart by war. Torn apart by a war that we lost painfully. I was arrested when I was 21 years old, having taken it upon myself to participate in a public act, just as you all did. They took me to the National Police headquarters, where “everything happened to me,” as it did to you; they deported me and made me face the need to continue my life after they had tried to break it with their clubs. They could not succeed with me, dear sisters, and I know they will not be able to succeed with any of you.

At that time, a little more than 20 years ago… so many things have happened during these two decades that these events now seem extremely distant. The civil war in El Salvador was portrayed as a full-scale confrontation between two antagonistic powers, although underneath everything those powers were deplorably similar: a violent and unconditionally repressive State, and an organized front (the FMLN) advancing a “political-military struggle” against the former. As militants of the political organizations during these years, we often spoke amongst ourselves about the frightening fate that would await us when we were eventually detained. At that point in time, 20,000 people had already been murdered in this country, the smallest in all of the Americas. Murdered, through torture. Not fallen in combat.

Under such circumstances, we militants created a common discourse that, as we lived it, protected us from fear like a sturdy coat of armor: “give your life for the revolution” was the crux of this line of reasoning, and detention was seen as a decisive moment, after which our confrontation with “the enemy” would be individual, fought from an absolute disadvantage of conditions where the only thing that we would have to confront would be our own moral strength. I lived through my first detention during a bitter January. To a certain extent, I wrapped myself up in this discourse to get through much of what you are speaking about today: the radical terror unleashed by the repressive bodies of the state after they took over the Congress, where I was at the time, my disconcerted mind trying to understand what was going to happen… the silencing and paralyzing blows… the aggression forced upon each woman and, more than anything, against us as a group, as we were conveniently separated from the rest of the prisoners.

The transfer to the detention center, in my case, was a little different than the one that you suffered through. It was also marked by the laughter and vulgar jokes of the police, by the palpable fear of each of the prisoners being transported, and an atmosphere saturated with the voices of the repressors speaking about the many ways they planned to torment us. The trip became a sort of tense preparation for the prisoners who, from this moment on, began to suffer the horrors that awaited us. The agony took on an almost physical presence, covering you like a thick, viscous liquid. Then you would realize it was your own sweat. In those years, the transfer could be like that, designed to fray the nerves of the victims, because in a country openly at war they could take you to a secret place where time and light ceased to exist, where they could practice their criminal, repressive madness on all of us. In your experience, it was en route between Atenco and Toluca where you suffered the worst disgraces. Perhaps because in México the people with power still do not want to admit plainly that they are at war with everyone who raises their voice.

In the end, the most important is not whether the harm to detained victims is committed during the trip to the detention center or in some police or military station. The feelings that one goes through are the same. They are painful and they become imprinted upon your skin. We have to take care of each other so that they do not imprint themselves upon our souls… so that we can deal with the shame that one goes through when an enemy hand prods your buttocks, and dispassionately inserts a finger or a penis into your anus or vagina. We have to embrace each other strongly to convince ourselves that we are not guilty just because our dreams represent a challenge to the people with power. To be sure – to be intimately sure – we need to know that we do not deserve these things that happen and that they will not kill us. The vileness of the hands that squeezed our nipples so hard they almost bled belongs to them. The disconcerted breasts that hide our hearts belong only to us. And in our hearts still lives the conviction that we will do everything possible to make sure these things do not keep happening.

Compañeras, it is so good that you are speaking about what just happened to you! It is so good for you and so good for us, for those of us who have not been deported and who are still here, watching in astonishment as state-sponsored brutality spreads and they try to turn it into normal government treatment. It is so good for you because talking accomplishes a lot. Sharing one’s horrible experience, to the extent that one can, releases the evils of anguish and fear that try to smother us. Being able to feel compassion for others as you are doing by speaking about what you saw happening to others is an extraordinary way to prove to yourselves that solidarity cannot be suffocated with beatings. The words that Valentina used to describe the sight of an old man being dramatically beaten and assaulted as “something that you can’t get out of your head” resonate in my thoughts. For a long time, I could not get the vile acts that I witnessed in the basement of the National Police headquarters in San Salvador out of my own head. You have lived through moments that are difficult – maybe impossible – to forget. The issue, at least for me, was how to build a place within myself where I could put these memories so that they would not hurt me, because with time they do become lighter, but they never go away. All of you will also, I am sure, find your own way to grow and move past the uneasiness that is, undoubtedly, crushing you right now.

In solidarity, with you in my thoughts and in my heart, and with warm embraces for you all,

Raquel Gutiérrez.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America