Monday, October 27, 2008

Dancing in Prison

Dear friends,

I went to a great party in the Arauca City prison on October 10. The Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights organized the fiesta to provide solidarity for the prisoners and lift their spirits for a few hours.

More than 60 people traveled to the prison from Arauquita – including two very-talented high school dance troupes and two great musical groups. Packages of food and personal items were delivered to the 87 prisoners from Arauquita, who then decided to share those amongst all the 286 inmates of the prison.

Mejia, the MC, organized an impromptu dance contest with the five female prisoners at the party – partnering them with five of their male colleagues. After the contest, the dancers grabbed other partners from the crowd and the party kicked into high gear!

Mejia danced with one of the prisoners and then called me out to finish the song (see attached photo). Later on, we sat down to talk and she told me about her experiences.

Flor Díaz is a great dancer, mother of four children, health promoter, devout Catholic, and is serving six-and-a-half years in prison for “rebellion.”

Flor was the board secretary of the Arauca Peasant Association and she told me “I continue defending human rights and I’m paying the price for that.” She was detained by the secret police (DAS) when she was in Arauca City on February 14, 2006 for a medical appointment. The police didn’t present her with an arrest order until two hours later.

Marcela, Flor’s oldest daughter, was 18 years old when her mother was imprisoned. She suddenly had to assume the responsibility of taking care of her three siblings – Viviana, who was 8 years-old; Fernando, 11; and Edwin, 14. The four of them have occasionally gone hungry, but they’ve stayed together as a family.

As a single mother, Flor requested that she be granted house arrest so that she could care for her children. That request was denied because she was considered to be a danger to society and to her own children.

Flor’s trial on January 23, 2007 lasted for 15 minutes. None of the six witnesses that testified during the investigation appeared in court. The judge left the courtroom before the trial began and the prosecutor declared her to be guilty of rebellion.

Flor worked as a rural health promoter for 14 years and she’s continuing that work by caring for the health of the other inmates. She’s also continuing her role as a catechist. “In these circumstances if you’re not spiritually strong, you’ll fall apart,” she said.

Her primary concern is the violation of children’s rights, including those of her own children – the right to be with their mother and to not suffer from hunger.

Flor was very glad to hear that the Arauca Peasant Association is continuing its work in spite of the repression against the organization. Luz Perly Cordoba, the founding president, spent a year in prison for rebellion and is now living in exile. An arrest order was issued for the second president last year, and another member of the board was imprisoned for rebellion in January.

“There’s nothing else to do but to cry and to keep going forward,” Flor concluded.

In love and solidarity,