Snippets of an interview with Chavelo

It was too sad for me to process or post about at the time that the illegitimate Honduran courts decided, far past the limits of due process and without any evidence, that Chavelo would remain in prison for 20 more years. J and I had interviewed him months earlier, on a visit to the El Porvenir prison farm. It was my first visit, despite having seen the film by Oscar Estrada about 50 times (and that's not an exaggeration). What follows is a partial transcript:

C: You heard that I lost an eye, right?

AP: What happened?

C: I was cutting grass with a lawnmower, they bring me out here to work, to trim the weeds, and so when I was over there by those trees [points] I cut down a, what do you call it, a cable, and it came down on my face, and it cut me. It cut an inch off my tongue, and took out my eye.

AP: Ay ay ay. And they took you to Ceiba?

C: Yes, immediately, I just had to wait like 5 minutes for the vehicle because here we don't have vehicles for transport.

J: What do they they tell you about your case, when you might get out, or...

C: Well that's difficult because they don't want to give me my sentence, nor give me my freedom. Nothing, nothing nothing. If there's no sentence, there's nothing the lawyers can do. But they also don't want to give me freedom, because they they can't justify it. They don't even have any evidence- say, a weapon, or anything that could lead to a sentence. Because honestly it's been three years. Three years and a half I've been imprisoned, and I haven't even been sentenced, and they won't let me free. So for me, it's a crime that they're committing. Because honestly, there is a law that says a prisoner cannot be jailed for more than two years without being sentenced.

J: You understand this as political persecution?

C: I'm not involved in politics. They say this is a political case. I don't understand that. But, what I do know is that as campesinos, we the campesino movement, they have attacked us too hard. They have provoked us. They blame us for crimes we didn't do.

First, the DA, or the journalists, before they say something, they need to investigate and find evidence for things before throwing them out to the public. But they don't. They just with one fell swoop say no, it was the campesino, the campesino, the campesino. The campesino gets it the worst from them. And it's not true. You need to prove things. The DA's office, in my case, is failing. Why? Because they just want to have me in jail, without ever bringing me to trial. Like the judges. The judges are playing around too much. They're just pushing papers around. They should give me freedom.

So for me it's a huge tragedy because, look, I have been among the prisoners here who have suffered too much.

Why have I suffered? Because first, my son died, and I couldn't go to see him. And that is painful. Also my father, I lost him too. I never saw him again, since I went to jail. These are things that hurt one in the heart. And things that make one suffer. Every time you remember these things, it hurts.

And I have lost other relatives too, who I haven't been able to see. So all that is painful for me. And now that I lost my eyesight here, in this prison, it's another thing that has been painful for me.

And so the judges can't see this.

I have demonstrated to them that I am innocent. And I continue showing them I am innocent of everything they accuse me of. Honestly, I need to have a lot of patience to be able to move forward because this is what it's like.

I told A. that there have been too many problems. I have had two years of isolation, of being isolated. Because, honestly, I couldn't live among the general [prison] population because I was in danger.

AP Why?

C: Because first of all, I had received threats. So they said they were after me, like that, right? So we were able to look into it, and the [prison] director was the one who was able to find out. And he said, look, it turns out you're right, I am going to isolate you. He gave me isolation. So I'm in a room there, it's a room of 16 by 18 (feet?). And there are five of us in there now. We are isolated. But thank God, the authorities have given us space. They have treated us well. For me, right now, here, I don't have problems. The only thing is that the one who is accusing me was coming to see me every so often, every four months, every three months, so, for a while he would come every four or five months, without fail he would come. But now he hasn't come because he got transferred and they told him that he could not come near me.

AP: And you're talking about another prisoner?

C: No, it's the one who is accusing me. He is a Commissioner, Henry Osorto. He is the one who accuses me of false things. So for me that is a crime. To accuse someone who is innocent. You see?

And I don't know if you have already looked into my case, if you have been in touch with the other compañeros about my case?

AP: Well I have spoken with a number of people who have visited you on the delegations, I have spoken with V, I believe you know her.

C: Yes, V has come here to see me.

AP: Yes, and she says hello. And COFADEH, and A.

C: And Bertha Oliva, you have seen her?

AP: Yes.

C: It's been a while since I've seen that girl. And how long will you be in Guadalupe?

J: Just tonight. We have an incredibly full program. [We will be showing films to the community]

C: (laughs) Too bad I can't see them.

A: Also, I just remembered that V told me to tell you they were finishing up a Facebook page to help with the solidarity campaign with your case.

C: ok

A: She asked me to mention it to you.

C: V is still in the U.S.?

A: Yes. And now, the way they are treating you is normal, right? That they don't give you a trial or final verdict? And what percent of the people imprisoned here do you think are in the same situation?

C: Right now I don't know about that because I have been isolated for 2 years now, so I don't know much about that. There was just one man who was there beyond his sentence, I heard, but I don't know if he's gone already.

J: And what was the reaction here after what happened in Comayagua, the fire?

C: What a nightmare, because the rules became stricter, more, what do you call it, more seguridad for the prisoner. So immediately firemen came, the ENEE came to inspect everything, the electrical system, the water, they inspected it all here. Right now our most immediate suffering is water. Yesterday I spent 2 or 3 hours up on that mountainside cleaning to try to get the water to flow, because they let me out to help them clean up the water source so it will start running again. So, we cleared the water in 2 hours, so for that two hours these people here were without water. So we let the tanks fill and then they have water. It's hard here, there is a shortage of water.

AP: And is it common for people…I mean, this Osorto accused you of murder...

C: That's right.

AP: And is it common for them to put people accused of such serious crimes in a farm like this one…of low security?

C: Yes, yes. There are people with 80 year, 70 year sentences. But they were saying they were going to transfer us. I don't know.

AP: You mean they should be moved from here?

C: Yes, they should be in a maximum security prison.

J: I get it.

[great visual sequence of guard walking toward C]

J: And how's the food?

C: So the issue with food is that they give us raw food. The give us, the compañeros raw food. Spaghetti, rice, beans, corn flour [maseca], and [?] is what they give us, so, they give it to us raw so that we can cook it. But when I have a problem, like now I don't have a stove because the stove I had burned out. I can't cook, so, I end up buying food out here, or here. Because only if you have seen the food get cooked, can you eat it. My compañeros have told me this, to be careful with the food, and I know they are right. Because honesty, one has to put in their part too. I practically only buy food, but I do it in someone else's name, I send for it to be bought, not for me.

J: And what do you want us to tell the people in Guadalupe? Do you have a message or greeting or something to send?

C: Well. That we must continue the struggle. Not just because prison is ugly, no, it's not that. We must be patient. We have to ask God to help us keep going, and they must continue the struggle, yes. Because if we don't unite amongst ourselves, we will go on being even more poor. And the rich man will be richer. And it should not be like that. Because honestly if the poor person doesn't unite with the, with other poor people, we are ruined. And we, we the campesinos have to get out ahead, to fight for our families. Yes.

Bueno. Que sigamos adelante. No es sólo porque la prisión digan que es feo, no, no es eso. Hay que tener paciencia hay que pedirle a Dios que, seguir adelante, y Que sigan adelante en la lucha, sí. Porque entre nosotros si no nos unimos, seguiremos siendo más pobres. Y el rico más rico. Y no debe de ser así. Porque sinceramente si el pobre no se une al, con los demás pobres, estamos fracasados. Y nosotros, nosotros los campesinos tenemos que salir adelante, luchar por la familia, sí.

J: Because Facussé isn't here in prison.

C: No, he will never go to jail. He can kill, he can steal, he can do whatever he likes. He can buy his own security. So he will never end up in jail. But when one is poor, all they have to do is point and say "It was him! Jail him, take him away!" And maybe it wasn't as they claim. They never investigate properly. Because, look. Here I am, as I told you, just because of a newspaper clipping, because of a photograph that a journalist took of me.

The journalist is from Radio Católica. He took my picture because I was trying to help Arnulfo Guevara. A compañero of ours, a campesino.

No, ese nunca va a ir preso. Ese puede matar, ese puede robar ese puede hacer lo que él quiera. Puede comprar la seguridad para él. Entonces ese nunca cae preso. Sí. Y uno de pobre, sólo que lo señalan así, "ese fue"! "Encarcelalo llevelo para allá." Y tal vez cosas que no eran así. No investigan bien las cosas. Si. Porque vaya. Porque yo. Aquí estoy aquí te digo sólo por un pedazo de prensa, que un periodosta me tomó

El periodista que es de Radio Católica. Me tomó la fotografía y porque yo venía dandole auxilio a Arnulfo Guevara. Un compañero de nosotros, campesino.

...poor people got fired so they wouldn't qualify for benefits (coming out of the coup)

...businessmen with ill-gotten lands have to give them to the campesinos

Facusse is the owner of the Bajo Aguán practically [lists it all]. And the poor campesino just wants a little house, and he has a barbarity…model cities…and where is the poor person? In the street.

And here we are in the prison farm. And the prison farm has needs. It needs transport to take prisoners to the hospital. Instead a prisoner has to pay 500 pesos if they have to go to the hospital. And the food…it's not sufficient. Look at the situation- the market that burned, and the prison that burned [in Comayagua]. Look at what they are doing to the poor! The families of the poor prisoners, they have needs too. I don't see them [looking after the poor].

I don't know. Because for us Hondurans, the laws are backwards. But only for the poor.

J: And what are the things you miss the most from your life before, from Guadalupe?

C: What I miss the most is the companionship that I had, the friendship. And my work. Because I was an ice cream man. And I had lots of little friends, children. Children would run after me, yes. And many friends [my age] who I have there. And my compañeros. Because I have been, well, I think I have been a companion to them and I don't think they have complaints about me. Because I have gotten along well with everyone, yes. My whole family has been loved. Yes. And now that I am here they have come to visit me too. Many compañeros have come here. And they keep coming. The church brings people to see me. They pay for a bus. Last time 85 people came to see me, all at once! They came to see me here.

AP: 85 people?

C: Yes. And I, well...that's where you see our togetherness. When your people love you, yes. When your whole town comes to visit you like that, or if one person comes and you realize you haven't been scorned. That instead you're appreciated. It makes you happy.

It is painful that you have to come and see me in these circumstances. Because look, sometimes here they say to me, "what's up Chele Masacre [light-skinned mass murderer]." Yes, that's what they call me, chele masacre. And I say, excuse me, it is not right to attack me like that, because I, I have not done anything that would make it okay for you to say that to me. Because if I had done it, the name would fit. But I have not done anything that would justify your calling me that.

And sometimes they say to me, "You are the leader of the campesinos, right?"

If I were, I tell them, it would be an honor, I say, because I am of the campesinos. And look [I say], I will show you that we campesinos like to work the land.

There was a lieutenant here named Regalado. He would say to me Chele, let's plant crops...[Chavelo showed the other prisoners how to farm, they made food in the prison, the prison director trusted him, the authorities like him and let him go outside]

The day I had my accident, [the prison officials] went to the hospital to see me, they brought me juice. "Chele, have some juice."

...It's that we campesinos, that's how we are. Look at our lands [in Guadalupe]. First, we went in, I think it was in August the first time. So we cleared the land. And when they saw that it looked nice, that's when the police came. They violently evicted us. Uh huh, six months later, we went back in. But no, they kicked us out again. But we said, we're going back in. We have to fight for what is ours. The people at INA [the National Agricultural Institute] told us, the lands are yours. You have to fight for the land. And with God's will we can get ahead. And well, on May 14th of the year we entered it sounded like Christmas [a reference to all the gunshots, which sounded like Christmas fireworks]. That day was sad, indeed. Many mothers cried. And the poor person left with nothing...Before [our struggles] I didn't even have a place to live, and now I do [in Guadalupe]. Why? Because I organized, I joined a group, and I am coming out ahead. I am originally from Santa Barbara. I grew up here in Colón.