“I Have Been Free From Day One:” Patishtán
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
**A prisoner since 2000, he demands that his innocence is admitted
“Inside myself I have been free from day one. They tortured me psychologically, threatened me, but I never fell for the game of accepting blame.” It is his security that always makes professor Alberto Patishtán seem happy. “It is very sad that the judges did not admit my innocence, like that’s not important to them. They let themselves govern by obscurity,” he says. He radiates the clarity and interior peace of the good warrior.
“I am aware that the deputies and senators are looking for some solution to my case. Independently of what they want or are able to do, what interests me is that it be made clear that I am innocent. They have to give me freedom and honor,” he maintains on the patio of a house in Mexico City, where he stays since some weeks ago while he receives radiation treatments for the (benign) pituitary tumor he suffers, for which he was operated on last year, and which has grown again. He does not seem alarmed by that or by anything.
“I don’t know if there is a countersign for holding me prisoner,” he expresses in and extensive interview with La Jornada. “There is a time that it seems so. They do everything in reverse. It seems that they do not reflect, nor are they flexible. At times I think that the authorities are the ones that ought to be in prison, and we should be outside, because they don’t judge like they should.”
After 13 years behind bars, Patishtán is no longer an unknown. Is he a political prisoner, a prisoner of conscience, emblematic? He is that and more. Unjustly condemned to 60 years, he has learned a lot about the justice system and the human condition. He has become a defender of the rights of the prison population, starting with the simple fact of not letting themselves be conquered: “I keep the consciousness that I have.”
“Perhaps the authority thinks that it’s going to have an enemy upon releasing me. If it were convenient for the Judicial Power of the Federation, they would have set me free, but there is money to be made. When there is money, they will set anyone free. They know that I am innocent, but without money there is no justice,” he insists. “I have seen many cases where the prisoners talk and admit that they are guilty, but they have influence, thus they talk to you as an equal. The person that has done the crime tells you. And they have gone free. I realize that we are within that system.”
The release of the Acteal paramilitaries
Take the case of the paramilitaries that were prisoners because of the Acteal massacre. “I knew them all in El Amate, and some would tell you: ‘yes I participated,’ and others that denied it admitted that they were from the same group, that they cooperated in all that, that they acted. It surprised me that they would leave and not me. To what is that due?” And he adds: “I am not the only one, I know other cases of evident injustice.” He has seen some of them leave. Others remain there.
He has his conclusions: “Justice must be on top of everything else; truth on top of any lie. And as my conscience is clean, I stay calm, secure about what I’m going to do. That gives me the energy to go on, and I can help those that have been in the same situation,” adds the Tzotzil teacher, who was rewarded in 2010 by Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, for his labor in defense of the human rights of indigenous prisoners in Chiapas with the distinction JTatic Samuel JCanan Lum.
The government’s commissioner for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, Jaime Martínez Veloz, visited him months ago. “He told me that he was worried because he knows that I am innocent,” he says. “I understood it as a yes, as a no from the government. I told him not to worry, to better occupy himself.”
He remembers the early days of his incarceration. He recognizes that “when they grabbed me, the most painful thing to think about is the injustice; you are left with tantrums from that, until you are full of rancor, of hate. For me that was another prison. It doesn’t let you advance. When I got close to the things of God, I began to forgive. Before, I wasn’t into religion as much, but thanks to spirituality I left that prison. It took me a few years. The manual work of artesanía also helped, it took away those thoughts. Now I have dedicated myself to transmitting it to other prisoners.”
He does not attribute his transformation to anything particularly religious. “In prison, people from the Church always attend, and they approach you, and you talk to them, but I was to realize things. I studied the social sciences and I reached the sixth semester at the University of Grijalva Valley, in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Afterwards I was a teacher in my hometown of El Bosque. My studies have also helped me to approach the compañeros and free them from that prison that is the worst. I have helped those that approach. Or I approach them, to center them, to take the tantrum away from them. There are people that don’t eat; they have bitter saliva, as we say. It has fallen to me to free them from that. When that liberation arrives, you become more active.”
The Tzotzil professor says that he has never stopped struggling for his freedom, and that while doing it he participates in the struggles of the other prisoners that are there unjustly. As adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, dozens of Chiapas prisoners have maintained their innocence and achieved their freedom. Some were support bases of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.
Spirituality, more than religion (Catholic in his case), has been a weapon for resisting. “Some of the compañeros in solidarity with The Voice of El Amate (La Voz del Amate) were Evangelicals. They told me about their experiences; that their pastors see the situation another way. They ask that you conform inside the prison. These compañeros did not see the Scriptures as concrete help for confronting authority. The pastors do not want to have authority as their enemy. They gain from it, my compañeros used to say. ‘Those religious men are not saved nor are they free because they don’t do anything for us. They want us to be resigned, which they told me is the will of God.”
In his case there was no special priest that would counsel him. “Prison teaches you to orient yourself; the same authorities with their abuses give you the tools for resisting. An injustice gives you strength; nothing else remains. The injustices impede you from being at peace with yourself; they don’t let you be free. You have to find that peace to continue forward.”
Always a critic of the penal system that he has suffered, he relates: “We are fighting for more public defenders. In the Cereso where I am there is only one. We speak four languages in there and there are more than 500 prisoners, almost all indigenous, and the public defender is not familiar with their languages. There is a little Tzeltal woman, the director himself commented to me, who has been in process for 10 years. Another has 12, without a lawyer. Imagine that they turn out to be innocent, or that their sentence is six years. Who is going to make reparations for the years that they lost?”
He comments about his “effect” on other prisoners. Now, relatives of indigenous Chiapas prisoners seek him out, “people that I don’t know if I met, who are suffering bad treatment” in Islas Marías (where the former Chiapas Secretary of Government, Noé Castañón León, wanted to send him although he had to accept having him in a federal prison in Guaymas, Sinaloa, for several months, until Patishtán achieved his return to San Cristóbal de las Casas).
About his state of health he expresses: “The news that tumor remains there isn’t going to scare me either. It seems that I am stable with treatment. The tumor grows but it doesn’t shake me. There are moments that it worries me, but of little importance.” His joys? “Having one more day to laugh. My children Héctor (present during the conversation) and Gabriela (in Chiapas, taking care of her baby Genesis, who made the professor a grandfather) have helped me, and they have learned with the struggle.”
“Prison is going to get worse”
He remembers the not so distant days in which The Voice of El Amate and Those in Solidarity with The Voice of El Amate were resisting in the San Cristóbal and Cintalapa prisons. Only Alejandro Díaz Sántiz and he remain prisoners. “They used to worry when their names didn’t appear in the newspaper, or theirs appeared and not mine. Don’t be afraid, he would tell them. Don’t you know that where I am you are, and where you are I am, and that it falls to all of us to give a hand to the others? Alejandro (with 15 years in prison) was the most quiet, but he has learned. He felt betrayed. We all do. When the other nine left he said: ‘watch out! Patishtán needs a secretary.’ And right now he is representing the complaints of the prisoners that approach him.”
The protests of the prisoners of the Sixth Declaration provided improvements at prison number five in San Cristóbal: “They respect the visits more. In April we got an agreement with a private clinic so that consultations would be held with doctors and dentists every 15 days. They give medical attention and patent medicines. The women, some 50 of them, are examined with a gynecologist. On May 10, the prison workers wanted to celebrate Mothers Day, and we got a mariachi to come. We got firewood for the women’s kitchen from the wooden vegetable crates. There goes Alejandro to start it and deliver it to the compañeras. Recently, a beautiful mural was painted on the patio. Some solidarity visitors were permitted to introduce paint and paint brushes.”
The other prisoners get worried every time that he leaves for the doctor. “Are you going away now? No, I’m just going to a consultation. What about that suitcase? Well, it’s just a little clothes. It’s that if you go away, Patishtán, and it is no longer seen that we are struggling, the prison is going to get worse.”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Thursday, October 24, 2013