We are all prisoners. Though some of us have avoided the lying on cold floors behind steel bars, we all endure the same isolation. The same disorientation. The uncertainty of what happens next, or if there will be a future at all. We await information longingly, hungrily, desperately. When it comes, we never know if it can be relied on.
“It’s your brother;” The voice on the phone panted. “They’ve caught him.”
“He’s alive?” I gasped.
“Yes. And we know where they’re holding him.”
I collapsed, starving for the sound of those words for so long.
We hadn’t heard from Oscar in weeks. I had been coordinating a publicity effort with friends in Iquiqe, hoping to discover where he’d been taken based on his last whereabouts. As it happened, the Carabineros who apprehended him turned over custody to the army, placing him in the care of none other than Papi’s division in Antofagasta. It was for this reason that he survived the ordeal. Somehow, despite and week spent in solitary confinement, while he awaited charges of conspiracy, he was able to avoid interrogation and torture. When he came before a military magistrate, the case against him fell apart—evidence was circumstantial at best, and felony charges were dropped. With Papi’s help, I’m sure; he was able to obtain a release some days later.
When I came to see him, he looked gaunt; more sallow and grim than I’d last saw him. Over a cigarette and some cerveza, he told me about the people he’d been captured with. It had been a dragnet operation, trying to apprehend the new leaders of the MIR’s splinter organizations by intercepting their communications. Agents had spent months staking out the house where many of Oscar’s friends passed through, and he had been caught when they eventually raided the place. After placing bags over all the detainees’ heads, the Carabineros took them to a holding facility—probably a police station somewhere in the area, where the captives were left in cramped unfurnished cells, unable to sleep due to harsh florescent lighting and constant abuse from a guard named ‘Led Zeppelin.’ A day or so later, they were all turned over to the army; Oscar was separated from the other four prisoners and placed in his own pitch-dark cell. Apparently, they had not intended to round him up with the rest of his acquaintances. The others, some of whom actually had been working with radical left-wing groups, were indeed tortured, he said. He said he heard distant yells and screams, accompanied by disembodied thumping and clangs which occurred sporadically all through the night. After that, it was dead silent except for the occasional pacing guard, the jingle of keys, and the tapping of a billy-club against the bars…until he was brought before the magistrate a week later.
I am simultaneously so relieved and so enraged! Papi was able to ensure safe passage for Oscar, but who presided over the rest of the detainees? I fear he will never admit exactly what happens at that base. Whenever we ask, he hotly denies that anyone in his command engaged in torture, but maybe he’s just saying that to save his own neck. Soon it won’t matter. The facts will come to light and he will be held accountable.