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"One Has to Keep Struggling" - Political Prisoner Alberto Patishtán

Hermann Bellinghausen
Los Llanos, Chiapas, July 7, 2013
From the yard of Prison Number Five in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the Tzotzil teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez declares, ''I will not ask pardon from the government. I have nothing to ask forgiveness for."  Patishtán's declaration is his response to the rumours that his appeal might be rejected by the federal appellate court in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. In that event, the federal government could pardon the Tzotzil teacher, who has served thirteen years of a 60-year sentence based on false charges and scapegoating by four successive governments.
''I am familiar with several prisons, and it can be said that fifty per cent of prisoners are innocent,'' he says. ''I have had the opportunity to speak with many--some who definitely confess that they did it; others who deny the crime, although they didn't convince me. But surely about half are in jail because of a bad judicial decision and bad work by the Public Ministry [investigative police; prosecutors]. Many haven't even been convicted.''

For the first time in a long time, there are few people at the Sunday visit in the corner of the prison yard, which is where for years the adherents of the Sexta have come together around their prisoners. Last Thursday, nine, almost all of them, were released. Although there were visitors throughout the morning, today it feels that there are none, not even their families.
In the afternoon, only Patishtán's daughter, Gabriela, came. On May 29, the birth of her daughter made the teacher a grandfather, and she brought her baby, Génesis Itzae, wrapped in a beautiful rebozo from Oxchuc, where her partner--who accompanied her--is from. And with them is Alejandro Díaz Sántiz, the only supporter of the Voice of Amate who remains inside.

Patishtán did not hide his joy at the absence of his companions. An understandable paradox. "It was a surprise to everyone. Since they were told they were going to leave, the comrades could not sleep for their nerves,'' laughs the Tzotzil teacher, whose own liberation remains a growing international demand for legitimacy.

Patishtán recalls the recent visit of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, last Thursday, in order to free the other nine. "[The governor] came back to assure me that he supports my release. That he has spoken with the federal government. That everything possible is being done.'' He also states that he demanded that the Governor ''do everything'' for the release of Díaz Sántiz (his case is in the courts of Veracruz); that they transfer to this prison are two prisoners, Miguel Demeza Jiménez and Antonio Estrada Estrada, who are adherents of the Sexta from San Sebastián, ''but principally that they be given their freedom''. 

The governor "gave instructions to the prosecutor, Raciel López Salazar, to immediately review the records of the falsely accused prisoners Miguel Demeza Jiménez and Antonio Estrada Estrada," and to establish communication with the court of the state of Veracruz to resolve the case of Díaz Sántiz.

When asked if he believes those promises, Patishtán replies: ''I believe that the government is very obliged to comply, but I will not be convinced until I'm out of here.'' He emphasizes: ''One has to keep struggling.'' Listening to him brings the inevitable association to The Black Keys and their song So he won't break (''You know what the difference is. / You know everything he thinks. / It is love, so this is not going to break'').

Professor Patishtán admits: ''Now I've learned to see my comrades leave, and it is always a joy.'' He relates that now the other prisoners constantly approach him asking that ''I put them on the list", and he tells them that it is not a matter of signing up. It is a struggle that requires commitment and awareness. And they must convince others of their innocence of the crimes attributed to them. ''As they see that we achieve victories, many want them. Others who started working with us and gave up--the struggle is difficult--now they are very sorry. I tell them that if they are really ready, they must learn to organize themselves.''

Translation by Jane Brundage

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