December 26, 2004
Christmas Without Political Prisoners
By Marie Trigona
Family members, human rights groups and other social
organizations organized a camp in front of the Argentina's
presidential house during the week before end of the year holidays
to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners. The camp
was mobilized between December 20-24 with the historic slogan, "not
one political prisoner for Christmas!" The camp included video
showings, music concerts and photo exhibits to reinforce the
presence of the struggle for the release of all political prisoners.
Carmen Infran and Marcela Sanagua are just two of the many
political prisoners in Argentina's jail system - imprisoned for
protesting against discrimination and exploitation. They have been
in prison for nearly five months, without seeing a judge for nearly
four months after their arrest.
Video and political collective Grupo Alavío produced the
documentary Mujer (Woman) as part of the campaign for the release of
two political prisoners, Marcela and Carmen. They were arrested
during a protest in front of the city hall in Buenos Aires, where
demonstrators attacked the building during a protest in July against
a misdemeanors code to make prostitution illegal in certain zones,
lower the minimum age to process minors to 14 and to criminalize
street protest. The women arrested form part of the Association of
Women Prostituting (AMMAR). 15 protestors were arrested in total.
They were captured by police while leaving the protest - military
style - and have been in jail for over five months.
The news piece tells of their lives in prostitution and how the
state profits from prostitution. The video was shown to over 100
people at an event at the Zanon camp for the day against violence
against women and is used in the campaign for the release of
political prisoners. And was shown in the camp for the release of
all political parties.
In the video Mujer, Sonia Sanchez, who forms part of AMMAR,
explains the case of Carmen and Marcela. "They are living in a
situation of abuse, psychological abuse, and that's what worries us
the most, how do we continue after all of this, when they get out,"
said Sonia. Marcela is 28-years-old and is in jail with her one and
a half year old daughter. She has another 8-year-old child waiting
for her. Both Marcela and Carmen are heads of families. Just a week
before the protests in front of city hall, Carmen gave an interview
on a radio program. Carmen gave account of her arrest during the
last military dictatorship 1976-1983. Prostitutes were picked up by
police and given 21-day prison term. Carmen said that she went to
protests today so that she and her compañeras would never have to
live this again.
"All of this I lived since 1978, when there was the military
dictatorship. When we were beaten in the jail cells. When we had
appeals for our release, they would electrocute us, they would raise
the volume of the radios and beat us, electrocuting our breasts and
dragging us through the halls. I lived this in my own flesh and
blood. When they would bring our food in from the outside, the
guards would spit on it. They forced many of us to have sex in the
bathrooms with the guards, a simple trade to permit cigarettes to be
brought into the police department. I served almost 400 -21-day
prison terms - all of my youth a prisoner. So that this never
happens again I protest." - Carmen Ifran.
"They were picked up the best way - military style - living in a
democratic country like Argentina," said Sonia. While the group from
AMMAR were leaving the protest in a bus, Carmen and Marcela got off
to buy cigarettes and a drink at a kiosk. Plain clothes policemen
picked them up and arrested them. They were charged with extortion
and kidnapping. Sonia said that they won't be released until they
have their criminal trial, which won't be set for several months.
Carmen and Marcela will spend Christmas in jail.
Reminiscent of the military dictatorship, President Nestor
Kirchner's "progressive" government wants to create a red zone for
prostitution and make it easier to use the legal system to
criminalize the poor. "This misdemeanors code that we've said no to
is going to raise exploitation and prostitution. They expect us to
do one to five days community work or pay a 300 peso (100 dollar)
fine when the reality is that most of us bring home 20 pesos (less
than 10 dollar) a day. They are trying to implement slavery in
Buenos Aires for women and transvestites working of the streets,
they want us to prostitute for the state for free," said Sonia.
Sonia draws a clear connection between the current government's
attempt to characterize itself as a government that respects human
rights and the contradictory reality of the government's actions.
"They give us condoms on one hand and on the other they treat as
disposable objects. People in prostitution are disposable because
they are bringing in children younger and younger to work in
prostitution to be abused. Do they also want to put children in the
red zones? The biggest pimp that we have as Argentine citizens is
Diana Sacayan, a transvestite and grassroots activist, was
arrested six months ago in the Greater Buenos Aires district of
Matanza. Police charged her for breaking the windows of a patrol
car. She's seen a judge, but has been imprisoned in a police
precinct without standing trail for over six months. It is clear
that Diana was targeted because of her organizing. She has reported
police officers for brutality. In addition, she has taken legal
action for abuses inside a brothel, where the local police profit
from women and transvestites working as sex workers. She will also
spend Christmas inside a jail.
In Argentina there are dozens political prisoners, hundreds with
arrest warrants and 4,000 with criminal charges for participating in
social protests. Argentina hasn't held this many political prisoners
since the military dictatorship, never in the history of Argentina's
"return to democracy." In most of the cases, these prisoners are
held for months without a bond, when with the charges that the
courts have given they should be able to be released on bond.
In October and November there were over 100 people in jail for
protesting, but some were slowly released because charges against
them were legally fragile and groups organized for their release.
Since Kirchner took office there have been at least 229 cases of
"happy trigger," or police officers or security forces killing while
on duty. 30 percent of these deaths occurred inside prisons or
police precincts, where torture and abuse are part of the justice
It's painful to know that for women like Carmen history repeats
itself. After so many years of struggling so that cases of political
detentions and gender abuse cease to occur, she falls in the hands
of the police, the killers of capitalism.
Militants hang a 30 meter banner that reads "Christmas without
political prisoners" to pressure the government to release of all
political prisoners. Activists in Argentina for decades have carried
this slogan - from the anarchists and the turn of the century, to
guerrillas in the 70's, to unemployed workers and transvestites
today - camping out in front of different government buildings
around the holidays. Sometimes they were repressed violently.
Meanwhile today, hundreds of police stand behind the presidential
house waiting for an order to evict the camp from the Plaza de Mayo.
The struggle for political prisoners is universal. Fascist and
progressive states alike must take fugitives to control protests to
prove that they are strong governments. Without activists struggling
in solidarity for political prisoners, they would never be released.
As activists we should learn the lesson to not put trust in
governments, democratic or not.
For the release of all political prisoners!