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One year: a lifetime in 365 days

The kidnapping of my daughter Tamara and my granddaughter's questions every night: my pain, rage, impotence, anguish, and admiration

The regime has not allowed visits and communication between the political prisoner and her six-year-old daughter for more than 15 months

Josefina Vijil

12 de junio 2022


Our life, the life of my family, has not been conventional. Neither calm nor monotonous. There have been very happy moments, moments of satisfaction, as well as moments of pain and moments of deep anguish and uncertainty. But nothing compares to what we have experienced over these last 365 days. Five feelings stand out in this whirlpool of experiences and emotions: pain, rage, impotence, anguish and admiration.

It was eight o'clock at night on Saturday, June 12, 2021. They had just had dinner and the five-year-old girl asked her mother for permission to go watch television. The little girl had just gotten up from the table when the doorbell rang. Tamara saw in the cameras many vans with police officers dressed in black and with numerous weapons of war. She hurried to open the door and go outside, without putting up any resistance, to avoid any violence and to protect the safety of her daughter. Her effort was in vain. At the very moment she was opening the door, the police kicked it down and stormed the house with ladders, breaking the electric fence and cutting the internet cables.

Tamara’s daughter was inside. She looked up to see her house invaded by police. Even though by now she was used to seeing them surrounding the house or detaining their car when it went in and out, she was frightened by seeing them inside her home, inside her space —a place that should represent security, peace and happiness for every child. She was particularly frightened because she couldn’t see her mother. Since that day, every night she asks when she will see her mother again, she misses the lullabies and stories that lulled her to sleep each night.

At that same moment, my phone rang. I was outside the country with my youngest daughter. Nothing would be the same in my life from that moment on. It was my sister Ana Margarita calling to tell me that they were ransacking Tamara’s house. Through the cámaras we could see how dozens of dark and sinister shadows invaded our home. We couldn’t see what they were doing to Tamara. We only found out afterwards, when she said during her trial: “Despite not putting up any resistance, the day I was detained I was punched in the face several times until I bled. As soon as I arrived at El Chipote, I was taken to the infirmary.”

Baby book as love letter

My main concern at that moment —the concern that overtook all the other horrors— was that my 5-year old granddaughter was inside. What was she experiencing? What were they doing to her? My daughter Ana Lucía reacted quickly. She went to the house and asked to be able to take her niece. She was able to do so with the help of a friend who drove the car and to whom I will never, in all the years of life that I have left, be able to repay her courage and solidarity.

During the home invasion, all the videos of my daughters’ childhoods were taken. Among the videos was one that has the images of my youngest daughter’s birth, with the trembling hand of my husband —who died 5 years ago— cutting her umbilical cord. There were also the CDs that had the voices of my daughters when they were children and teens as we discovered the world together; the session in which I defended my doctoral dissertation; the music that Tamara had collected during her whole life. Hundreds of recorded minutes that make up our family history. Moments that we’ll never be able to recapture completely without these records. And in among this huge mountain of memories, there was the baby book that Tamara has demanded over and over again be given back, in which she wrote her daughter’s life as a love letter to her, something deeply important for their lives and for all of ours as their family.

For 80 days we didn’t know anything about Tamara. She, along with my sister Ana Margarita who was violently taken prisoner the next day, and all the people locked up in El Chipote, were declared by Amnesty International as “disappeared” because their location was officially unknown. After that report came out, we were allowed a visit of half an hour. After that visit, we’ve only had 8 visits of two hours each. Tamara’s daughter has never been permitted to visit. Nor has Tamara been permitted to receive a photo, a drawing, or a call. Nothing that might soothe Tamara’s loneliness. In every visit, she is thinner and thinner. She’s lost almost 50 pounds, so much weight that her body looks distorted. Despite all this, nothing can take away her sweetness, her lucidity, her firmness, her strength and her dignity.

Between the visits, we don’t know anything. Is she sick? Are they giving her the nutritional beverages we’re sending every day? When will we be able to see her again?

Pain runs through my body

In daily life, my granddaughter had her 6th birthday, she has lost two teeth, she knows 17 letters of the alphabet because she likes to learn them, she loves to transcribe, count to one hundred and even higher, go to school, do gymnastics and swim. We continue to do what her mother started: nurturing her love of reading. She knows authors by name and knows which ones she likes best. She asks about her mother every day. She tries to imagine what the place is like where they’re holding her and to understand why they don’t let her and her mother communicate or hug each other. And often she has trouble breathing. Sometimes this difficulty translates into muscle spasms and teeth grinding. And she asks us: “What country doesn’t have any police? I want to live there when mommy comes back.”

Pain runs through my body every day. Rage and impotence in the face of so much injustice have become my daily companions. The anguish has become a physical sensation. But in the midst of all this horror, another feeling comes to my spirit: admiration.

I am so admiring of the grandeur of Tamara, Ana Margarita, Dora María, Suyen, Violeta, María, Evelyn and all the others who have been resisting as political prisoners for three, four and even ten years. It moves me that Tamara and Ana Margarita, even after suffering so much abuse, continue to preserve their sweetness and transparency, that they can continue analyzing without bitterness, that they are capable of so much love. Because as Luis Enrique Mejía says in one of his songs: "...They have wanted to cut their wings but they are butterflies that fly with the imagination because the heart and principles have no cages...."

Despite so much uncertainty about the present and the future, I am clear that the jail they are kept in is designed to harm them: Every moment is used to make them suffer and the goal is to destroy them as human beings, annul their personality and assure that the imprint of the trauma they have suffered incapacitates them. I am certain that this strategy will not succeed, and that their souls will emerge unconquered, as Nelson Mandela's favorite poem in prison says:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Every day I repeat the poem “The Mourner” by Óscar Hahn, because these days have to pass, as everything does in life:

These days will pass
As all bad days in life pass
Winds that blast you will still
and your open wound will heal

The wandering soul will come back home
What was lost yesterday will turn up
The sun will be conceived unstained
and will rise within you again

«How could I», you'll say, facing the sea,
«sunk, compassless, and lost on my trip,
arrive, sails torn, at my home quay?»

And a voice will say: «You don't know why?
The wind that smashed your ships
is the one that makes the seagulls fly»

In the meantime, every day we think and dream about what the reunion will be like and how we will tell each other all the lives we have lived in these terrible 365 days. We are waiting for you, Tami. Our arms are ready for an infinite hug!

*This article was originally published in Confidencial and traslated by our staff



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Josefina Vijil

Josefina Vijil