By Leonardo Padron
leonardopadron.com -Published May 25, 2014
“Mom, are you there?”, she asked in a small voice. “Yes, I’m here”, said Gloria to her youngest daughter. They were only two meters apart, but could not see anything because they were blindfolded. She was blindfolded with a smelly rag. The daughter with the same sweater that she was wearing the day the army detained her in a street of Rubio, Táchira State. The daughter was relieved. She was in the middle of the horror and knowing she was with her mother made everything less bitter.
On Wednesday, March 19th, as every day of her life since she was unemployed, Gloria Tobon, 47, was attending to the chores at home. Katheriin, her daughter, went to the jewellery store where she earns a salary of Bs 3,500 a month (approximately $64) that barely is enough for their survival and that of Gloria’s three grandsons (the oldest 7 years old, the youngest 4). The mother of these children left with a man from the town. Gloria did not waste time complaining and started to raise her grandchildren. But that’s another story. On Wednesday, the entire Táchira State burned in protests against the national government.
Katheriin (like that, with two “i”) called her at 9:30 am and told her that a gang in motorcycles came to tell them that the business had to close. They would take the opportunity to go to San Cristobal to buy groceries. “In Rubio you cannot find anything. If you knew! It is shameful”, she tells me. Yamilet, another daughter, stayed to take care of the children. “We agreed we’ll meet at the pharmacy. There was a peaceful protest. In fact, some guys were chatting with the guards. A soldier told me not to go to San Cristobal because the situation was dreadful. Then we sat a little while to support the protest”. Gloria talks with a distinctive Andean accent. Her voice has the temperance of the mountains. Only in the very steep cliffs it cracks.
It was not long before a large gang on motorcycles appeared, she tells me. She mentions they were more than twenty, with their respective sidekicks. “They attacked everyone. We ran out and heard dreadful cries. I turned to look and it was a young girl. They were slapping her horribly. They grabbed her by the hair and drag her on the ground with the bike in motion. I went back to defend her”. An intolerable gesture for the gang. One got off the bike and pushed her against the gate of the bus terminal. He kicked Gloria repeatedly. One. Two. Three. Many times. Another one put a gun to her head. The first, enraged, shouted: “Kill her, kill that bitch. Shoot”. Katheriin interceded. It was her mother, for God’s sake. The men then turned the scope of their violence towards the girl who was only 21 years old. “They hit her a lot. I shouted at them to kill me and to let her go”. Mother and daughter in fierce defence of each other. The whole street was chaos. The gang diverted their punches towards other people. Somebody gave them a motorcycle ride to the entrance of Rubio. “We went to my sister’s mother-in-law’s house to calm down”. The worse was just about to happen.
After a long while they came out, intending to go home. But there came a new attack: “Everyone started to run all over. In the middle of the crowd I lost my daughter”. She became desperate. She was shouting her name. She was running from side to side. The National Guards were behaving like a hungry pack. She saw an open gate at a house and went in. The people of the house kicked her out. They surrender her to the officials.”One started to choke me. I couldn’t breathe. Another one threw vinegar in my face while saying: ‘Do you like vinegar, barricader? Open your eyes, pussy’. A woman in uniform gave her another helping of kicks. They threw her into a van, head first. ‘Let’s see if you tell us who is funding you when we put electricity in your body’. She could not understand anything. While they were taking under arrest, she was only thinking of her daughter.
As soon as she entered the room she saw Katheriin, blindfolded, barefooted. But she did not have much time for anything. She was taken to another room: “There they poured water on me. Time after time. Then they put electric shocks in my nails and feet. Very strong electrical shocks. They also did it on my breasts …”
(Gloria stopped talking, the words were stuck in her throat, on the roof of the mouth, in the memory. She started crying and broke down. She apologized to me… “Oh, excuse me, this is very hard”, narrating the facts made her exhume the panic. She took a deep breath. And continued.)
“Then came a woman who scolded the soldiers. She took me to my daughter. They had us handcuffed. And they were taking us from one room to another one by one. They were taking pictures of us. I did not know why. Each time they brought a student as a detainee it was horrible, the screams, what they did to them. My daughter was forced to watch how they were beating a guy, a nurse. Katheriin knew him. They made him kneel and kicked him in the face. They broke his nose and almost half of the teeth. He was bleeding so much that my daughter almost fainted. They mocked her. They said, ‘damned, we’ll take you to a pit, we’ll chop you into pieces’. My daughter was told that she would be transferred to the jail in Santa Ana so a prisoner could rape her. I was crying, I was too scared. I was blindfolded for twelve hours, imagine that. Every few minutes they came by and beat us. One stood on my daughter’s bare, just for amusement. They took our phones and wrote horrible things. When someone called me they said I was already dead”. Gloria stops. Crying makes her stop again. It ties up her sentences. It’s devastating when she is silent.
At midnight the mayor and several councillors from Rubio came to see the state of the detainees. Previously, the guards made sure they un-cuffed them, removed the bandages, clean the bruises, and combed their hair. They dressed the students with any t-shirt available. A councillor, when he saw the condition of the mother and the daughter, did not hesitate to tell a sergeant: “I’ll take the place of these two women”, and was completely ignored. At two in the morning came the CICPC (Crime Investigation Unit). Gloria was given a statement to sign acknowledging that all her rights were respected. She was outraged, she said she would not sign because it was false. Too false. Moreover, Yamilet had already told her, at a moment when she was able to see her, that a guard had uploaded on Facebook a picture of her, blindfolded, surrounded by petrol bombs, mortars, nails and vinegar bottles. The postcard of a terrorist.
There were 22 arrested, two teachers, a photographer, students, people who were not protesting and a disabled person who was shot in the leg which was full of pellets. Then they were carried into a convoy. They had them bend down. Gloria had a foot on her head: “Here is this fucking bitch”, they said. The Bs 2,600 ($47) they were carrying to buy the groceries were taken from them. They were taken to the Guard station of San Antonio del Táchira. There they spent three days under arrest. They never let them see their families. They served them only rice meals. Rice. Rice. Rice. “We were there from Wednesday until Friday, seated, unable to lie down, not showering nor changing clothes. They said they were going to carry out a military trial, imagine that. We did not understand anything. Why? Trial? They wanted to take us to the Barinas Prison “.
“Mom, I’m scared”. “Me too, honey. Let’s pray”.
Finally, thanks to the close follow up by the lawyers of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, they were released. They were issued an injunction. Mother and daughter are due every 24th of each month in the prosecution of San Antonio.
Gloria, even after all that, is irreducible. “I wanted to sue because they violated my rights”. She says that her daughter, terrified, begged her: “Mom, we are very humble, we are poor, who will listen to us?”. The judge gave an even better argument: if she sued everything would be worse.
I ask her if she feels it would be more appropriate to use a pseudonym for this story. “I do not mind that it has my name. I do not want this to happen to any other Venezuelan”. I stay silent. “Sure”, I can barely answer.
She speaks of the consequences. Bruises, internal injuries, swelling in the cervical, shoulder dislocation. And her ability to sleep, that left to who knows where. Some bruises on her face remain. Then she says a phrase that sums up the violence: “I was a liver …. My face was a monster”.
“Are you afraid?”, I ask her. She confesses she is afraid that in one of those times she needs to present herself before the prosecutor’s office, she will be detained. “Would you not rather keep quiet?”, I Insist. “All this has to be known”, she explains. I wrote down her name a second time: Gloria Tobón.
“I studied up to high school seniors. I have worked as a pastry chef, maintenance, things like that. Now I’m persecuted for political reasons, how about that? “. One of her grandsons is persistently crying. When we finished talking I look out the window. On the street I see a banner: “Maduro is the People.”
This is only one of the 160 stories of torture that have never been told on national television.
Original source: Padrón, Leonardo.”Yo era un hígado”. leonardopadron.com. 25 de mayo 2014.
Publishing rights granted to #infoVnzla by Leonardo Padrón