Paraguay: Prison as a Place of Struggle

Carlos Aznarez
[Carmen%2520Villalba%255B3%255D.jpg]This is the second time I have interviewed Cármen Villalba, a communist political prisoner (from the Paraguayan People’s Army) who has been imprisoned for 17 years. On this occasion I wanted to speak to her after having listened to a painful recording made after the Paraguayan regime murdered her two nieces, 11 year old Argentinean girls, María Carmen and Lilian Mariana, who were tortured and later shot by the army indoctrinated by Colombian repressors.

But I also confess that my intention was to discover her views (not the yellow verbiage of the hegemonic media) on why she became a soldier for the cause of communism, paying dearly for the consequences of such a decision in a world furrowed (and debased) by capitalism. From that dark well of destruction of a human being, which are prisons, Cármen Villalba does not complain about her situation and points out that it is similar “to the suffering and hardships of the daily life of the worker, peasant and indigenous, who suffer in an open-air prison. In spite of the sorrows, she remains optimistic that one day, the people will sing of victory.

I would like you to tell us when you became conscious of these issues in your life and how you started your militancy?

When I was 13 years old I began to ask myself why there was a lack of food in my house and in the homes of my friends in the neighborhood. In spite of my mother’s hard work, who did everything, there was still not enough food. Since we were children, we had to go out to work, my mother’s efforts and the work we did were insufficient. My brother Osvaldo became a carpenter when he was 7 years old. The denial of rights, poverty, are elements that induce an insubordinate spirit to investigate, to look for answers, it predisposes to a critical conscience, although it is not the only determining factor to make the jump to the praxis.

As José Saramago says in The Cave, “people are not something that is left in one place and remains there, a person moves, thinks, asks, doubts, investigates, wants to know, and if it is true that, forced by the habit of conformity, they end up subdued, do not believe that submission in all cases is forever”. We are, apart from subjects of action, subjects of thought.

I grew up in a very poor neighborhood in Concepción, on the banks of the Paraguay River, among fishermen and carpenters. The combination of the political and critical environment and poverty propelled me to revolutionary positions, which in time matured and became a way of thinking and living.

In the framework of the revolutionary political subject, the guiding and orienting axis of my first steps were exercised by my older brother, who in the provincial environment was politically critical, and also influenced by some of the French monks, the Little Brothers of Jesus. Teachers of the Theology of Liberation, they embodied with coherence their sermons, lived their faith together with the riverside workers as brick and tile makers. They lived on their salaries, far from the wealthy and cynical environment of the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference and the Catholic hierarchy, who took their vow of poverty only on their lips.

I never forget that beautiful community of monks, they lived in a small house in the working class neighborhood of Concepción, they had no furniture, they used rustic armchairs for visitors, and they sat on some pillows on the floor to teach classes of political formation and reflection, which I attended with religious punctuality. With them I had my first contacts with proletarian science, Marxism-Leninism. Those memorable encounters as a teenager influenced my life and my political thinking forever. I have much gratitude for that supportive environment of critical ideas and for my mother who allowed me to grow up with critical and free thinking, even though she did not agree with it.

The ideology

In the field of militancy in which you have moved, apart from identifying with Marxism-Leninism, Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia is vindicated. What is the reason for this declaration?

In my hometown Concepcion I took my first steps of militancy in the student struggle, in my school, in the creation of a student center. In those spaces I made contact with what would later be my first political experience within a left-wing party. My vehement character and the enthusiasm aroused by the military in a revolutionary organization made me leave the school as soon as I finished my fifth grade exams.

In 1991 I embarked on an unknown journey, migrating to the capital, where a week after my arrival I got a job, settled down in a place, and the second week I was incorporated into the Corriente Patria Libre movement. After a year of political militancy developed in two departments of the interior, the party integrated me into the clandestine cell that I had been training for. Several of us carried the party’s mandate on our backs with conviction and responsibility. We knew that this entailed risks, but that did not lessen our willingness to fight. As we worked to form clandestine structures and resolve the financial problem, the kidnapping of Maria Edith de Debernardi, daughter-in-law of the former strongman and Stroessner’s finance minister, occurred. Hence my prison and sentence of 18 years, which I will serve in full next year.

The struggle became the reason and the meaning of our lives, we renounced our families and our past, the conditions of future struggle demanded surrender, high discipline and compartmentalization. We were all young people who embraced the revolutionary struggle. This, I recreate here as a synthesis of a part of the history of class struggle. In 2001, the ferocious counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie and the State, found a reformist leadership, overwhelmed by events, unwilling to support a revolutionary political project that it articulated and organized, but which ended by capitulating. Then, the disaster and the collapse occurred and the Party was liquidated.

The leadership of the Patria Libre ended up betraying its comrades in prison, hundreds of cadres and the Paraguayan revolutionary struggle. It is necessary to express criticism and self-criticism, we all have limitations, no one is infallible, the resignation of those who will not fight is even admissible, but it is necessary to remove the label of revolutionary, and above all, to stop shooting at their former comrades whom that same leadership formed and then abandoned. There are many stories about the experiences of organizations that have taken up the revolutionary struggle as a method of struggle, in them there are records of the existence of traitors in the middle and lower cadres, but in Paraguay it was the top leadership who betrayed and liquidated the party.

The Patria Libre Party was a political organization (1990/2004), defined as Marxist-Leninist, at that time it was proposed to build a revolutionary political organization of cadres. The political program of Patria Libre was not based on class collaboration, but on class struggle.

The strategic objective of the Party was the seizure of power, to resolve the class contradictions through the revolutionary path, for which it set out to sharpen the contradictions between the oligarchy and the working class. To unmask the continuist plutocracy of the personeros of the dictatorship. These had just changed their faces, from 35 years of dictatorship, responsible for hundreds of disappeared people, the assassination of opponents, tortured, all with impunity, turned into democrats, in an inter-bourgeois agreement on February 2 and 3 to continue for another 35 years.

Patria Libre proposed to combat this violent ideological-political machine. Apart from the political-partisan structure and mass work, it organized clandestine and compartmentalized structures, of which I was a member. We set in motion the construction of clandestine bodies to combine all the political forms of struggle, faithful to one of the principles of Marxism; “Marxism is distinguished from all the primitive forms of socialism since it does not link the movement to a single determined form of struggle. Marxism admits the most diverse forms of struggle; moreover, it does not invent them, but generalizes, organizes and makes conscious the forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which appear by themselves in the course of the movement” (Lenin).

Raise the flag of revolutionary struggle in Paraguay and not settle it on the history of the First Radical Republic of America (1811-1870) whose political ideologist and main manager Dr. José Gastar R. of France, would be to mislead politically. The history of Paraguay was unparalleled in this part of the Rio de Plata. According to Oscar Creydt: “Paraguay was the only country in Latin America that managed to develop the separatist revolution uninterruptedly until a change of structure through independent economic development”, a worthy example to follow on new and superior historical conditions.

Do you think on the same terms as Marshal Francisco Solano López?

I am Lopizta, because of his heroic example, I cannot say that I think the same as López, above all because the historical contexts are different and López was a liberal democrat, I am a communist. But there is no better example in Paraguayan history than the heroes of the homeland, such as Dr. José G. de Francia and Mariscal Francisco S. López. From the triple infamy, Marshal López is inserted in the heart of the people, for his heroism and dedication to the Fatherland, a worthy representative of the revolutionary bourgeoisie in ascent. López gave his life in defense of the homeland, very far from the present reality, where the politicians of the moment give up the homeland in business deals.

Do the ideas of Che and Guevarism also enter into your ideological proposals?

Without a doubt. Che, a Latin American Marxist-Leninist revolutionary intellectual and fighter, his political heresy, the strength of his revolutionary ideas and practice. A profoundly humane and consistent revolutionary, they are very present, and not as an idol to those who wear t-shirts, pins or berets, but, as Fidel said, in the search to configure the model of the new man and woman.

Che reminds us that revolution is not a hollow and high-flown word to be put in one’s mouth, but a new social, economic, and cultural organization that breaks with capitalism and its alienating and dehumanizing model built on the exploitation of man by man. A higher social stage of the future for which all the efforts and the struggle are worthwhile. One of its very powerful principles, “economic socialism without communist morality does not interest me”; invites us to think about being a revolutionary communist.

What do you think of the possibilities of uniting in the future the struggles of the peoples of the Great Homeland?

The unity and organization of the international proletariat beyond the physical frontiers is the only viable road to achieve the resolution of the insurmountable contradictions between capital and labour, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The working class possesses nothing in terms of economic resources, the laws are created to perpetuate its oppression, it does not have powerful hegemonic means of communication which daily contaminate the mind and consciousness of our peoples, breathing and hammering resignation into their minds, announcing the eternal character of the democracy of capital. But, in contrast to all this, the working class and peasants have themselves. Organized and class-conscious, they can constitute themselves into a powerful tsunami capable of shattering the exhausted and decadent capitalist hegemonic power.

Hence the urgent need for unity of the popular countryside, of the progressive and revolutionary forces both in Paraguay and among the peoples of our America. The brutality of the senselessness of capitalism-imperialism and the stateless bourgeoisie, which spare no effort or resources, whether economic or technological, to eliminate all initiatives of struggle of the poor people who are seeking better forms of life and development, where capital is not the predominant axis, when persuasive methods such as religion cease to function, is attacked by blood and fire.

A personal question but related to your involuntary confinement: Can you read in prison? If you had to name some, what are the texts that have most influenced you over the years?

I can read and I try to read as long as possible. In reality, there are several books, their reading is instructive with its invaluable contribution, it is like entering into a dialogue and listening to great thinkers. I like to read the masters of the proletariat: Marx, Engels, Lenin, above all, because it constitutes the spiritual weapon of the working class, it systematized the experience of struggle of the world proletariat, that is why it constitutes the most advanced thought that the human mind could shape, in the philosophical, economic and social sphere. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts 1844, Lenin’s State and Revolution.

The works of the Venezuelan philosopher José Luis Silva Michelena, known as Ludovico Silva, Marx’s scholar, his magnificent work: Plusvalía ideológica, with a lexical beauty typical of a skilled writer. And to study and understand the dialectic method, a powerful and scientific method that helps us think about the natural state of things, in its tensions and contradictions in its links and transitions. It teaches me to understand that the cyclical crises, serious, raised, should not be taken as disasters, but as intrinsic to the class struggle. And these, framed in permanent tensions, sometimes disguised, hidden and sometimes frank and open. These tensions are produced equally in the thought of nature and society.

Since you began to be interested in politics, have you felt that there was a government committed to the popular, that practiced a democracy of inclusion?

It is difficult to propose a “democracy” of inclusion in these 31 years of post-dictatorship, the hegemonic media call it a democratic transition, a transition directed at accommodating the leaders and clans of a corrupt oligarchy. The Paraguayan bourgeoisie and the Colorado Party have not even developed a miniature capitalist economy; this could have resulted in employment possibilities for the poor. But Paraguay has an informal and very unequal economy, the people seek to work in whatever they can find to survive, this implies precarious jobs without a basic minimum wage, without IPS ( the Institute of Social Security) insurance or pension.

The uncertainty, social and labor insecurity in the lives of workers is a constant in these 31 years, where the skillful and artful rhetoric of the democracy of capital of the supposed implementation of a state of rights, does not exist here even as a farce. Paraguay has been left behind, as an impoverished country, led by a corrupt, narrow-minded, fascist, traitorous ruling class. Converted into a producer of raw materials, they did not even manage to industrialize and take advantage of the energy of the existing hydroelectric dams.

Its economy is based on agro-livestock exploitation, extractive agricultural production, land speculation, with an immensely unequal distribution, the monopoly of large estates on the best lands proliferates, these dispossess the peasants of their lands, who are forced to migrate to the city, forming the belts of poverty of the capital and its surroundings. Large estates are plundering the land, contaminating the water courses, capitalist agriculture with the implementation of aerial spraying, poisoning peasant communities by destroying their native crops for consumption, or they are expelled from their lands, asphyxiated by the advance of capitalist agriculture or threatened by armies of private thugs installed in the large estates.

In Paraguay, capitalist agriculture and small family agriculture are converging and competing. The big agro-exporting large estates do not even pay taxes. The bourgeois politicians and the petty bourgeois apply the principle: wealth for us, repression and misery for the working class and poor peasants. In 2013 a law was approved (they say it was modified in 2020; we do not know if it was really modified) and implemented, 5061/13 for the operations of export of agricultural products in their natural state and their derivatives, which stipulates that the return of the fiscal credit will be 50% of the VAT (Value Added Tax).

Did stronism die with the death of the dictator or do you think there has been continuity?

Stronism represented one of the longest dictatorships in our America, a military plutocracy supported by the Partido Colorado-Armed Forces, whose crimes remain unpunished to this day. Hence the definition of continuism, because there was no break in the practice of consistent implementation of systemic corruption. There was no dismantling of its repressive and criminal structure, not even the surnames have changed, the authoritarian and fascist culture of Dantean characters, professionals in commerce, manipulation, the bribes that the Colorado Party likes to say are “great” because of its ability to adapt to new times. Before 1989 there were the parents and grandparents of the current senators, deputies, judicial officials, judges and prosecutors. There is talk of freedom of expression, as long as it does not affect the status quo.

How do you analyze the current moment with the Abdó government at the level of social struggles? Do you feel that there is an awakening of popular rebellion?

I think that the poor Paraguayan people in consonance with what is happening in our America, are beginning to get rid of the ballast of lethargy and inertia. The capitalist crisis on a global level, its exhaustion and decadence, is also being felt by the impoverished and relegated masses in Paraguay. And the government is trying to appease 500 ($71) thousand guaraníes with repression and its pytyvo alms program (in Guaraní, state aid as a form of subsidizing poverty) in this period of pandemic capitalist crisis, this does not appease the hunger of hundreds of impoverished families. The government throws a few coins at a working class confined by Covid, where (according to official figures) some 300,000 workers have been left without work, this must be added to the current 27% poverty. In return, at the same time, at the other pole, the billionaires increased their wealth. The placebo pytyvo does not cure cancer, it momentarily distracts.

It is natural that discontent should increase and become the organization and struggle of the people, where a set of objective conditions converge, pushed by the economic and political crisis of the prevailing social order. The crisis of representation of the bourgeois parties that have been forced into political power and the exhaustion of (bourgeois) democracy, which only reproduces misery and oppression for the great majority, incites the critical consciousness and rebellion of the peasants and poor workers.

What is the role of women in the struggle in Paraguay?

The protagonism of women in the fronts of resistance and struggle in Paraguay has never been absent. In the land occupations fighting against evictions, in the roadblocks for better prices of agricultural products, in the mobilizations for better working conditions or against layoffs, women have always had a leading role. Moreover, in the most combative fronts of struggle, there was never a lack of peasant and worker women. Perhaps the struggle of the proletarian and peasant women was not systematized; hence it appeared to have little relevance and political protagonism. But this is only half the truth.

The prison

Is the prison another place of struggle for you? Tell us about the prison conditions you and your comrades have been suffering for years.

Without a doubt, for a revolutionary his or her existence is inserted in the struggle itself, where he or she is to be found, there is no room for accommodation. It is very difficult for me to assume an indifferent position in the face of the suffering and struggle of my class, regardless of the stigmatization and criminalization that this entails. The prison is also a trench of resistance and struggle for every communist revolutionary. We broke with the old belief that political prisoners should separate themselves from social prisoners, we fought against this separation even though the prison regime imposed long periods of isolation and prohibited us from establishing links with other women prisoners. Because they were unable to sanction us, they sanctioned other women who sought to share with us. The prison is full of women from humble backgrounds who have left children outside, and inside the prison, beyond the cynical gender discourse of the government.

We have a large archive where we have been filing complaints against all kinds of abuse, torture, extortion by officials, confinement to other prisons as a form of discipline, and we will be bringing out a book. In this book, we have recorded 17 years of imprisonment, all the acts of abuse, torture, isolation in the cells where several women died, some burned, others committed suicide or were killed, confinement of women to mixed prisons, as a form of discipline. This discourse against gender violence by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is a cynical one; its prisons are not exempt from these practices, which are never even denounced. The number of times we have done this has always had repressive consequences, sanctions and punishments or some kind of invented legal case. The solidarity of Paraguayan feminist organizations is conspicuous by its absence; indifference echoes within. The poor woman deprived of her liberty is not registered in the feminist schemes.

The massacre of the two girls

Recently the army murdered two Argentinean girls (María Carmen and Lilian Mariana), your nieces, we have heard your testimony with all the pain expressed by this crime. What do you think should be done at the national and international level to try to prevent this atrocity from falling into the well of impunity?

The people have to organize and mobilize as the only way to seek justice, and not to forget the martyrdom of our people. There is no other way, the structures of the Paraguayan bourgeois State are set up to ensure impunity for its henchmen in power; they did this in the time of the dictatorship, they continue to reproduce it today. I have great confidence in the strength and militant mobilization of the popular camp. Many social and political organizations in Argentina and other countries take as their own this flag that bears the name ERAN NIÑAS.

Is this action by the forces of repression commonplace in Paraguay?

To illustrate the repressive action of the military and police forces, it is necessary to resort to the Leninist thesis on the characterization of the State and its repressive bureaucracy. The State as organized violence in the service of the ruling class, is fighting the consequences of a cause generated by its politics of hunger. Then, when poverty and hunger exacerbate the people, repression comes in to bring “order,” that is, to subjugate by violence. Lenin, in his “The State and the Revolution,” describes the real essence of the repressive forces, those who aim their rifles at the poor people to keep them in line, and says what follows: “The standing army and the police are the fundamental instruments of the force of state power” (Engels). The data used here describe the real role of these Paraguayan state forces.

A recent publication by researchers Lis García and Abel Irala, of Base Investigaciones Sociales, refers to 114 murders of landless peasants and leaders, “The murders are part of the strategies of criminalization of the social struggle, in this case the peasant’s, which is accompanied by violent evictions, robberies, burning of belongings, attacks, death threats, harassment, sexual aggression, etc.”.

The report of Chocoke, of Codehupy, has kept a record from 1989-2020, where it states that 124 campesinos were assassinated in the hands of the state repressive forces in collusion with parapolice groups and private thugs installed on the estancias. Yesterday’s slogan was “Peace and Progress with Stroessner. For a prosperous and happy Paraguay, for the permanent validity of peace, social justice and the freedom of the glorious Paraguayan people. Against the subversive political preaching that seeks the division of the Paraguayan family”.

Under what kind of doctrine is the fact that in the face of the murder of two minors a president poses with the murderers and boasts of “an important victory” against the guerrillas subordinated?

What happened with Lilian Mariana and María Carmen, two girls brutally tortured and executed, was not something fortuitous, it fits into the design of “democratic security” orchestrated by the Colombian paramilitary Alvaro Uribe, reproduced in Paraguay over the last 10 years, as well as the “false positives”. The main instructors and advisors of a decade ago in Paraguay are Colombians. But let us look at the reflections of Colombian social psychologist Edgar Barrero Cuéllar (he felt in his own flesh the persecution of the Colombian paramilitary state) in his book La estética de lo atroz, where he reflects on the psychohistory of political violence in Colombia, in which he describes the staging of psychological warfare rituals: “they are the basis of the morality of cynicism and impunity, the torturer knows he is supported by social institutions that endorse and overlap the humiliations, humiliations and tortures he executes on those who are considered “enemies of the fatherland”. But this practice is not new in Paraguay either, it was widely used against opponents by the dictatorship, at that time the authors were parents and grandparents of the current executors.

Barrero Cuéllar dives into the historical literature, finding an analogy with what has been happening in Colombia for 50 years and reproduced in Paraguay is linked to the dictatorial experience, in the text “Ursula” by William Ospina, in 1602, entitled: “Pizarro loose the dogs. In this engraving a group of indigenous people can be seen being torn to pieces by several dogs, trained for this purpose, under the complacent gaze of Spanish soldiers; an example that can be compared to the recent celebrations promoted by the government as “part of the victory” by exhibiting (as part of a public show aimed at promoting expressions of collective joy) the mutilated bodies of the guerrilla chiefs”.

What happened to Lilian and Maria Carmen is a faithful copy. But here they went beyond the Dantean spectacle narrated by Ospina, Lilian Mariana and Maria Carmen were 11 year old girls who were deprived of their lives by the government, they did not die in a military confrontation as the government claims, and their bodies did not fall under the teeth of trained dogs to devour their prey, but rather, the dogs and the teeth were those of homo sapiens with military uniforms and their teeth were knives and clubs. Both girls were detained, tortured and executed. Maria Carmen’s teeth and nails were torn out, her frontal lobe was torn out, she has stab wounds from her ear to the corner of her mouth, two deep parallel cuts of about 10 centimeters on her neck, cuts below her nose almost torn off. Both buttocks have traces of multiple cuts and scratches with a sharp element or knife and traces of burns. Lilian also had her teeth and three fingernails pulled out of her little hand. On the fingers and face she has fractures and burns. All this is independent of the evidence of shooting. The prints on their bodies are clear evidence that both were brutally tortured before being executed. All of these accounts are recorded in photos and film that the family possesses.

The Argentine historian Mariano Damián Montero in the first days following the murder of the girls published an article entitled “Secular Infanticide, yesterday heroic boys and today guerrilla girls“; where he tries to explain the doctrine of the biological and political heir to the dictatorship. He attributes this to physical and psychological consequences of the longest and bloodiest dictatorship, whose influence continues to be felt today, and then states: “looking at recent history serves to understand how society could have chosen as president a biological and ideological continuator of the worst dictatorship that the country suffered, the same one that after the murder of the girls posed with military infanticides”.

Because of all the adversities you have gone through and the pain they imply, have you ever felt that your struggle was losing its meaning?

The revolutionary struggle is a very great thing, one cannot pretend to measure its validity and its reason for being, according to subjective defects and the latter, due to the pain, suffering and adversities that we communists have endured on this path. If I were to disqualify its validity and meaning, it would be merely a personal mistake, a subjective opinion without any importance, it would be the manifestation of a personal limitation without any scientific basis and a vile revolutionary surrender.

The historical evolution happens independently of whether we are conscious of it or not, it is as natural and as objective as the dawn of each morning, with the exception that it requires human intervention. I consider that the suffering I have to bear is similar to the suffering and hardships of the daily life of the worker, peasant and native, who have to suffer in an open-air prison. One cannot speak of freedom when more than two million Paraguayans live in poverty and the uncertainty of not knowing if they will have food for the next day, or if they will be expelled from their land.

A communist revolutionary cannot be pessimistic; she must believe in the poor people, in her class brothers and sisters. She must be confident in the possibility of revolutionary change. Spartacus, the idol of Marx whom he called a worthy representative of the proletariat, if he had allowed himself to be debased by the ferocity of the Roman Empire, would never have struggled.

Translation by Internationalist 360°