There are a lot of conversations going on at once, and unlike previous visits, I don't really get much of chance to talk to either Rigoberto or Domingo. I stay as long as possible -- there is an obligatory "roll call" where the inmates are required to go back to their cells and be counted, after which they can return to see their visitors. At that point male visitors are required to leave and female visitors can stay. I always do -- it's often an opportunity to have more intimate conversation, and I also know that for the prisoners, the hours they have with visitors are precious relief from the monotony of prison life.
But this visit is different in that we know that Rigoberto and Domingo will soon be released. When I give Rigoberto the two books of poetry I purchased for him, he hands them to Juana, his wife, and says "I'll read them when I get out. I don't need to have books in here any longer." At one point he goes to get a bag of clothing and other possessions so that Juana can take it with her, so that there is less to pack when he finally leaves.
Eventually the visiting hours end and Rigoberto escorts me to the exit. The parting is less bittersweet as we both know that we will be seeing each other soon on the outside -- but we don't know how soon.
It turns out to be sooner than I thought. I get back to the guesthouse, and then run out to get a telephone, since it's hard to function in Guatemala without one. One of the only numbers I have is that of Juana Méndez, Rigoberto's wife. So I call her, and she tells me that they have gotten word that Rigoberto and Domingo are going to be released this very evening. I ask her if I can join her -- she says that she is going to the prison with the folks from Acoguate, and so we work out an arrangement for her and the "accompaniers" from Acoguate to pick me up. I start out walking, and then they call me and we arrange to meet at a particular street corner in the Zona 1. I get into the car and we start driving, and everyone is on their cell phones. Juana tells me she is very nervous. I ask her why. She says she doesn't know, but she is. "But we know he is being released," I tell her. "Yes," she says, "I know, but I am still nervous."
We have only gone a few blocks when one of the Acoguate folks turns to the rest of us and says, "They are out already, they are in a microbus and heading to the city." The woman who is driving stops the car and we consult for a few moments about what to do. More phone calls. It turns out that they are already in the city, and heading to the home of Kimy and Nelton, two of the key people behind the alternative news service Prensa Comunitaria. So the driver turns around and drives the few blocks to Kimy and Nelton's home. Juana is full of nervous energy. We all hug as we wait to be buzzed in, and then we are inside and walk through the garage and into the ground floor of their apartment.
The room is crowded with well-wishers -- mostly people who have been part of the support network or who work with Prensa Comunitaria. Everyone wants to get in a hug and a greeting. Francisco Juan, familiarly known as Don Chico Palás, one of the other community and ancestral leaders who had been jailed and who was tried together with Rigoberto and Domingo, is there, along with his wife and his daughter Cesia. Lots and lots of hugs all around.
It's hard to describe what it feels like to see and be with these men outside of the jail. I did know Rigoberto beforehand, but I have really only gotten to know Domingo over the past year and a half through my visits. We always hoped that they would be freed, but at some points I know that I felt as though it could be a long, long time. Even having seen them in the afternoon didn't really prepare me for this.
We all want to stay and talk, and we also know that Domingo and Rigoberto must be exhausted, from the anxiety, from having been separated from their families for over a year. They need time to rest, time to be with their families.
And yet, they are besieged by telephone calls -- from family in the United States (Domingo has several older children by his first marriage who live in the U.S., and Rigoberto has a brother in the states), from supporters, from people in Santa Eulalia. Everyone wants to share in the moment
The travails are not over, we know. Rigoberto was cleared on most of the charges but was ordered to have "remedial measures" (i.e. alternative punishments). The others were pretty much cleared on everything, but the government seems to have had a special interest in criminalizing Rigoberto.
I'll leave you with a few pictures here: Rigoberto on one of numerous phone calls with friends and supporters.
Here one of the independent journalists, Norma "Momis" Sansir (in the center) with Rigoberto's wife Juana Méndez (on the left) and Domingo's wife Juana on the right (sorry, I don't know her last name)