Chile. Amidst widespread mobilizations inside Chilean prisons for the restitution of dignified visits for prisoners, and 10 years since the massacre in the San Miguel Prison, Mónica Caballero, together with two other prisoners from the “Connotación Publica” module, have begun a hunger strike, uniting with the hunger strike already launched in the high-security prison.
Below we share the communique from Mónica, who provides a historical recollection of the different events of resistance and struggle that have marked this prison:
Ten Years Since the Massacre in the San Miguel Prison: Memory and History of Struggle
Without doubt, there are places which store thousands of histories. If the high walls of the prisons could speak of the experiences of those who were (and are) locked up behind them, perhaps they would tell us many histories. They would tell us histories where poor people would be the protagonists, or perhaps they would tell us of the immense yearning for freedom that fills the hearts of those who populate the dungeons and cells.
Unfortunately, the prison walls are silent witnesses to the experiences of the people locked up behind them. Telling what happens in these places is the responsibility of those of us who are kidnapped by power, and those of us who want to end the current system of terror.
The history of prisoners is our history and it cannot be lost. In the prisons, sadness reigns. It is the master and lord. It is present in the vast majority of the lives of those who pass through this grey place. The San Miguel Prison not only holds histories full of sorrow, but also many experiences of resistance and struggle.
In the early 1990’s, the San Miguel Prison locked up several political prisoners. Men of different organizations filled the cells of the towers until their transfer to C.A.S. in 1994—a transfer that the combatants resisted with weapons.
During the search of the cells after the confrontation, the guards found a Browning 7.65mm pistol with seven cartridges in the magazine; an Italian Trident 38 revolver; a Dachmaur pistol with 15 cartridges; a Llama 7.65mm; a brown purse with 13 bullets; another leather purse with 18 more bullets; a NEX brand cell phone and three homemade explosive devices (1).
In the confrontation, several jailers were injured as well as some inmates, including Mauricio Hernández Norambuena. The commander Ramiro relates the story in the following way: “I was wounded in the scuffle. I had never been shot before, and it was in prison where I was shot for the first time” (2).
The same event was told by Ricardo Palma Salamanca in an interview carried out in Paris on January 27th, 2019: “Amidst the confrontation, they shot two people. I was also armed, but was not hit by a bullet.”
The weapons used in the resistance against the transfer to C.A.S. were originally intended for an escape. Mauricio Hernández tells the story as follows: “We were able to get various weapons into the San Miguel Prison, and we designed a really interesting escape plan with help from the outside. People from Mapu-Lautaro and the MIR were involved. The idea was to escape in a large group. Outside there was support from around 15 or 20 combatants. There were sufficient weapons. But that plan failed.”
“The whole operation was organized. Those on the outside were to take a house that had a wall behind the prison, which they were going to explode. We had to go through a gate and exit there. A few days before we carried out the escape, we were transferred to C.A.S. At that point, the weapons we had gotten together for the escape were used to resist the transfer” (3).
This was not the only escape attempt at the San Miguel Prison. In 1997, a group of ex-members of the FPMR attempted to leave the prison through the roof, using a system of ropes and pulleys, in order to reach one of the streets that borders the prison. The failed escape attempt led to a riot, and the prisoners who participated were transferred to the prisons of Colina I and Colina II. Among them was Jorge Saldivia who was killed in 2012 during a bank robbery.
The walls don’t speak, but they hold marks which are sometimes difficult to erase. Many inmates say that in Tower 5 of the San Miguel Prison, where 81 prisoners were burned to death, the stains of the bodies were never completely erased…the inmates say that the marks seem to be of oil, and that no matter how much wax and paint they put on the floors and walls, they are always different from the other parts of the prison.
There are many anecdotes related to ghosts and spirits in Tower 5, beliefs, myths or realities…however the death of the 81 prisoners does not go unnoticed by the inmates of Tower 5, and should not go unnoticed by any prisoner.
Ten years since the massacre in the San Miguel Prison: Active and combative memory!
Until all cages are destroyed!
Mónica Caballero Sepúlveda
(1) Interviews with Ricardo Palma in the book “Retorno desde el punto de fuga” by Tomás García (2) “Un paso al frente” Mauricio Hernández Norambuena (3) “Un paso al frente” Mauricio Hernández Norambuena