Mexican Political Prisoners Gloria Arenas and Jacobo Silva Released
Gloria Arenas Agís was released from prison around 7:30PM on October 28, ten years after Mexican federal agents abducted, tortured, and then—after several days of being held incommunicado—arrested her and her husband Jacobo Silva Nogales on charges ranging from terrorism and homicide to rebellion.
One day later, on October 29, Jacobo Silva was released from federal prison in the state of Nayarit, to where he had been recently transferred after nine and a half years inside Mexico’s highest security prison, known as the Altiplano.
Arenas and Silva are the co-founders of the ERPI (the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army, or Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo Insurgente), a guerrilla movement based in Mexico’s impoverished Guerrero State, with roots going back to the Lucio Cabañas guerrilla up-rising of 1967-1974.
Mexico State prison officials released Arenas without advanced notice or asking her to sign a single document.
"I did not know that I was going to be released," Arenas told a reporter from La Jornada upon leaving the Mexico State prison in Chiconautla, "all of a sudden they just told me, get your things and leave."
Minutes later she was standing outside the prison, alone, with two plastic bags. Elizabeth Silva, Jacobo Silva’s sister, arrived first and took Arenas to her house where she was met by scores of family members and supporters.
Silva conducted both his and Arenas’s legal defense from within maximum-security prison for years, submitting a series of successful appeals that should have won their release as early as 2007.
In 1999, Silva and Arenas pleaded guilty to the charge of rebellion, though they denied charges of terrorism and homicide for an armed attack on an army convoy in Guerrero in 1996. At that time in Mexican law, the crime of rebellion carried a five-year prison sentence. A judge initially gave Arenas and Silva a sentence of over forty years for multiple counts of homicide and rebellion.
But Mexican law states that anyone guilty of rebellion shall not be charged with additional crimes against the state that may have been committed in the act of rebellion, such as the deaths of soldiers or the destruction of army vehicles that occur during battles. The judge had justified the long sentence for the crime of homicide, not rebellion.
Arenas and Silva both denied having participated in the armed attack of which they were accused, though they fully acknowledge belonging to the ERPI guerrilla movement. When the judge asked Silva his profession in 1999, he responded: "Guerrillero."
Silva’s main appeal led the judge to drop the charges of homicide, upholding the charges of rebellion and property damages. Both Silva and Arenas should have been released immediately—having served more than the five-year sentence for rebellion by that time—but were not. Years after their trial, the Mexican legislature changed the sentence for rebellion from five to fourteen years. Silva appealed again and won. Again they should have been released, but a judge from another jurisdiction said that Arenas and Silva were subject to another five-year sentence on conspiracy charges.
Silva filed yet another appeal, though its resolution had not yet been announced when Arenas was suddenly told to gather her things and leave.
Arenas said that she would start working immediately with existing social movements and the Other Campaign to help free all the political prisoners in Mexico.
"I was released due to the movement and social struggles," Arenas told La Jornada. "And there are still hundreds of compañeros who need to be freed."
For more information about Gloria Arenas and the history of the ERPI, please see the chapter-length profile of her in Mexico Unconquered (City Lights, 2009). For more information about the ERPI today, please see the Z Magazine article "The Hidden Side of Mexico’s Drug War."
A Poem by Gloria Arenas Agís in Spanish and English
Por Gloria Arenas Agís
La cárcel ladrona
roba mi libertad
pero la libertad es inmensa
sólo le puede arrancar trozos...
Las rejas atajan
niegan la caricia
la presencia añorada
pero no pueden evitar el amor.
Las rejas aíslan
rodean de silencio
y de ausencia
pero no pueden callar la voz.
Las rejas son frías
congelan el alma
humedecen los ojos
pero no pueden apagar el fuego.
No pueden impedir que yo
siga siendo yo
y que tú sigas siendo tú
By Gloria Arenas Agís
robs my liberty
but liberty is immense
prison can only rip off shreds of it
The bars interrupt
deny the touching
the longed-for presence
but they cannot obstruct love.
The bars isolate
surround with silence
and with absence
but they cannot still voice
The bars are cold
harden the soul
wet the eyes
but they cannot extinguish fire.
They cannot impede that I
continue to be myself
and that you are still you