The 2,700 days that Juanita Alonzo survived without knowing Spanish in a Tamaulipas prison | The USA Print

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Juanita Alonzo, after being released, along with her neighbors in Guatemala City, on May 22, 2022.
Juanita Alonzo, after being released, along with her neighbors in Guatemala City, on May 22, 2022.LUIS ECHEVERRIA (REUTERS)

The last thing Juana Alonzo ate inside the Reynosa Sanctions Execution Center was some tamales. She was accompanied by a friend and they had just told her that she was leaving prison that day after almost eight years in prison for a crime she did not commit. The first meal between the bars was far away: a sandwich wrapped in plastic that the ministerial policemen threw at her after arresting her on November 10, 2014. “They threw it at me as if it were a dog, with rabies,” says the young woman in an interview by videoconference with EL PAÍS already accompanied by her family in San Mateo Ixitán, an indigenous community in Guatemala near the border with Mexico. Alonzo’s return home has taken longer than expected, but the flowers and the marimba announce it: this is a migrant story with a happy ending, and there aren’t that many.

He was 26 years old when he left San Mateo. He was going to Atlanta, Georgia, United States, he was chasing what everyone is chasing: the American dream, the dollars, more food for his family. She traveled with twenty other people the 1,800 kilometers to Reynosa. She exhausted and with a strong headache she could not make the last jump with the others. They left her waiting in a house a dozen kilometers from the border. There was also a woman from El Salvador who asked Juanita for her cell phone, she made a call to 911 and warned the authorities that she was kidnapped. The surroundings of the house were filled with police. “They had their mask, their helmet, they arrived well armed, well with their pistols, they grabbed me, threatened me, beat me, tortured me,” recalls Juanita. “They hit me on the head, kicked my spines and everything. I didn’t feel anything anymore.”

“I did not understand what was happening, because when they caught me I did not have a translator with me, nor did I have the consulate,” she explains and summarizes, resigned: “From the beginning it was a big mistake with me.” Juanita says that what she speaks beautifully is chuj, a dialect of the Mayan family, that she did not know a word of Spanish, even less the ones that she put in the self-incriminating statement of kidnapping in which she stamped her signature. “You realize that they forced me to sign all the papers. They violated my rights there,” she says now in a broken and eloquent Spanish, plagued by the expressions that she learned in prison.

He learned the language “little by little with the girls”. When Alonzo found herself alone in the Reynosa prison, her fellow inmates became a survival guide. They lent her pants and shirts, they paid her to wash their clothes, they taught her to knit. “They gave me a lot of encouragement. ‘Get excited, Juanita’, the girls told me. I cried almost every day, if not in the morning, in the afternoon or at night, I missed my family a lot, they were suffering for me. All the compañeras are crying there, name (no, male), it is very difficult to live in that prison, it is not easy, ”says the young woman, now 33 years old. In the days of greatest desperation, her companions told her that perhaps the injustice was a fate: “My countrymen were being killed, kidnapped, on the road.”

These weeks, Juanita was concentrating on making a large bag – which she sells for 600 pesos (about 30 dollars) – when the girls told her running: she was going to go free, they were sure, the president had said it, her name was on the news. On May 18, Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked the Tamaulipas Prosecutor for Alonzo’s immediate release. The president’s demand was added to the UN recommendation, which in September had given six months to release Juanita, and eight had already passed. Governor Francisco García de Vaca also joined the chain. And so, after seven years, six months and 12 days without any authority caring about her, Alonzo was called by the secretary of the court to the parlor: “Juanita, congratulations darlingYou’re going to go free.” “If it’s true, I want to see my freedom sheet,” she replied suspiciously after years of disappointment. “And she took out the leaf, and aaaay I’m going free. I turned to see the guards and they were crying and then they hugged me: ‘I’m very happy darling, I know that you are innocent, thank God you are now free”, he remembers now. “Oh, I’m very excited, very happy because they already gave me my freedom,” she says and her voice sings.

In the first few minutes of this interview, Alonzo utters free 17 times and still doesn’t believe it. He remembers precisely the time they told him — 3:45 p.m. on May 21 — and he ran out to tell the girls, and how quickly he packed up seven years of life, because inside the prison he left everything. “Realize that it was very fast, do what you want with things, give them away, I don’t want to know anything anymore, I’m free,” he says laughing. Outside, staff from the Guatemalan consulate, her lawyers and human rights organizations were waiting for her. And Alonzo exclaims to say that he did not eat or sleep in the hotel that first night: “Oh, I’m not even hungry, I’m very excited, oh, I’m not even sleepy, I’m very excited.” “Besides”, he confides, “I was very scared, I don’t know how to travel with that plane”.

He arrived in San Mateo after two planes and two days on the road. She was received with honors from her in her town and with hugs from her family, her sick mother. Now, between the heavy rains and the power outages, she manages to say that she wants reparation for the damage from her for the years that were stolen from her, for the pain they caused her. “That’s the most important thing, but I’m free and I’m very happy right now.”

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