Beloved Friend (Amado amigo)

Author:
Sergio Vesely
Testimony by:
Sergio Vesely

This song, written in my cell at the Puchuncaví Prison Camp, speaks to a friend and fellow prisoner; it could be any one of the thousands behind bars.

The lyrics contain metaphors that might be difficult to understand today because they constitute a cryptic language prisoners used to communicate with each other. Here are a few explanations:

Breadcrumbs (migas de pan): These were the raw material we used in the interrogation centres for sculpting little figurines. This activity was important to the prisoners' minds occupied. In situations of extreme solitary confinement, when all contact with the outside world had been cut off, prisoners used these figurines to build a tiny bridge of communication with their fellow prisoners. A person in solitary confinement would place the figurine where others could see it, leaving leave a sign life.

Doves on 100-peso coins (palomas en monedas de cien): Metal handicrafts was very popular in the jails and concentration camps, especially, the production of medallions and rings. The main raw materials for this work consisted of coins, spoons, and all sorts of metal containers. With a hammer or similar tool, the craftsmen pounded the object, transforming it into a thin metal disc. Finally, these were cut and hammered until obtaining the desired shape. On the medallions we would etch the peace symbol: Picasso's dove.

Wire on cardboard (alambre en cartulina): Just as some craftsmen worked in metal, other prisoners sketched and painted. This song’s verse refers to a recurrent theme in their drawings: the ever-present barbed wire.

Paper boat (barco de papel): We had a habit of wishing farewell to our comrades who were released or about to be transferred to other prisons. People who were not fortunate enough to be included in the group would gather around those who were about to leave, a ritual that sometimes included singing Julio Numhausser’s beautiful song “El barco de papel”. The first verse goes like this: “Se va el barco de papel por el mar de la esperanza, llevando un montón de sueños y los niños no lo alcanzan. Se va, se va y no volverá. Se va, se va a la libertad. (The paper boat sails to a sea of hope, carrying dreams and children can’t reach it. There it goes, there it goes, and it will never return. There it goes, there it goes to freedom.”).

Aimless strolls (caminatas sin destino): Nothing was more characteristic of life in the detention camps and jails than people who strolled alone or with another person in the corridors, halls, prison yard or in a cell. No observer could suppress a smirk upon watching the incongruous bustle to nowhere, changing direction upon nearing a wall or a barbed wire fence. This ritual encouraged interpersonal relationships. We didn't go to the movies with a friend. Instead we would take an aimless stroll to nowhere, which was also the safest “place” for sharing information and to unleash the imagination without the risk of being overheard by some snoop.

Inside language (lenguaje amurallado): Quickly we realised that to circumvent the jailers’ censorship and to avoid punishment, we had to erase certain well-known expressions from our usual vocabulary and replace them with others, not yet understood by the oppressors. This adaptation process to the new conditions was set in motion once we won the right to organise our lives inside the prisons. The driving forces behind new images, new words, and new ways for describing reality were cultural, crafts and artistic activities.

The value of “discovering” a new language was twofold: not only did it underscore our effectiveness for articulating resistance in the very clutches of the military apparatus, it also awakened a healthy self-critical spirit in us. Very soon everyone recognised that the outdated vocabulary common to the left for so many years had a negative influence on human relations.


Published on: 22 June 2015


Beloved friend
I think of you today.
Beloved friend,
my small hero in a breadcrumb,
suddenly I see you become a man.

Conversations we had the day before yesterday
about doves on one hundred pesos coins
about wire figures on cardboard
about the story of a paper boat
about so many walks to nowhere.

And I understood the meaning
of your inside language.
Finally you have discovered
words of a new language
to communicate.

Beloved friend,
I think of you today.