My cap from Korea
It was 9 a.m. in Paraguay when I heard on the radio RIOT IN TACUMBU PRISON. It had started at 8.
The visual impact that a picture can cause is fully validated when it comes from a witness, and even more so when it comes from a danger zone. This is what happened on June 20th when the prisoners of the Esperanza ward of the Tacumbu prison took as hostages warden Mario Pairet and a group of guards.
I headed straight for the prison, thinking about how to describe the horrible spectacle that the protagonists, relatives and friends, and all those involved in some way, were enduring. I thought that when I arrived at the prison entrance the situation might be under control, but to my surprise it wasn’t.
I heard screams from the prisoners saying – they abuse us, they torture us, we need clothing, we need food. I saw police, dogs, weapons and frightened faces all around.
When I passed through the gates I knew it was a danger zone. I also knew that my responsibility, professionalism and rationality were being tested by the uncontrolled riot in front of me.
I noticed to one side of me that several inmates were twisting their bodies to make themselves smaller to pass between broken bars and into another ward.
Moments later I found myself facing a locked cell door with five men, some of them hooded, pressing against it. It occurred to me that this was the ward where the hostages were being held. I stood there face to face with the leaders of the uprising and we looked each other in the eyes. They were angry, and I asked myself if my presence as a photographer helps them or hurts them. They only screamed, “Back! Leave the way clear.”
I backed up and watched as prisoners from another ward handed them cigarettes through the bars. I began to calm down in spite of the fact that I found myself in the middle of the tempest.
One inmate asked me for my cap, the cap I brought from Korea during the World Cup 2002 and that I use constantly. I reflected on whether I could give up something so dear that reminded me of that trip, and I couldn’t. But then he pleaded so persistently and he said to me, “I’m cold,” and I relinquished the cap. I asked him his name but he wouldn’t answer, maybe for his own security.
An hour later district attorneys arrived to negotiate with the prisoners, and by 1:30 they announced that the negotiations had ended successfully.
I took some photos when the hostages walked out, and I stopped to read on the watchtower the words ESPERANZA PRISON WARD.
That was where I had left my cap from Korea.