Luaty: My Hero

Luaty’s life is at risk. He has been on hunger strike for 21 days. This is his way of protesting against being detained and abused for more than 100 days, due to a coercive measure put in place by President dos Santos’s attorney general.

I fully understand Luaty’s lonely struggle in this regime’s decision makers’ hour of madness.

I understand all the better because I went through a similar experience in 1999 when I was arrested for calling this same president “corrupt” and a “dictator”. I spent 14 days on hunger strike. Why do I mention this? Because sometimes you have to remember past cases to assess the conduct of those who fight for freedom, and the behaviour of those who oppress us: in this case, the President’s men.

When I was led to a cell of the Central Forensic Laboratory, adjoining the Santana Cemetery, the then director of the institution ordered his men not to give me anything to eat or drink and to put me in the cell as a prisoner of war.

The first act of courage that broke my isolation came from a Lebanese citizen, known as Fidel, who had been arrested for a failed deal with an adviser to the president. Fidel had made himself at home in jail and was walking freely down the corridor of 16 cells built with the support of the German Stasi.

Hours after my imprisonment, Fidel ordered one of the guards to leave open the small window of the door of my cell, so he could talk to me. He offered me bananas and a bottle of water, which I politely declined. He tried to convince me to accept, telling me the story of the war in Lebanon and explaining that in jail no one was UNITA or MPLA, and that we were all suffering together. At that moment, I smiled and I think I even let out a laugh at this ridiculous situation. I reassured Fidel, explaining that I was not partisan and that I was not captured in battle, but in my own house with seven guns pointed to my body, including a pistol pressed against my temple. I remember well the investigator who pressed the gun against my head. I do not forget.

Fidel exclaimed: “You are the journalist who has been missing! Radio Ecclesia is reporting your disappearance all the time.” Until then, my whereabouts were unknown, even to my family. So I asked Fidel to get a message to Radio Ecclesia (This was back in the days when the Catholic-run Radio Ecclesia was reliable. Indeed, its slogan was: “The Trustworthy Radio”). The message I wanted to convey was simple: I had started a hunger strike.

The truth is that I did not want to give my tormentors the pleasure of claiming my right to food, a basic human right. If the MPLA and its president have a programme, it is one of removing the rights of people they don’t like or no longer like. Even worse is the situation of those whom the MPLA hates or is going to hate. Luaty has come to be hated, and his death would be a relief for the prosecution and for the party of President José Eduardo dos Santos. They would then have one less critic to worry about. That’s how they are.

As I was saying. The day after Radio Ecclesia announced my hunger strike, the prison director came to me in my cell to accuse me of being a liar. He told me: “You are a liar, you are not on hunger strike. We’re not giving you food and drink.” The director continued to mistreat me. I told him then that he had every power to go on the radio and state media to declare that it was in fact the government that was depriving me of the basic right to feed myself. To my amazement, the prison director sent a guard, Domingos (I remember it well). Domingos came with a well arranged tray with a white cloth, fresh orange juice, french fries, fried egg, salad and bread. I refused. A week later, the director tried to force me to sign blank papers in case I died in jail. I did not sign anything and also did not give them the pleasure of me dying there. Let them send their killers.

I ended up spending 14 days without food. I felt strengthened with the protest. I did it as a matter of conscience and personal choice.

Luaty made his choice, for which I admire him and for which he can count on my absolute and unquestionable solidarity. But Luaty does not have a reliable radio station, and has no friends like Fidel in jail, as I had, to alleviate the suffering, and to demonstrate the weakness, the ridiculous arrogance and bad faith of the president’s prosecutors. Luaty is more isolated.

However, Luaty has in his favor the signs of change. His dream for an Angola without the president’s prosecutors, but rather with a justice system at the service of all Angolans, may be closer than we think or want to admit.

Luaty also has in his favor social media and young people who are increasingly aware, but especially, he has his extraordinary conviction. I am more strategic, Luaty is purer in his way of thinking and acting.

Now I ask of you, Luaty, my friend, brother and kiddo (which I’ll call you in return for you always calling me “kota” [old man]): read this message, and little by little, start eating again. You have already won.

You have won because you have broken down, with your conviction and your brave and solitary stand, the the smoke and mirrors that still hide the fragile power of the president and his prosecutor. They are bare, exposed in the circus that they have created. Their lack of humanity prevents them from feeling shame.

Accept my embrace and my request that you take some food in the name of our freedom. The struggle continues and victory will not be for those who oppress us and plunder mercilessly.

Victory will be ours, my hero.