Readers… if you still exist… I apologize for the long hiatus. Work responsibilities have not allowed me to post to the blog as frequently as I would like, and time limitations will continue to prevent me from commenting in much detail on the posts that I am able to make to the blog. So, today I write to you humbly with this brief reflection.
Some years ago, when working on a research project on Bolivia’s 1952 national revolution, my interest was piqued by the revolutionary party’s constant complaints of the “promiscuity” of the nation’s rural indigenous populations. And no, I do not mean sexual promiscuity–although I think the deliberate choice of the word “promiscuous” to describe traditional one-room living quarters was indeed designed to raise concerns about children’s unwitting exposure to their parents’ “marital relations.” In political pamphlets of the 1950s and early ’60s, journalists and commentators of the nation’s ruling Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) party would frequently denounce the deplorable “promiscuous” living conditions of the poor rural majority, in which parents and children lived in one-room homes in which kitchen and bedroom were one and the same. In part, revolutionary-era authors complaining of promiscuity revealed sincere humanitarian concern over the poverty of rural dwellers; at the same time, however, MNRistas often used these complaints to highlight the party’s role in “saving” indigenous populations from their poverty, denying the agency of Indians themselves.
Today, the issue of “residential promiscuity” has come back to haunt us. Readers in the U.S. and Europe may be shocked to discover that in most of Bolivia’s prisons, the state forces prisoners to live in “the most deplorable promiscuity” with one another–and also allows the live-in presence of inmates’ wives & children. Institutions such as La Paz’s San Pedro prison and Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison constitute virtual “prison cities,” where wealthier inmates are able to lease comfortable cells & where less fortunate inmates sleep in the halls of the jail. Inmates, who may have “jobs” inside the jail–making and peddling food or providing other services–circulate with relative freedom inside these prison cities. Children and their mothers often leave the prison gates in the morning to attend school or go to work, only to return in the afternoon or evening. Although sixty years ago members of Bolivia’s ruling party denounced the “promiscuity” of non-criminal rural peoples, now the state allows women and children to live in close quarters with convicted criminals. Sure, some of those guys are innocent, and some of them were convicted of tax fraud. But some of them were convicted of rape.
Case in point (for readers of Spanish). This week, Cochabamba’s Los Tiempos newspaper reports on the case of 63-year-old Sabino Paredes Condori, an inmate of Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison who was lynched last Monday night by his fellow inmates. Paredes allegedly sparked the fury of a mob of inmates after gloating over photos he’d recorded on his cell phone of two naked female children and of unspecified sexual acts. The two children were daughters of a fellow inmate. Paredes was in the process of serving a 25-year sentence for rape. Once inmates were able to steal his cellphone and examine the images, they subjected Paredes to an hours-long ordeal culminating in his hanging.
Despite his heinous crimes, Paredes’ lynching is, of course, horrible. What concerns me more, however, is the unchecked “promiscuity” of Bolivia’s prisons, in which adolescent girls and boys and their mothers rub elbows in the “city streets” of Palmasola and San Pedro. Although Los Tiempos alleges that this case has “reopened the old debate of the voluntary presence of inmates’ wives and children in [Bolivian] prisons,” it’s unclear what, if anything, will change. And funny, that–I thought that “promiscuity” was high on the state’s list of concerns.