From Ovid to Dante and onwards…

Reading Time: 8 minutes

“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile”

Ariel Dorfman

This is a story told to me by a remarkable student. She attends my Philosophy classes and the classes I teach.

Gabriela Inostroza de Gatica is very Latin, the native blood of South America flows in her veins. She is passionate , intense, exceptionally kind and has a wicked sense of humour . She contributes so much to the classes and still laughs in the midst of a life full of losses and tragedies and yet, in Kahil Gibran’s words, she makes of her heart a chalice through which she feasts on the elixir of life.

Images used with kind permission

She has been twice a refugee, confronted several times fascism in all its totalitarian horror. Yet she understands how we effete left-wing progressives of Wales have never feared the knock on the door in the night, never really understood what it is to be watched, what it is to wait outside a prison for her loved ones. She mostly excuses those who claim that the solution to totalitarianism and fascism is to grant to the fascists the same rights we would give to the standard political parties of the west.

At those times in the class I think of the thoughts of Trotsky and his comments about a paving stone and a fascist. But I am the first person who would run a mile from a violent encounter and so I stay quiet.

This remarkable student is called Gabriela Gatica Leyton. I have known Gabriella and her husband Umberto for over 12 years now. Umberto has presence, he fills a room with both presence and gravitas.

Images used with kind permission

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet imposed a military dictatorship in Chile. Gabriela was 23 and had only been married to Umberto for a few days when he was seized by government officials for “gathering in a public place” (more than three people together was seen as an act of treason).

Umberto was put in prison and tortured. Many of his fellow inmates just disappeared. Gabriella says;

“the prisoners were kept underground, in a cellar. Over 100 people crammed in a room only big enough for 10.”

When Umberto was released, he and Gabriela knew they had to get out. They left their families behind and were smuggled by plane into Argentina where they spent a year in a refugee camp.

It was freezing, and they weren’t allowed to work legally. They got black market jobs, mending door locks or working in bars – and they spent hours just sat in a backstreet bookshop trying to keep warm.

Then their luck changed dramatically – the couple were offered scholarships to study at Swansea University, under a scheme to help refugees from Chile in 1976 they moved to Swansea and they’re still there.

Gabriella told me a story about an experience she had recently. She was in Wales and a woman kept asking her where she was from. Gabriella told her that she was from Mount Pleasant in Swansea. The woman kept insisting and asking where she was from. In this intolerant society, this brexit-Ukip poisoned Wales and this Trump polluted world. Like myself Gabriela believes that those of us who live in Wales are Welsh.

“We could cook real food for ourselves. I even started physically shaking when I saw four different sorts of cheese in the supermarket. I always call Wales my adopted mum. My adopted mum brought me up, gave me opportunities and nurtured me. One day, my bones will be buried here,”

Remembers Gabriella.

Umberto and Gabriella fled Chile in the 1970s after Umberto was detained and tortured under General Pinochet brutal regime. They live in Wales. Umberto has just retired from 30 years in the department of Photography at Swansea Metropolitan University, and Gabriella from 25 years as a social worker. Both of their children work in the NHS.

It’s an incredibly difficult story to tell. Twice exiled. A story of fear, detention, of suspicion and of loss…Umberto continues:

We are Chilean, I am an artist. In the Chile of the early 1970s I worked in the Culture Section of a Community Development program, with rural communities making works of theatre, photography, journalism and film. This was a community who had never had the chance to see a film or play before – through artistic expression the doors for social development could be opened.


But the community never got to see their first film.
The military coup of the 11th of September 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet put Chile under brutal restrictions and terror.
So many strange things happened then. I’m still unsure what lead to my imprisonment, but I think I have some idea.


I had married my wife, Gabriella, in July 1973. We were young and had very little money, so after we married I rented a room while she lived with her mother. We had been married only six weeks when the military took power.


They enforced a curfew on Friday nights which stayed in place until the following Monday. Over the weekends, I stayed with my new wife at her mother’s home.


After three or four days I guess my neighbours began to notice I was ‘missing’. Someone reported my absence to the authorities. I suppose they thought I was a guerrilla member. Two days later I was detained, interrogated and tortured. No matter the extremes of my torture, I was unable to give the authorities the information they wanted. I wasn’t a member of any party. I did not know of the activities of the guerrilla fighters or where they kept the guns. I was an artist, a husband. I simply knew nothing. So the torture continued.


I was put on a chair, blind-folded so that I didn’t know where the next punch or kick would come from. In a way I was very lucky – I wasn’t shocked with electricity the way many others were. A common method was to tell me – “If you don’t know anything, I’m sure your wife does.” My young wife and her mother were frequently harassed by the authorities, their house turned upside down. But of course neither they, nor I, had any information to offer up.


Weeks after detention and interrogation I was moved to a sport centre, used as a detention camp. After a while I was moved to the city jail, to a political prisoners corridor.


Gabriella was totally lost, she went into autopilot. Everything you have, the ordinary things like a salary, a family, to speak, to laugh – were suddenly all gone. It was like an alternative reality. She couldn’t visit me and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead.


Once, after I was moved to the sports centre, she was allowed to send me some new clothes. She wrote me a letter on very thin rice paper which she pushed into a minute tube and sewed into the hem of a shirt. I don’t know how I knew it was there or managed to find it, but I did. She simply told me she was alive and thinking of me – she told me to keep faith. Maybe this is what kept me going.


I was kept in a centre with hundreds of other men. There was no space to sleep – we took it in shifts to lie down. It was as you see in American films – men in dark glasses guarded us with machine guns.


Within the group we were erratically and frequently called for interrogation. Many men from the group were taken and never returned. Many disappeared during the night.


In a climate of such fear and stress we eventually we took to holding lectures and classes among ourselves – something to provide focus, give structure and meaning back to our wasted days. The prison was full of political prisoners of all ages and backgrounds – university students and professors, journalists, chess masters, scientists, farmers – teaching and learning maths, music, reading and writing. I was in charge of the library and in turn studied creative writing, chess and guitar. There was a theatre group run by some of Chile’s most famous actors, who were detained alongside the others. Eventually, after 9 months of arbitrary imprisonment, the authorities realised they were wasting their time with me. I was released without charges.


The very next day my wife and I visited the Chilean Catholic Church, who created a body to help political prisoners and the relatives of the disappeared, taking their cases and offering legal aid. The lady lawyer in charge of our case advised us to leave the country, even though there was not a policy within the organization to persuade people to go into exile – we couldn’t be sure when we would be targeted again.


The very next day, when I went to collect our passports, I was taken in and questioned by the authorities.


“How could I possibly have done something in the last 24 hours, since my release?” I retorted. Thankfully, I was quickly let go. The next day, Gabriella and I fled to neighbouring Argentina to seek asylum. We fell in love with the country and with the people. Everywhere people helped us. There was a true sense of solidarity with Chilean refugees and we were welcomed like one of their own.


But it wouldn’t last.


One year later – in October 1975, a military coup saw the streets fill with soldiers and their fierce dogs. They were nasty. Foreigners were intimidated, detained and disappeared. We tried to be invisible. Suspicions rose. No one knew who could be an informer.
Eventually we were advised, once again, to leave the country. At the time, governments around the world offered their support to Chilean refugees – they knew our lives were seriously at risk if we remained in Argentina. We left Argentina with a grant from the World University Service for my wife, the help of the UN Refugee Agency and a visa extended by the British Consulate in Buenos Aires.


We arrived in Swansea, Wales and I started working in a Community Centre in Neath, running photography workshops for young, unemployed people. I went on to work in the department of Photography of Swansea Metropolitan University for 30 years.


After working hard to re qualify and earn a Masters, my wife continued her vocation as a social worker in Wales. She worked with schools cross the area with children at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse for 25 years.


When we first arrived in Wales we expected to only stay for a year or so until the situation in Chile improved. We didn’t even buy any furniture, but we kept active working, learning English and campaigning to raise funds and awareness of what was happening back home in Chile.
With the support of the churches, universities and unions in Wales, we organised huge fundraisers for political prisoners in Chile – the Welsh absolutely loved the Latin music – the salsa, rumba, cumbia – and loved the saucepans full of Gabriella’s rice, empanadas and my chilli con carne.
Gabriella will always remember the opportunities she has been offered in Wales and fondly remembers her gratitude after being offered her first job. She was always treated with respect and on merit – never treated differently for having an accent, or being a foreigner, being a refugee. Wales gave her a chance. And she gave so much back to the community.


This is our home now, this is our country. Both of my children work for the NHS. My son qualified as a Biomedical Scientist at Cardiff and now works as a biologist, testing organs before transplants take place. My daughter is a mental health nurse.


When I see people fleeing across the Mediterranean, my heart breaks. We spent just one year in a refugee camp, these people have spent so many. The support we were offered from the international community saved our lives. My wife, children and I are now a valuable part of our adopted community. I know, first hand, the danger of countries turning a blind eye to the kind of humanitarian crisis we are currently witnessing.”

My philosophy course is multi cultural and multi-ethnic we have Irish, Italian, Chilean individuals all of who are tolerant and full of laughter, yet all have a profound understanding of sadness and of the nature of the world.

Even Luciarno Luciano Welsh Balsamo, now approaching eighty, and after living here in Swansea for fifty years, has been told at times to go home. We live in a more brutal Wales now, a barrier in the collective mind has been breached and through that portal we have revealed a deep and dark racist id spilling its poisons on to those who are both refugee and those oppressed and exploited by the demons of the large corporations and the high priests of neoliberalism who separate us from one another and lay blame, causing us to project and displace our fears, our shame and envy upon one another. There is, of course, no reason for Gabriella and Umberto to have that told to them…they know that so well.

‘You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back – it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”

Naomi Shihab Nye

By Martyn  Shrewsbury

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

The People Spoke

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode of Ungagged, themed around “The People Spoke” and introduced by Victoria Pearson, we will hear from Flavia Trudoreanu from Scottish CND on 10 reasons not to have Trident, Jason Travis on the left and Brexit – and what he feels socialists should argue and organise for, Laura Lundahl on why the US government doesn’t represent the will of the people due to its many undemocratic practises, and Joe Solo on the rise and rise of the right.

Paul Sheridan reflects on Scotland’s angry voice and the impact we can have, Debra Torrance will be giving a more positive view of how the people can use their voices, and Graham Campbell will be on chatting with Neil Anderson about Graham’s recent trip to Jamaica, Donald Trump and Pride. Teresa Durran gives us a personal reflection of the London anti Trump march, which you can see loads of pictures of here.

It wouldn’t be Ungagged without the wee man, we will of course be hearing from Red Raiph and  from the inimitable (and original) clever commie Chuck Hamilton, who will be talking about why jails profit from prisoners, and why bisexuals need to step up. The two are unrelated.

With music from Steve McAuliffe & the Mighty Ur, The Wakes, Robb Johnson, Argonaut, The Cundeez, Gallo Rojo, The BlackHeart Orchestra, CascadiaCreatures of Habit, and Joe Solo.

Pulled together, kicking and screaming, by Neil Anderson. With cat herding support from Neil Scott.

Remember we love to hear from you so get yourself Ungagged on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, or check out the latest news, views and opinion right here on on our website.

 

 

Ungagged is a not for profit voluntary collective, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners to help fund our solidarity and grassroots charity campaigns, and meet hosting, equipment and advertising costs. If you love what we do and can spare some change, our collection tin is at PayPal.me/ungaggedleft

Trump Divides, The People Unite: Bridges Not Walls

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

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The STUC organised #dumptrump Anti-Trump Rally in George Square, Glasgow was a colourful and enjoyable affair. 

 

I suppose the good weather helped but there was a party atmosphere. Many different groups (there were three I’m a part of) there under the one cause of being against the racist, misogynistic, ruthless capitalist… you know the rest, “The Donald” Trump. 

 

There were Trade Unions (GMB, Unite, EIS and others), pressure groups (like Global Justice Now & Stand Up to Racism), political parties (Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour, Scottish Socialist Party) and ordinary members of the public. 

 

There was a large diversity in those attending. Age; there was a baby in a papoose, who really didn’t have a say whether to attend or not but there were a number of young people from 5 upwards, there, happy and having fun brandishing their homemade placards opposing the presence of the current incumbent of a great office. Also ethnicity (biggest ethnic diversity I’ve seen at a rally), social background (I hate the word ‘class’) – posh folk and ordinary folk like me. And a wide range of politics, albeit all on the left.  

 

As you will see in the pictures there were many home made placards deriding Trump and people were only too pleased to pose with them for my (and many others) pictures. This shows that they didn’t only want their hatred/disdain/etc of Trump to be noticed today at a rally but were happy for it to be shown worldwide, as people know that’s what happens to photographs these days. And everyone with a smile or pose for the camera. I hadn’t intended taking so many shots of banners & placards but they were fascinating, just wish I could have got them all. 

 

If only the left could unite on all causes like it did today. All there, all for one cause, happy, sharing stories, praising each other’s placards/banners and most importantly engaging the normally non-politically active members of the public. 

 

If we could do that, austerity wouldn’t have a chance! Bring it on. 

 

By Neil Anderson

 

You can read more from the Ungagged collective on our writing page, or listen to left views on our podcast

 

And you can download free anti-Trump posters and placards here – it’s not too late!

The Gift

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

We’ve a real gift of a podcast for you this episode, since “gift” was our theme. Of course, we didn’t all stick to the theme – this is Ungagged after all…

In this episode, Red Raiph will be retelling The Raven, Em Dehaney will be talking about Christmas gifts and not always getting what you want, Chuck Hamilton will be reading White Ribbons For Indy, an article written by the Ungagged collective, and later coming back to read his own piece, The Monkey Trap, Ola’s Kool Kitchen will be chatting about how white supremacists on social media fan the flames of hate and misinformation and Richie Venton will be back with the second part of his piece on the 1917 Russian Revolution. Paul Sheridan will be telling us all about the Diggers movement, Damanvir Kaur will be giving us the latest in the Free Jaggi campaign, and George Collins will be talking about the rise and fall of Empires.

We will also be hearing from Victoria Pearson, reading her short story The Clock Strikes Christmas, An Alternative Christmas Tale, and  Steve McAuliffe with his poem “Why is Tyranny a Dirty Word?”, Debra Torrance will be talking about the Gift of Hindsight, and Ruth Hopkins will be telling us exactly why we should be horrified at Trump referring to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas”, and Derek Stewart Macpherson will be giving us a whole stockingful of of gifts, talking about the Gift of comedy, the gift of freedom, and the dubious “gift” Trump just gave Jerusalem.

We’ll have all of that, plus music from Blackheart Orchestra, Jackal Trades, David Rovics, Mullen, Joe Solo, Steve McAuliffe and The Mighty Ur, Argonaut,  Sharon Martin,  The Cundeez,  Gallows CircusThose Unfortunates, The Wakes,  Attila The Stockbroker, The Kara Sea, and Robb Johnson.*

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This episode was presented by Debra Torrance, Edited by Neil Anderson and produced by Victoria Pearson.

Neil Scott wasn’t able to be in this episode, but he still found time to write a gift for you. Check out his short story A Gift Comes Calling…

And Teresa Durran also just missed out on this pod, so has written a poem for you to enjoy, called Advent.

* All money from Merry Christmas One & All, the Single by Robb Johnson, will go to the Brighton Community Night Shelter & Sussex Homeless Support, so please buy if you can, for 79p, from iTunes

Get yourself Ungagged and let us know what you think of this episode in the comments, or on our twitter or Facebook.

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Ungagged is a not for profit co-operative, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners. If you’d like to donate us the cost of a newspaper or a cup of coffee, you can do so through PayPal here.

 

We Need to Talk About Libya

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Teresa Durran

There were many more casualties resulting from the Twin Tower attacks than the 2,974 people who died in New York that day on 9/11. As well as those poor souls, there have been countless thousands killed in the resulting war on terror carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the fall out still continues, with victims continuing to be created in the wake of the chaos inflicted across the Middle East.

The latest iteration of this appeared in reports which came via CNN, who have recently published an investigation they have been carrying out in Libya following reports about slave auctions. Incredible as this is to believe in 2017, the evidence they have amassed looks pretty convincing. There are still thousands of people trying to reach the Mediterranean who cross Libya’s borders each year. This has contributed to the wave of boats trying to cross the Med, which is of itself a tragic tale of greed, need, prejudice and misery; figures complied on 24/10/17 show that more than 18,800 people had been intercepted so far this year, with over 111,000 successfully reaching Italy, the vast majority of whom travelled from Libya.

However, latterly Libyan coastguards (and militias) have been attempting to address this, and crossings have therefore dropped sharply since the summer. Nonetheless, migrants and refugees still continue to travel to Libya, which has led to a surplus of would-be passengers. People smuggling has become big business in the country, so the people behind it have done what any good capitalist would and diversified. If you believe people smuggling represents a good opportunity to make a profit, why would you baulk at extending this to slavery? What would be the difference to you between herding hundreds of people in a boat and sending them to an uncertain fate, and parading them as goods for sale at an auction?

Although the 1926 Slavery Convention was ratified by Libya in 1957, slave auctions have resurfaced there partially because of the instability caused by the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. He was undoubtedly a brutal dictator, but his overthrow highlighted the dangers of creating a power vacuum, and over half a decade later, Libya is no closer to being stable. Although there were no shortage of Western countries willing to get involved in air strikes under the auspices of NATO in 2011, there doesn’t seem to be a similar impulse to help deal with the fall out. As a result, Libya has effectively two governments operating out of Tobruk and Tripoli, a shattered economy and its own internal refugee problem. Small wonder that there seems to be little resource or will around in the country to deal with slave auctions.

CNN casting an international spotlight on this may bring about change; certainly, several countries seem to have been galvanized into action. One headline reads ‘Burkina Faso recalls ambassador to Libya over ‘slave markets’ report’ while another says ‘France pushes U.N. to impose sanctions over Libya migrant crisis’. However, Donald Trump’s war of words with CNN has proved a gift to the Libyan media; as he had repeatedly denounced the network as peddlers of ‘fake news’, the Libyan broadcaster Libya 218 has used trump’s tweets on the subject to doubt the veracity of the slave auction story, saying;

“Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective.”

What a mess. An ill thought out ‘war on terror’ initiated by the US post 9/11 brought, as widely predicted, greater instability to an already frighteningly unstable part of the world. The knock-on effect of this enabled NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war and the instability resulting from that and other nearby conflicts created the conditions for the slave auctions. And now their reporting may well be hobbled by the current US president, who is ignorant of, and entirely careless about, the effect of his words abroad. While he rides up and down in his golden elevator and continues his privileged life by other, more lucrative means, the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free will just have to continue to yearn.

The Hidden Pod…

Reading Time: 1 minute

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this “hidden” themed Ungagged we’ll hear from Em Dehaney, on the hidden hate uncovered by Brexit and Trump, Victoria Pearson will be discussing the extraordinary situation unfolding in Rojava, Syria,  Chuck Hamilton will be giving us the 4th part of his Meaning of Life series, George Collins will be talking about the hidden culture of indigenous Americans, Debra Torrance will be talking hidden disabilities and hidden agendas, Sarah Mackie will be fact checking Theresa May’s claims about nurse numbers in the NHS,  Richie Venton will be chatting about the High Court descision regarding tribunal fees, and Neil Scott  will be discussing the rise of the right wing in traditionally left wing online spaces.

With music from The Empty Page, Phat Bollard, James King and the Lonewolves, Birdeatsbaby, Guttfull, The Eastern Swell, Girobabies, The Wakes, Those Unfortunates and Nervous Twitch.

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Ungagged is a not for profit co-operative, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners. If you’d like to donate us the cost of a newspaper or a cup of coffee, you can do so through PayPal.

 

Fight The Power!

Reading Time: 1 minuteUngagged take on the USA…

Reading Time: 1 minute

 

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode of Ungagged, presented by Neil Scott, we’ll hear from Chuck Hamilton, on how we sold our revolution for a pair of trainers, Em Dehaney, talking about how she has never been to America, but America is in her, George Collins, and Eileen Eddy of Radio KRFP talking about cultural and political imperialism.

Red Raiph asks just what exactly happened to that Big Onion,  Debra Torrance casts her mind back to the 80s and finds that we’ve not come along very far. Simone Charlesworth makes her debut on Ungagged, jumping in at the deep end with a brief history of Sarin, and Steve McAuliffe presents his poem America First.

In this episode of Ungagged we are joined by guest speaker Priya, who volunteers at Umbrella Lane in  to tell us about the current laws in the UK regarding sex work, and why she thinks the Nordic model is dangerous.

With Music from XSLF, The Babel Fish Project, Argonaut, Joe Solo, Bratakus, Dolls, IDestroy, Bugeye, and Lilith Ai.

 

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(Produced by Victoria Pearson, edited by Neil Scott and Neil Anderson)