Uruguay political prisoner’s mini-diary enters history

By Ana Inis Cibils, AFP

MONTEVIDEO–A leftist guerrilla’s tiny cigarette-paper diary of his years in a Uruguayan prison has been salvaged from the hollowed-out shoe where he hid it and enshrined as world history by the United Nations. Jorge Tiscornia was jailed for 4,646 days �X nearly 13 years �X for fighting in the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement, a radical urban guerrilla group that shook Uruguay in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Captured and imprisoned at age 27, Tiscornia, who is now 70, began writing the minute journal as a way to keep track of time. ��When you’re in a prison cell with no natural light, you don’t know what time it is, and after a few days pass you start to lose your sense of what day it is,�� he said. After several months captivity, he was transferred in January 1973 to the ironically named Libertad (freedom) prison, where, he said, he had a feeling he would be for a long time. So he started writing a tiny almanac on cigarette rolling papers, his entries soon expanding to include reflections on prison life and stories of daily events �X some written cryptically, in case authorities ever found them. The first entry details his recollections of the previous months’ events. Later he records the day he wrote his first letter, his first visit, the length of his recreation periods and the day when, after almost nine months behind bars, his guards let him drink mate, a caffeine-packed tea that is a cornerstone of Uruguayan culture. ��The almanac grew over time, with my life and prison events,�� he told AFP. ��What started as the need for a record became more complex, with more and more things appearing all the time.�� Records of vaccinations or the films shown to prisoners are interspersed with notes on prison officials and guards, changes in regulations and fellow inmates’ illnesses and deaths. ��I think it was an attempt to conquer the day to day and at the same time not forget what was happening. Those notes were my guide, an anchor for my memory,�� he said. Wood clogs

At first he didn’t think of hiding his journal. But as its subjects grew more sensitive, he made himself a pair of wood clogs, split them open inside and hollowed out a space to keep his writings, folded and wrapped in nylon. ��I used to shower in them,�� he said of the shoes. ��They were always by the wall, where anyone could see them.�� He quickly forgot about the journal when he was released in March 1985 as the South American country returned to democracy after a 12-year dictatorship.