PARAGUAY, by Ana María Acha, president of FundaProva (Foundation for the promotion of values and the prevention of violence) •
Since my beginning as a legislator in 2003 until having fulfilled the term of office in 2013, and as President of the Human Rights Commission for the Chamber of Senators, I felt I should prioritize a special concern for the country’s prisoners. This because I could never visualize another place where a human being could be more degraded than in the Republic’s prisons. Prisoners should only be deprived of the right of freedom! They should not be deprived of the right to health, education, privacy and a life of dignity!
If we would remember that many of them are incarcerated for simply stealing a cellphone and leave as perfect delinquents, we would realize that the penal system is a very important part of citizen security. Consequently the jails are true universities for delinquency to which can be added an exasperating injustice since we can prove that for the great majority only the poor are found there. The wealthy are an exception. In a State such as ours, in which institutions do not function, obviously justice does not exist either. Therefore the majority of those deprived of freedom for years find themselves without their cases being processed, without having been called forth to make a simple statement, and they cry out to whomever would want to listen to them, pleading that someone would promote their case.
Ana María Acha, member of the Federation of Families (second from left)
“Ana, why do you pay so much attention to delinquents?”
In different circles, some would tell me: “Ana, why do you pay so much attention to delinquents?” More than once, I felt that for many, incarceration is more of vengeance than a sanction to correct them and readapt them to society as it is expressed in our Constitution. The same society that marginalized them and in many cases pushed them towards delinquency without giving them the opportunity to study or work is also then the one that also condemns them without the possibility for that individual to free himself from the title of “undesirable” by the entire community. From there the most solemn responsibility of the State is to take them into their charge. It is the time when it should exhaust all resources to reinstate him, rehabilitate him, in spite of our knowing unfortunately that it is not that way. Making a comparison to the flagellation which now flogs us: the mosquito with Dengue or Zika or whatever that multiply in breeding places we now try to exterminate… OK, “the breeding places for delinquents” are the prisons.
Thus things were – at the end of the parliamentary term of office – when we realized we had made many reports leaving proof of the conditions in prisons. There were also various documents calling attention to the pertinent authorities and obviously there were actions made in favor of the prisoners– like the achievement involving a system of information so the prisoner could see his case on the computer screen, and which after two years of hard work, only lasted five months because “someone” had destroyed it – but for the satisfaction of having done what was correct, tilting windmills, came the frustration of not having achieved the great final objective.
Father Pedro Kühlcke’s initiative
When toward the end of 2014, Fr. Pedro Kühlcke mentioned to us in a retreat that he was destined for prison ministry, especially with youths in conflict with the law, and he invited those who would like to become a part of this ministry, I approached him without doubting what it was about, offering my modest collaboration.
A task loaded with adrenalin began that gave me a two-fold feeling: hope and incredulity. Hope because meetings with several people were started, many of them youths who although “rotated,” immediately others participated and happily, step by step, slowly, the organization started taking shape. Also hopeful because according to comments from Fr. Pedro, the then minister of Justice, Sheyla Abed, found herself interested in the project and her head of cabinet frequently attended our meetings. But this same factor caused me incredulity: the doubt if the government would truly support this project until its final concrete formation, and because I knew how the Paraguayan state functioned, nothing made me believe that this would take place as it had been planned.
We even closed the opened bank account that had been set up to receive the promised funds since the funding was not taking place, and suddenly we were notified in mid-January of this year that this would take place in a few minutes. A spectacular race took place: Blessed Mother with all her might made it possible for us to solve the problem. In ten minutes the account was reopened!
The Ministry of Justice was fulfilling what it had promised. We are most grateful to the present Minister, Dr. Carla Bacigalupo, who wholeheartedly supports the project. Still awed and moved by what has taken place, on Friday, February 12th, the cornerstone was blessed. With the presence of various authorities, among them the Ex-Minister of Justice and the present Minister in charge, the Vice-Minister of Justice, the Vice-Minister of Industry and Commerce, and the Cabinet Chief, the Director of SINAFOCAL (National System of Formation and Labor Training), authorities from Itauguá’s municipal government, members of the company awarded in the bidding contest that took place for the effect, and many others, we all felt part of a team celebrating not only the beginning of a common project, but enthusiasm for continuing to build this country that we still care for. Together we all did not cease thanking the Blessed Mother who showed us this new way that is her Work where she will pave the way for the moment for what should be and how it should be.
I must confess that I am still moved today. Finally, a concrete Work underway. What could not be achieved by legislative power was achieved from civil society in covenant with the State, and on this Covenant Day, I totally attribute it to the Covenant we sealed with her.
It was the hour and the moment, for since that day we incredibly received various support from the Ministries and other Institutions who joined our crusade. Several doors opened up!
Today I am deeply grateful to the important team that makes up the Foundation with valuable people within the Council who knew how “to walk in the night with faith placed on the dawn,” to Fr. Pedro who knew how at all times to maintain the living flame of hope with faith and joy, to the community of Schoenstatt Fathers who comfortably handed over the real estate where the House will be set up, and to the people who in one way or another supported the project.
A beautiful challenge
We cannot determine the extent of the enormous benefits that can reach these youths; just perceiving that someone is interested in them, that as people, they are important to someone is only the beginning for their change of attitude and conduct.
But if today, we are occupied with this task, we should not lose sight of the real objective the final goal we should have in sight as adults and parents committed to our community, to our country: that in the future we do not have to build more nor better jails, that in the not so distant future these will be empty like those of many first-world countries because our youths by then have acquired knowledge, values and a life of dignity that separates them from vices and crime. It is a beautiful challenge.
Original Spanish: Translation: Carlos Cantú, Schoenstatt Family Federation, La Feria, Texas USA 02262016. Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA