By Genésis Carrero Soto in Caracas.
When a contingent of more than 60 officials knocked his door, Junior Pantoja, already had the clothes he would use to be detained, folded over the chair. He had chosen it carefully the day before.
A T-shirt, shoes without braids, and pants in whose pockets he put his ID card and the insulin needed for that day’s doses. Those were the only things that the opposition local leader from the José Felix Rivas barrio, took with him that May 8, when he got accused without evidence to contribute to financing the criminal group in the neighborhood.
Petare had six days under fire by two bands who fought for the power in the zone. Then, Nicolas Maduro, in a press conference, presented a video which he linked the criminal leader, and one of the responsible for the crossfire, Wilexis, to be related with the DEA and the execution of Gedeon Plan, the name that the regime used to point out an alleged frustrated coup.
That day, Pantoja watched the broadcast on TV and said to his wife: “They will take me to jail,” so he fixed the clothes he would wear to get detained from his home. That day, the shots also stopped in the José Félix Ribas barrio. The accusation shut up the bullets, and the hunting began.
That same afternoon, the drones traveled the roof of all the houses in the barrio, stopped with interest over the roof from Pantoja’s home. That was the anteroom for what coming next: 50 days locked in a room of two meters in the CICPC, with only a desk with a plastic chair, sick and without a chance to do what feeds his soul, to serve the children.
A social fighter
Pantoja has been in politics for so long, that he was in Acción Democrática (the oldest party in Venezuela), he flirted with
fledgling parties, then he spent time in the left-socialist party MAS and came back to the opposite side with Primero Justicia, where he found his nest in the social labor.
Since three years ago, the roof of his house became in a dining room of the social program Alimenta la Solidaridad- Feed the Solidarity- where more than 150 children and pregnant women have a guaranteed lunch. With tears, he said that the program is “a miracle to the poor” and salvation for him. As a prisoner, Pantoja spent his days thinking in his diner, with the firm idea that when he went out, he will continue helping the same people who accused him of being a criminal.
Next to the bullets, in José Félix Ribas, a WhatsApp chain started to spread in which assured that Junior “el Mocho” Pantoja was the link of the opposition leaders paid for the interim president Juan Guaidó to arm the criminal gangs the fought for control Petare.
My weapons are the pot, the cylinder, and the spoon, my army is 600 hungry children.Junior Pantoja, social leader.
That was why, when the police came to his house, Pantoja was waiting ready for them in the roof.
– Are you Junior Pantoja- the police asked.
– Yes, I am- he answered.
– Can you open the door?
– Gladly!- he said before going down the stairs.
The police went out and surrounded the three floors from Pantoja’s house, under the look of his daughters, who were afraid that police “sow” illegal evidence to incriminate his father. Pantoja went back to the roof, and when the official question him if he had guns in his house, he answered: “My weapons are the pot, the cylinder, and the spoon, my army is 600 hungry children.”
After he dressed up, the officials mobilized him right to the headquarter from the CICPC located in El Llanito, where he was locking for 49 days in half. Pantoja became in one of the 424 political prisoners in Venezuela, according to the figures from the NGO Foro Penal.
The uncertainty was with him until the next day. He got introduced to the court, which ordered custodial, accused of the illegal trafficking of weapons and ammunition, alluding to the Disarm Law. In the court record, it said that Pantoja carried five bullets in his pocket pants.
Pantoja reminds the transfer order to Tocorón, a dangerous prison in Venezuela, and he thought, once inside, they will going to kill him. But due to the pandemic, the transfer never happened, and he spent those days in the CICPC dungeon.
Pantoja is 58-years-old, he is diabetic, he is missing an arm, and injects insulin three times a day, but the doses increased to four during the prison time. In the first five days, he couldn’t sleep. He was afraid of being drugged to forced him to confess something he didn’t do it.
His daughters and wife carried to him the plastic chair and the leather cushion that he used as a place to resting. A female official who felt sorry for him request another chair where he could lift his legs to mitigate the swelling.
The sound of an analogical phone with a radio connection was his only company. That distracted him from the interrogation in which official asked him if he knew Donald Trump or Wilexis.
Some officials respected him, others were hostile, one of them decided to handcuff him to a table in the day 15. That caused him a decompensation that required hospital attention.
His lawyers requested a humanitarian measure, but it was never approved. The officials helped the family to get the insulin he needed and trying to lighten up the lockdown whit some benefits and kindness.
After 49 days jailed, Pantoja received a visit who informed that he would be released and apologized to him. On the morning of that June 24, with pain the waist and kidney discomfort, he left the CICPC dungeons. Outside, leaders from Primero Justicia in Sucre, his partners in the social labor in Petare, and his relatives were waiting for him.
Junior Pantoja remembers that when he arrives at the José Félix Ribas, many applauded and shouted him: “Fuerza, Mocho,” (Be strong, Mocho). In the alley El Sabor, where he lives, the children waited for him with tears in their eyes.
But what he remembers most is that the barrio filled with patrols, the friends he made at the CICPC, and who celebrated the end of an arrest that Pantoja will always label as unfair.