Mauricio Rosencof, 87, answers the phone and says he is “mateando” – that is, he drinks mate, like a typical Uruguayan – for the conversation with Folha.
The writer and former political prisoner says that it is something that he and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro (1942-2016, former Minister of Defense) did for several afternoons between 1986 and 1987, in front of a tape recorder, in the same house where it is currently located. , on the coast of Uruguay.
At that time, the two former members of the left-wing guerrilla group Tupamaro recorded almost everything they could remember about 12 years in prison during the Uruguayan military dictatorship (1973-1985).
Then they sent what they had recorded to the third companion who was confined with them, now ex-president José “Pepe” Mujica, who did not participate in the recordings because he was busy in his political activity. .
Mujica read and commented. The other two went on to complete “Memórias do Calabouço”, which is now published in Brazil by publisher Rua do Sabão (R $ 55, 300 pages).
The work gave birth to the film “Uma Noite de 12 Anos”, directed by Álvaro Brechner, in 2018, which tells how the three Tupamaro friends faced the long period of captivity.
Matant and full of humor, Rosencof gave Folha the following interview.
How is it for you today to review this book written in 1987, still with the experience of the very recent arrest? I confess a secret. I have never read the book since. The images and memories are still too vivid for me to have to resort to the book to remember them. And also because the proofreading is always disturbing.
Did the same thing happen with the film? It also bothered, although I saw it more often. Mujica only saw one. The first time, we watched it together. And at the end of the session, we wondered what we had found. Mujica said to me, “It’s good, but I never want to see him again.”
What in particular bothers you the most? See our families and remember how much they suffered. It’s not so much the torture, the physical pain. So much so that when I asked Mujica why I didn’t want to see the film again, he said: “My mother is here”. I tried to break the mood and said, “I know, Pepe, it’s hard to watch. But it’s always better to watch than to relive it all.”
You count these episodes in the book. Your father does not recognize you, the children who cry. At the same time, they write that there was a great expectation of family visits. Of course, that was the only prospect we had. Every two months, to see if our family members could come visit us, often for only ten minutes. And the military knew it, so they made it difficult. During these 12 years, we have been incarcerated in several prisons across the country.
They took us to barracks and prisons in different parts of Uruguay. It doesn’t sound like much because it’s a small country. But our family members were humble and hardworking. These trips to make visits were expensive, long, difficult. In fact, more than once a member of our family waited hours and hours outside until he was informed that we had been transferred. For a son to know that his mother went through this is worse than torture. This is why I say that when they arrested and tortured us, they did so with the whole family.
Since it is so painful to remember, why did you decide, almost fresh out of captivity, to record this conversation that transformed the book and the film? Because it’s like an extension of the activism that we have done and in which we have acted against authoritarianism all our lives. Leaving a trace of what happened to us was our task on behalf of everyone, all the companions who were also arrested, those who died. It is our contribution, our brick for the construction of the necessary memory wall.
You started to communicate by knocking on the walls several times, in a kind of Morse code adapted to the prison. Can you describe the emotion of this moment? From then on, everything changed. When you have nothing and the loneliness is complete, the fear of going crazy worries you all day long, until you imagine that you are really crazy. We spent a lot of time knowing we were in neighboring cells, but we couldn’t say anything, we couldn’t even make a noise. Even to hit the stone, when we invented this way of communicating, we had to hide it, because they were looking at us.
But when we managed to start talking, short sentences at first, but after practicing, long conversations, everything changed. The way we spend our days has changed, we have dreamed of our projects again. But we had to take many precautions. Because we created calluses on our fingers, for example, and hid the hand of observers so that they wouldn’t find out how our means of communication worked.
Mujica and Huidobro have taken the path of politics. Why did you choose a different path? I do not consider this to be political. They got into party politics, but I continued to act politically in my books, in film scripts, in the theater. All my work is political. In prison, I had ideas that I tried to save for later use. I have plays based on ideas I had, and I managed to sign up on cigarette pack paper to revive them later.
I don’t consider my path to be less political than theirs, I just didn’t want to get into the board game, into arguments. Something Pepe and Huidobro did very well.
In your wonderful book, “Las Cartas que Nunca Llegaron” (2000), you recount your childhood as the son of immigrants who fled the Holocaust. He is also a son who writes from the dungeon. Yes, I had this idea during those years too. Because these are the things that come to mind when we are alone for a long time. I didn’t write this story in prison because I had nowhere to write. But you think, review your life. You think a lot about your parents, about the path that led you to get there. And “Las Cartas que Nunca Llegaron” is the story of my family, who were the last to leave the city where they lived before the arrival of the Nazis. Letters from parents came to my parents, until they stopped coming. It marked my childhood a lot.
And it’s related to the book you’re writing now, isn’t it? Yes, I am working on a book which should be called “La Caja de Zapatos” (the shoebox). It’s something that is no longer in use, but I think everyone remembers the common use that was made of shoeboxes to store photos and letters from families, friends. It was like that in my family, I met my grandparents through photos that my mother kept in shoe boxes.
And at the same time, when we’re stuck, we want to have something, whatever reminds you of who you are, and keep those things in a shoebox. Because one of the cruel things they do to you when they stop you is stop you from having anything.
Mauricio Rosencof, 87 years old
Son of Polish Jews, he was born in Florida, Uruguay, in 1933. Writer, playwright, poet and journalist, he has published more than 20 books. He was the founder of the Union of Young Communists and later leader of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement. In 1972, he was arrested and tortured. The following year, he was declared a “hostage” by the government and detained until 1985. In 2005, he was appointed director of culture for the city of Montevideo, a post he left a few years later.