Spain: Elisa di Bernardo – “We are winning battles for the freedom of Gabriel Pombo”

“Never using drugs, being very clear about his ideas, and his physical and mental strength have helped him survive in prison despite the FIES. Almost all of his comrades have died. He survived a genocide,” explains the companion of the anarchist prisoner in Oviedo.
Elisa di Bernardo went to Oviedo yesterday to relate the situation of her companion Gabriel Pombo da Silva. She was invited by the group Higinio Carrocera, in collaboration with the Cambalache community centre, taking advantage of her visit to Pombo in the prison of Mansilla de las Mulas in León. Elisa gave a very complete account of both the legal situation of the anarchist prisoner and his life and struggle during more than 30 years in prison. It was a talk that not only provided information about Pombo but also showed how, inside the prison walls, “democracy” disappears and one enters a dark world, subjected to physical and psychological torture, to personal revenge by judges and jailers, to prisons inside the prison (FIES). In addition, Elisa gave us perspective and context on how inequality, misery, injustice and poverty inherent to the capitalist and statist system manufactures ‘criminals’.
Elisa began the talk by taking from her backpack three important books about the situation of prisoners and the world of the anti-prison struggle: “Extreme Destitution, Extreme Violence”, “So You Don’t Forget Me” by Mothers United Against Drugs and the Report on Torture in the Spanish State, which Elisa explained was censored by the police, as it recounts the saddest years of the FIES (files of inmates under special monitoring) regime.

After this bibliographical introduction Elisa di Bernardo spoke about the trajectory of Gabriel Pombo’s life. “They lived in Vigo in a shack until they emigrated to Germany to earn a living. There he discovered a new world and also began to learn about the instinctive solidarity between the poor. The first political question Gabriel asked himself was: “If my father builds houses, why don’t we have a house?
Gabriel grew up in Germany and was arrested for the first time in this country, at the age of 13, for a fight. They took him to the juvenile prison. On parole he escaped and decided to return to Spain. His return was an adventure. In 1981 these were the drug years. “Gabriel never became addicted, but he watched his comrades die. He knew where the drugs came from and who had introduced them and, above all, what for,” explains Elisa. That was the moment when he decided to expropriate. He started with trucks transporting food, to distribute the merchandise among poor families and, at 15 years old, started expropriating banks with the aim of supporting prisoners and their families with the loot. He also contributed to the Copel prisoner support organization, although he was not in it.
In 1984, when he was 17 years old, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for one of the robberies, precisely the one he had not committed. “He was very angry and from then on he went to the banks with his face uncovered and leaving his fingerprints”. The three years turned into five years story of prison life. She talks about the emergence of the modular prison in the 90’s, with the aim of avoiding riots, “it consists of not leaving the prisoners together for a long time, although it did not prevent the struggle from continuing. That is why the APREs were created, prisoners in special regime, where there is permanent isolation. Despite this, jailers and judges consider Gabriel Pombo to be the “leader” of revolts “although it was impossible because he was always in solitary confinement. It was an excuse to avoid his ordinary sentences. In total he spent 23 years in solitary confinement”, explains Elisa, who adds that now the State has changed its strategy and instead of applying torture “they simply take away rights you have so that you behave well”.
” Today,” explains Elisa, “of the one hundred FIES prisoners of the 1990s, only six are still alive. Gabriel survived a planned genocide, although he escaped, among other things, by staying away from drugs”. His move towards anarchism took place in the 90s. In 2001 he entered Basque prisons, where there is a different prisoner policy. In 2003 he was granted remissions and they began to give him furloughs and in one of these furloughs he managed to escape. Previously, a judge in the Basque and in 1989, due to an error, he was released and went on the run”. During those months he continued robbing banks and attacking pimps and mafiosi of the drug world. Another of his objectives was to free prisoners and facilitate the escape of people like Xosé Tarrío, although he did not succeed. “In those 4 months he sought ruin, since he executed a pimp and mafia owner of a brothel. He had previously given him a warning”.
In 1990 he was already sentenced to 166 years, for a penal code that imposes a maximum of 30 years. “But for over 30 years he has been in the brutal regime of FIES (created by a PSOE* government), a prison within the prison. For 10 brutal years the most terrifying prison was Teruel.
Those condemned to prison knew they would be tortured when they became incarcerated to such an extent that, in their homes, they used electricity to prepare their bodies for what they were going to do to them once in the prisons”.
* The Spanish Socialist Worker Party, in power since 2018
Elisa continues with the Country had offered him the job of educator of minors, which he radically rejected as he understood that it meant serving the penitentiary institution by “going over to the other side”. He traveled to Aachen (Germany) and writes his book ‘Diario e ideario de un delincuente’ (Diary and ideology of a delinquent) during those months.
In Germany he was sentenced to 14 years, but was returned to Spain after serving 8.5 years. Of his stay in German prisons, Elisa says that Gabriel highlights that they are much more ‘democratic’ in the sense that it is a prison model where the law is simply applied and everything is more correct, compared to the arbitrariness of Spanish prisons “and the continuous vengeance of jailers and judges”.
In January 2013 he returned to Spain and his support and legal group started working on the basis of the pillars of European law, the principle of specialty, which Elisa explains. This is that an EU country can only return a prisoner to another country that demands it if he is going to serve the outstanding sentence and not another sentence. What he had left to serve was 3 years and seven months.
In May 2016, Gabriel Pombo’s release was approaching. The order to release him came from Germany. It was then when the court of Gerona made a strange recasting of sentences and Judge Mercedes Alcázar decided that he still has to serve 16 years for the gross calculation. Gabriel’s lawyer filed a lawsuit for malfeasance against the judge, who was suspended for 6 months. Gabriel is released after 30 years.
He began to reorganize his life, settles in a family house that he intends to fix to create a libertarian social centre to which he will give the name of Agustín Rueda, has a daughter. However, the tranquility was short-lived. A German lawyer had not properly processed the specialty principle. After a year and a half, Gabriel, Elisa and their daughter leave Spain to avoid a new arrest, abandoning their life plans. It is a relative “clandestinity” “with a little girl you can’t do much. We were in Portugal, in a family clandestinity, and our only weapons were just nappies”, jokes Elisa. Things get complicated and the petition from Spain is joined by another one from Italy and there is an international arrest warrant. They ask for Portuguese nationality (Gabriel’s mother is Portuguese) to avoid the transfer, but they cannot avoid it, since there is no jurisprudence in Portugal on the principle of specialty, “the strongest country wins”, explains Elisa. At the same time, the judge of Gerona, now rehabilitated, “prepares her revenge” and sends faxes to the Portuguese judges saying that Gabriel is dangerous, to put pressure on them. Thus, in May 2020 he is delivered in Badajoz, whose prison has a very bad reputation. “It was a shock for Gabriel, also in this centre, he is informed that, by coincidence, the files which contained material for human rights organizations to know and document the tortures that were applied had been burned. “But this is the chronic impunity of Spanish prisons,” explains Elisa.
He remained in Badajoz for 5 months, at a time when the so-called respect module was created, which implies total submission, “it is a tool of control,” says Elisa.
For the first time he became a second-degree prisoner, although the pandemic arrived and the visits were suspended. He was transferred to the prison of Mansilla de la Mulas, built in 1999, “a prison that pretends to be more progressive. So it is half empty. Gabriel refuses to enter the respect module and they take him to what is called an observation module, where they pretty much leave him alone,” she says.
Elisa also explains that there is now a new generation of prisoners whose “ethics” have changed for the worse. There are no more struggles, no more organized prisoners, no more solidarity. The system has triumphed once again in the years of application of solitary confinement policies…
At present, Elisa di Bernardo explains the legal defence strategy they are carrying out, which is based on three fronts. The first is to continue working on the right of specialty, which is being processed in the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Another front is the demand that the sentences be recast on the basis of the new penal code (which reduces the maximum sentences to 20 years). The third front is that the penitentiary computation recognizes all the commutations that are due to him. With all this, Gabriel Pombo should already be in the street. However, adds Elisa, “today the judiciary uses time to its advantage to punish. It delays and thus avoids applying the law”.
“We believe and hope that he will get out soon, although the sentence of the Italian court is still a mystery, you never know where it may come from”, says Elisa who, however, understands that “we have won some of the battle. The Provincial Court of León has forced the prison to eliminate the bans on his communications, arguing that he is not a dangerous prisoner and that it has no justification and the order has been very hard against the penitentiary institution. That is why he is now beginning to have problems in his current prison. “Another vengeance, this time, they have begun to deny him leave,” concludes Elisa.
Translated by Act for freedom now!