Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo was released from prison on October 15.
If you wrote a letter for him, you deserve part of the credit, and Amnesty International – which on principle does not claim credit for good outcomes – deserves credit because it pressed Ángel’s case by making a visit to him a few weeks ago. We learned of the release on Oct. 17 from a Honduran news source; later that day Amnesty’s Individuals at Risk team announced it in an unusual batch of good news, along with the release of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a prisoner of conscience in Burundi; the lifting of a travel ban for Maryam Al-Khawaja, a human-rights activist in Bahrain; the release of Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, an opposition leader in Sudan; and postponement of execution for Reyhaneh Jabbah, who had killed an abusive husband in Iran.
Ángel’s harrowing story, which we told you on August 25, was that in 2009 he tried to get from his native Honduras across Mexico to the U.S. in order to earn money for treatment of his young child, mortally sick with cancer; he almost got there, but in Tijuana the Mexican police tortured him till he confessed to involvement in some local gang crime; when he had been six months in prison his child died.
Ángel, with his dramatic and easily-told story, became a high-profile case. But how many others like him linger, like Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” or like “The Forgotten Prisoners” of Peter Benenson’s 1961 article that started Amnesty International? Benenson had been angered at a report of two Portuguese students sentenced to seven years for raising their glasses in a toast “To freedom!” and that’s why we celebrate the release of someone for whom we have campaigned, such as Ángel, with a “Toast to Freedom.”
Police, shockingly often, are the villains of human-rights stories. Mexico’s have a particularly bad reputation. When I was about to go cycling in Mexico, I was told by Hispanic friends: “Don’t do it – the drivers are crazy, the roads have no shoulders…” I said “But the police must be strict on the drivers, I’ve heard that in Mexico it’s a crime even to be involved in an accident.” “Yes, but the police are the most corrupt in the world – all a driver has to do if he kills you is slip them a bribe.” I don’t know whether this is true; I found the traffic sedate and tolerant, in the cities.
There is a spectrum of police, from the (to say the least) unhelpful to the very helpful. Recently an iPad disappeared from our house, and it remains an interesting mystery whether someone actually climbed in through a window and took it or whether it disappeared in some other way – there are difficulties about either theory, such as could make a miniature detective story. The local police force cannot be on duty all the time, because it has had to be reduced to one. He is highly friendly and intelligent, and had to limp as he went upstairs because he had a knee replacement and, on top of that, had been kicked in the knees by someone he had had to arrest. The police system has almost never stopped following up on this incident, the loss of a luxury item, which may not have been a theft at all. The system is to offer post-crime support, because some people suffer psychologically from the thought that a stranger may have been inside their house. There is an interesting passage in The Optimist’s Guide to History (or it may have been in the same author’s Pessimist’s Guide to History) about the improvement made to life by the introduction of regular police in the eighteenth century. Before then, you had no protection against highwaymen.
The winged figure in the picture at the top is not actually an angel. It is Daedalus flying free from his maze-prison.