Chilean torture survivor, Carlos Reyes-Manzo, is to be Amnesty’s first poet-in-residence, it was announced today. Carlos is a documentary photographer and poet. Born in San Antonio, Chile he was working in President Allende’s government at Chile Films at the time of the military coup under Augusto Pinochet in 1973.
When the military authorities unleashed a wave of repression - arresting, “disappearing”, torturing and killing thousands of people - Carlos became a target. He was detained and tortured and held for two years in concentration camps. He was expelled from Chile to exile in Panama with his young family. There, he was abducted to be taken back to Chile but freed when senior Chilean church officials intervened.
A second attempt to abduct him was foiled when he escaped from his captors at Heathrow Airport in the UK. Amnesty International, and Cardinal Hume, stepped in and later enabled his family to join him in Britain where he was given asylum. Amnesty also helped recover Carlos’ photographs and equipment from Panama.
Carlos is a powerful human rights advocate and through his work documents the struggles, hopes and suffering of people across the world. Amnesty International UK has been fortunate to work with Carlos on several occasions, including on a notable photo-journalistic assignment in 2004 documenting a series of horrifying murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Harriet Garland, spokesperson for Amnesty International UK, said: “It gives us great pleasure to announce that in 2011 we are appointing Carlos as Amnesty International UK’s inaugural poet-in-residence for our 50th anniversary year.
“Amnesty has had a strong association with the arts and artists of all variety, since our beginnings and to have a resident poet, reflecting on contemporary events and the work we undertake, is a real privilege.
“We are all looking forward to the poetry Carlos will write over the course of the year.”
Carlos - who writes in Spanish and often translates his poems into English - has written a new poem “In the times of the Phoenix” (below) and dedicated it to Amnesty’s 50th birthday celebrations.
As part of his role as Amnesty’s poet-in-residence, Carlos Reyes-Manzo will run a series of poetry workshops at the Human Rights Action Centre in East London.
In the times of the Phoenix
In the presence of hope the royal birds are planetary
they are time space and future
in the imagination of freedom
Darkness closes the doors of the sun
since then we have been living in the desert
And without waiting I walk without waiting
they say that everything is in waiting
And without waiting I cannot sleep waiting for the dawns
until the next day arrives
knocking at my windows
with the lights of the phoenix
And waiting for your presence
the royal birds appear in a forest of birds on fire
Do not repeat the myth
that the beasts of the white temple
dance for freedom
Just in this place the royal birds die
and who kills them for trophies?
And who can wait
for five hundred years for one day of freedom?
I open the doors of time
and find luggage and words dancing on the books of Babylon
Translated by Valeria Baker
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