Rodrigo Gularte: A Dream at the End of a Rifle

Mar 3, 2018 Uncategorized

As the government incessantly declares war on drugs, choosing to proceed with the executions of foreign prisoners amidst protests from the leaders of those inmates’ countries, the BNN (National Narcotics Agency) and police succeeded in breaking an illegal drug ring controlled from inside prison – by a death row inmate. This development is very baffling. How can a person condemned to die and confined by the thickness of prison walls still control an illegal drug ring? This revelation has outraged many people, who consider this individual to be utterly undeserving of clemency. But many of us have forgotten to also turn the gaze of our criticism towards a government which has failed to prevent such an occurrence. The irony that in the very place which should be free of such crime, the state is unable to control the actions of a person completely under their surveillance has left us scratching our heads. Why hasn’t a death sentence cowed him from continuing to flout the law? Is capital punishment therefore completely pointless?

Aside from the pros and contras of capital punishment, amid public blasphemy of Anggun C Sasmi’s open letter and the carrying out of the second round of executions during the Jokowi-JK era, lies a story which has escaped the attention of both us and the media. The tale of Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian national and schizophrenic, one of the 10 prisoners scheduled for imminent execution. At the age of 10, Rodrigo was diagnosed as suffering from a brain disorder called cerebral dysrhythmia by Professor Eresto Chicon, a neurologist at the Federal University of Parana, Brazil. This condition meant Rodrigo would lose control of himself and his capacity to make decisions, rendering him unable to consider the potential consequences of his actions. After 14 years of medical and psychiatric care, doctors discovered Rodrigo also suffers from bipolar affective disorder, passed down genetically from his mother and grandfather. His older brother and sister also suffer from mental illnesses.

Rodrigo was different. Despite growing up with a psychiatric condition which made him a target of bullies, Rodrigo grew up to be a good person. He has no prior criminal record. However, extremely vulnerable as a result of his conditions, Rodrigo became easy prey for an international Mafia-run drug ring. Like in many other cases involving drug mules, the Mafia – with all its trickery – successfully manipulated Rodrigo, inviting him to holiday in Indonesia with two others. Without his knowledge, the surfboards he brought with him were filled with drugs. Rodrigo was caught and for some reason, his two companions were released. Rodrigo appeared the hero by taking full responsibility.

Rodrigo has been incarcerated for 10 years awaiting execution. He has learned Indonesian, although he still speaks haltingly and sometimes struggles to find the right words. He told his legal team capital punishment will soon be abolished by the “kingdom”, saying he heard this on the radio. According to Rodrigo, the executions everyone’s talking about are merely a fabrication. He thinks this lie is told by the “king” in an attempt to intimidate the people. He feels peace is coming and the people, described by Rodrigo as possessing strange heads the size of a mosque’s dome, will welcome this joyous news. His team of lawyers can’t seem to convince him that these are hallucinations. How can Indonesia be a kingdom, they implore, and how can a human have a huge head and stomach with a small chest and small legs?

So where does this leave us? Will we stand up and defend Rodrigo Gularte, or be silent and let bullets rake his body? Despite knowing our justice system is corrupt, riddled with mafia, an administrative mess; a far cry from perfect. While at the same moment, on an isolated island Rodrigo Gularte is awaiting death – a death he believes is not coming because the “king” will soon abolish capital punishment, so the people can rejoice and be happy.



Written by Naila Rizki Zaqiah, public defender at Community Legal Aid Institute, with help from Albert Wirya, a researcher at the same organization. This piece has been uploaded with the permission of Naila & Albert with finishing touches from Yohan Misero (drug policy analyst at Community Legal Aid Institute). Iven Manning provided a translation from Indonesia to English.

This writing was first published in Yohan\’s Indonesiana account (April 24th, 2015) and then was republished in LBH Masyarakat\’s blog (December 17th, 2015). Both are published in Indonesia.

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