Story

Killing Me Softly: A Portrait of the Opposition in Equatorial Guinea

February 15, 2012|

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Marcial Abaga Barril's everyday routine starts in Bisinga, a neighborhood in the district of Nguema. He gathers with family to celebrate his younger brother's 20th birthday. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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The family reunion is full of laughs, "pepe" soup, and lots of beer. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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In this home, the matriarch gives the final word to Barril and his sister. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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"Pepe" soup, and boiled eggs, and salad and more "Pepe" soup. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Barril says goodbye to his brother-in-law before heading home. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Wherever the money is, the regime is nearby. Operating through a dual system of patronage and threat, the Obiang regime maintains its hold on power. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Polio has left Barril with a limp in his left leg. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Even as co-hosts of African Cup of Nations soccer torunament, the regime in Equatorial Guinea has invested little capital in the daily life of most Equato-Guineans. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Another stop on the walk home, Barril meets with a friend to share notes. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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In the alley between homes a dog looks for shade from the equatorial sun. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Another stop on the walk home. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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The paths through Freestone are a maze of playing children, stray chickens and gathering neighbors. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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At home, Barril compares the address books of his two phones, looking for a lost contact. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Barril's daughters play in the living room. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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View from living room window in Barril's home. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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There is little evidence of Equatorial Guinea's high GDP on the paths through Freestone. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Drainage and sewage mix in a small river. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Feet. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Barril negotiates with a member of the regime on the phone. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

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Once the opposition's representative on the national electoral board, Barril has since been banned and now spends his time organizing with other opposition activists. Image by William Sands. Equatorial Guinea, 2012.

Marcial Abaga Barril is one of the few opposition activists in Equatorial Guinea. As member of CPDS (Convergencia Para la Democracia Social), the only legitimate national opposition party, Barril has been arbitrarily detained and tortured on several occasions. He joined the opposition after the regime murdered his father, and says that at first he was consumed by a desire for revenge. That desire guided his struggle for many years, but today he says he believes in justice and looks toward building a new democratic Equatorial Guinea. He hopes that maybe his grandchildren can live better lives than his.

Even after having been tortured Barril shows little fear of the regime. He speaks loudly and seems at a total disregard for his surroundings whether he's in a taxi, on his porch, or walking home.

"What can they do to me now? They've tortured me, they've broken into my home. Now the only thing left is to kill me, because they know I won't be quiet. I won't stop," he says.

Barril says he's been given a slow death sentence. Blacklisted by the regime, he lives in a state of constant instability. He is forced to feed his family with the pay from one odd job to the next, and its obvious he fears for the future of his children. With no real work, Barril spends the majority of his time with friends and family, on the phone organizing, or moving from one CPDS gathering to the next.

Instability and unemployment are the regime's best weapons against the opposition and, as Barril laments, leave no opportunity for the creation of a real democratic process in Equatorial Guinea. But, he quickly laughs off the enormous challenge of his mission and smiles at the hand he's been dealt. For Barril and other members of the opposition, their best weapons against the regime are their sincerity and conviction.