The fire killing six people remains in impunity
The OAS and the IACHR characterized this event as a crime against humanity. Antonia Urrejola regretted that Nicaragua is moving forward under the mandate of impunity.
HAVANA TIMES – Five years ago, on June 16, 2018, amid state violence produced after the civic protests of April of that year, Nicaragua woke up to a terrible news that shocked the entire country. An arson in a house in the Carlos Marx neighborhood in Managua consumed the lives of six members of the Velasquez Pavón family, including a little girl and a baby.
This event, condemned and described by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as a crime against humanity, remains in impunity.
Chilean lawyer Antonia Urrejola, who closely followed the armed repression against civilian protests in Nicaragua, both as a member of the IACHR and later as president of this body, said, “it is incredible that five years after the burning of a house in the Carlos Marx neighborhood in Managua, there is still impunity. A whole family died in the fire,” she told La Prensa on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.
Urrejola recalled that the Police reported at the time that it had created a technical team with investigators and forensic experts who would carry out processes to clarify the fact, but “five years later, the case remains unsolved and in absolute impunity, as well as the murders of at least 328 people who died during the protests”, she denounced.
The victims of the tragedy
The three-story house belonged to Oscar Manuel Velasquez Pavon, a large mattress and pillow merchant, who lived near one of the most critical areas of the protests, the Upoli university.
Oscar Velasquez, 46 years old, was killed along with five other family members: his wife Maritza del Socorro López Muñoz (45), his son Alfredo Manuel Velasquez Lopez (26), the latter’s wife Mercedes de los Angeles Raudez Alvarez (21) and the young couple’s two children: Daryeli Osmary (2) and Matías Eliseo Velasquez Raudez (5 months).
The burning of the house in the Carlos Marx neighborhood was an extremely painful, shocking, and heartbreaking event for Nicaragua.
Videos that still circulate on social networks show how the two children with burns were taken out. The paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive the girl while the bodies of the adults were charred. The house was destroyed inside. The flames devoured almost everything.
Nicaragua cannot move forward in impunity
The former president of the IACHR reiterated that “it is not possible that these crimes remain unpunished and that their perpetrators are not brought to justice. A country can’t advance and develop under the cloak of impunity, as is still the case in Nicaragua.”
Lawyer and human rights defender, Gonzalo Carrion, affirmed that this fact is “a crime against humanity, like all the crimes caused by the state of terror that complied with that April order, ‘let’s go all out’ and ‘shoot to kill’ of the regime. It must be stated that on June 16, 2018, we were in the context of what was known as Operation Cleanup,” he said.
Carrión was part of a team of lawyers from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) that went to the site to document the complaints of survivors and witnesses.
But six months after the tragedy, the police accused the Cenidh team of trying to “manipulate” the version of the survivors, who had initially blamed the Ortega regime.
Survivors changed their version
In the early hours of June 16, 2018, hooded people threw mortars and Molotov cocktails into the downstairs of the house, where there was flammable material, including mattresses, pillows, and a pickup truck, and the building began to burn.
Janeth del Socorro Velasquez Lopez, also known as Cinthya; her sister Maribel de los Angeles, and a cousin, Francisco Javier Pavon, managed to jump from the second floor to the street. But the other members of the family were unable to escape.
The survivors said that those who had set fire to the house were hooded men accompanied by police. After escaping the flames, Cinthya recorded a live video cursing Daniel Ortega because his supporters were to blame for the family tragedy.
However, in December of that same year, the three survivors changed the discourse and said that the perpetrators had been “the tranquistas” (the ones that set up roadblocks), as the regime labelled the opposition demonstrators.
The police attributed the burning of the house of the Velasquez Pavon family to members of the April 19 Movement because supposedly the family refused to join the so-called national strike.
The head of the Judicial Assistance Directorate at the time, Luis Perez, accused Cenidh of manipulating the survivors. Weeks before, the organization had been stripped of its legal status and its assets confiscated.
Annihilation of morale and memory
“With this change of version that caused the exile of my colleagues and myself, I do not hold a grudge against the survivors, on the contrary, there was a new massacre against the pain, morale and memory of that family,” said Carrión.
Three years after the fire, in 2021, the property began to be for sale, according to publications that circulated on Facebook. It is unknown what happened to the house and the whereabouts of the survivors.
From the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca +, Carrión denounced that “today marks the fifth anniversary of this crime against humanity, so far in total impunity”.