Lucia Pineda Ubau is one of the best-known journalists in Nicaragua. Part Costa Rican, part Nicaraguan, she was detained and jailed at the television channel where she’s worked for ten years.
By Julian Navarrete (La Prensa)
HAVANA TIMES – There in the back country of the Upala canton in Costa Rica, near the border with Nicaragua, the Ubau family usually gets together for their New Year’s Eve celebration. The little ones break pinatas and eat snow cones, while the adults tend to the barbeque.
It’s something of a normal family gathering for a large rural family. Far from the studios, the monitors, the cameras and the microphones, Lucia Pineda Ubau, one of the best-known journalists of the last 20 years on Nicaraguan television, would normally command everyone’s attention with her improvised news bulletin of the most important family events of the year. This year, however, Lucia Pineda wasn’t with them.
“We miss her very much,” says Alejandro Ubau,48, her maternal uncle. “These are important dates for the family, and she was the heart and soul of our celebrations,” he adds.
Alejandro Ubau is one of the family members who’s been hanging on day-by-day, waiting for news of Lucia Pineda since she was arrested last December 21 at the 100% Noticias [“100% News”] channel where she’s worked for ten years as the news director.
What’s known about that day is that she was at the station, together with station directors Miguel Mora and Veronica Chavez, most likely editing or planning the next day’s programming. Around 9 pm, the channel’s programming was abruptly cut to insert a breaking news segment and a live denunciation.
“We have breaking news! There are riot police trying to enter the site of 100% Noticias,” announced the commentator, barely pausing to take a breath. She continued: “Urgent news! Urgent news! There are paramilitary here inside (the channel)! We’re reporting breaking news.”
Just at that moment, the channel went off the air; if you go to it now, there’s only a black screen visible. That was also the last time that Lucia’s voice has been heard.
A born journalist with dual citizenship
When Lucia was growing up, as soon as she had eaten all the grains of corn off the cob, she would grab it and pretend it was a microphone. She would then begin to “broadcast” news that was only in her own head. She was about ten years old at the time, but from then on her father, Francisco Pineda knew what career his oldest daughter was going to pursue: journalism.
At that time, the family lived in Managua, where they had migrated from the community of San Miguelito in Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. This was the seventies, years of the struggle against Somoza, and the Pineda Ubau family were known Sandinistas who feared reprisals from Somoza’s National Guard.
Francisco Pineda and Lucia Ubau Hernandez, the journalist’s parents, had met in San Miguelito where her mother emigrated from Upala in Costa Rica to work. Lucia was born there, in Nicaraguan territory. That’s how she acquired Nicaraguan nationality, although she’s also considered a Costa Rican national because of her mother.
In Managua, she lived in the Morazan suburb. Her parents worked up to three shifts a day as school teachers in order to support their seven children. “These were times of war and crisis, so that in those years we only ate rice and beans, those big beans that looked like vitamins,” Lucia Pineda declared laughing during an interview by reporter Jennifer Ortiz in 2012. “I had to clean the beans and later cook them and serve them to my brothers and sisters,” she added.
In addition to cooking for the little ones, she had to change their diapers and clean the house before her parents got home. “She’d get up at 5 in the morning and was the first one to get to school. She’d arrive and drop her notebooks on one of the chairs to save the best spot,” recalls her childhood friend Jamileth Marenco, in the same 2012 article.
At the end of the eighties, the economic situation of the Pineda Ubau family worsened. Because of that, Lucia Ubau, the family matriarch, returned to Costa Rica with Lucia’s six siblings, while the future journalist remained with her father in Managua to finish high school.
The separation was hard on Lucia, because she was very close to her mother and her siblings,” confided her father, Francisco Pineda in 2012. However, the most difficult thing for Lucia was to deal with Francisco’s alcoholism while she was studying in the university.
“It was hard for me, because instead of coming home and finding the food ready and the house cleaned, I’d find my father sprawled out, sometimes bleeding because he’d fall down when he was drunk,” Lucia revealed in the program “Mi Vida, mi Historia” [“My Life, my Story”]. That would make me sad, but I’d summon strength from places I didn’t know I had,” she added.
“I accept that. A father who’s drinking affects his children,” affirmed her father, some years later. “Thank God, now I don’t drink at all anymore, nor do I chase skirts, and I’ve turned myself more over to God.” Francisco Pineda passed away five years ago.
Getting started in journalism: persistence pays off
Lucia’s real start in journalism came in 1995, with the news program Extravision. At that time, this was the most highly watched news program nationally and was transmitted over the FSLN owned Channel 4. Among other reporters involved were Miguel Mora and Veronica Chavez, the two journalists she was with on the day she was arrested, 24 years later.
Around 1995, a few years before graduating as a journalist, Lucia began to come around their studio every Thursday. She then began to request a student internship at the news program. For four months she continued to knock on the door of the program’s director, Manuel Espinoza Enriquez. She even made friends with his assistant, and finally one day, either by luck or because he was tired of her, Espinoza agreed to talk with her.
“So sorry, but I lost the video you left for me,” he began, referring to an audition tape that she left him every time she came in to find him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Espinoza,” the young woman answered him immediately, “I brought you another copy.”
“I always came in prepared, so he wouldn’t be able to escape me,” Lucia confessed, over a decade later.
Miguel Mora, who was at that time a reporter on the program, affirmed: “I always thought she was restless, ready to get into things. She wanted to know about everything. The other thing that I noticed was that she was willing to come in at any time. She was a student intern, but from the time she left the university until late at night she was always around the studio, asking questions.”
Veronica Chavez, who was at that time an anchor at Extravision stated that Lucia Pineda was one of those journalists who would memorize the license plate numbers and telephone numbers of government functionaries. Every morning she’d call them to “see what they had.” She’d always track down the statistics that they were missing, or she’d make friends with someone who was close to a deputy or minister.
“She was pesky and impatient. She’d insist on covering a story until finally someone would say, “Go ahead, then.” She would then manage to do it, and almost always got good scoops or news,” Veronica recalled.
Two years later, Lucia went over to 100% Noticias which at that time was a news program heard on “Magic Radio”. The show would debut on Channel 8 in 2000.
A year later, Lucia left 100% Noticias and went to work for Channel 2’s “TV News”, then under the direction of journalist Maria Liliy Delgado. She was there for seven years. In 2009, she returned to 100% Noticias as a shareholder and news director. She remained working there until her arrest.
On Sunday, December 23, Lucia Agustina Pineda Ubau appeared before the judge at the central Judicial Complex in Managua, accused by the prosecution of the crimes of fomenting, planning and conspiring to commit terrorist acts, according to a communique issued by the Judicial Complex.
The day she was abducted, lawyer Leyla Prado of the permanent Human Rights Commission was able to speak briefly with her. From that day on, neither the Costa Rican consulate, nor the lawyers, nor her family members have been granted an opportunity to speak with her. “All her rights have been denied her,” says her uncle, Alejandro Ubau.
“Food is taken to her every day at the El Chipote jail, but we don’t know if it’s being delivered to her,” Ubau adds.
Nicknamed Chilindrina by former president Arnoldo Aleman
Since her courtroom appearance in Managua, the only thing known about Lucia is that the charges were read to her and an appointment was scheduled to begin the trial next January 25.
“The family’s had no news of her. They have also not allowed the Costa Rican consul to visit her with a doctor. We can’t certify that she’s in good health. Rather, we believe that she’s being tortured, because since the day she was detained, no one has seen her,” confided Alejandro Ubau.
Several days before she was arrested, Alejandro had communicated with her. According to him, Lucia knew that there was a latent threat and that her imprisonment was one of the possible scenarios. “We were always very respectful of her work. And as a journalist, she took the measures she needed to take. She knew the risks that all the journalists were running with this regime,” Alejandro declared.
Alejandro sees his niece as someone who is passionate about journalism and who is convinced that her work is “extremely necessary”. The illustration that remains forever frozen in his mind is a moment that has epitomized her journalistic career and that offers a glimpse into her personality.
She was just 24 and a budding reporter at Extravision. She had gone to the Managua airport to look for President Arnoldo Aleman, who was at that moment traveling to Costa Rica.
Aleman had only recently assumed the presidency, and already there were questions about corruption, sparked by the purchase of two brand new Chevrolet pick-up trucks that he was showing off.
“One question, Doctor: How much are those two new pick-ups worth that they’ve brought here from the Bahamas?” Lucia fired the question at him, microphone in hand, while she followed after Aleman.
“From the Bahamas.”
“Those cost 32 thousand dollars,” Aleman responded at last.
“Are those dollars coming out from government money?”
“Yes, they’re for the Republic’s presidency. Where else would they come from?”
“But what budget are they coming from?”
“From the budget of the Republic’s Presidency…. This Chilindrina of mine is very pesky,” said the ruler in a mocking tone, a mix of annoyance and condescension. [Chilindrina is a character from a very well-known Mexican sit-com, portrayed as an intelligent and mischievous child.]
Lucia defended herself with a reference to another character from the television series he alluded to: “But Mr. Pot Belly, look…” she managed to say before Aleman escaped into the crowd. Later, in 2016, she’d tell the publication “Magazine”, “Aleman wanted to show me that he wasn’t taking me seriously, that I was a pesky little girl that was merely asking silly questions.”
She has continued using this nickname, which she has embraced as a kind of alter ego.