Nicaraguan Political Prisoners under House Arrest Are Still Traumatized
From El Nuevo Diario
HAVANA TIMES – Heynard Baltodano still cannot sleep. Every night, this young man tries to keep his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to rest, but he cannot forget when a policeman hit him in the head with a gun.
Baltodano, 24, is one of a group of 50 protesters “freed” on March 15 by prison authorities of the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary, known as La Modelo.
That same afternoon, when his family learned via social media that he had been “released,” they waited for him in the doorway, greeting him with music and balloons.
When a prison van delivered him to his home, his family was overcome with happiness and emotion. But that night he could not sleep. Nor the next night, nor the next. And it has been the same every night since.
“They were interrogating me. I told them I didn’t know anything and the detective grabbed a gun from another officer and hit me in the head with it,” he said.
He had seizures because of the beating and could not eat; another prisoner had to handfeed him. Now he takes anti-seizure medicine but the stomach pains continue.
“I came with a bad skin rash on my back. And when I have stomach pains, I can’t go to a hospital, I can’t go anywhere because I’m under house arrest,” Baltodano said, explaining that he cries every time he thinks about the other protesters still imprisoned in La Modelo.
In addition to insomnia, anxiety and the thought that at any moment, authorities could suspend his house arrest, Baltodano has trouble even just sitting on his porch. The 23 days he spent in the “little hell” punishment cell affected his eyesight and now he cannot see very well.
Yolanda del Socorro Sánchez Moraga, another prisoner now under house arrest, also suffers from insomnia. She was freed on February 26 and just the thought that she might be sent back to La Esperanza is affecting her nervous system.
Police patrols and civilians on motorcycles park nearly every day in front of her home and watch it for hours. Last Monday afternoon, an officer walked right into her home without asking permission.
“When I saw him he was already sitting down and he asked me if I had gone out anywhere. He asked if anyone had visited me and why I was wearing blue and white bracelets. He asked who had given them to me and where we had met. I told him I brought [the bracelets] with me when I left the prison. He told me that I haven’t learned anything and that one day they are going to send me back to La Esperanza.”
Sánchez has no appetite, suffers from anxiety and has a constant headache. In La Esperanza she began to suffer from allergies but since she cannot leave her home, she decided to self-medicate. But the results have not been very good.
“I took the pills and now my face is very red. I’ve got dark stains on my skin. I’ve got a headache that will not go away. I only see my daughter at certain times because of security concerns. The day they dropped me off, she was here and she heard the patrols and motorcycles just outside the house. We had to sleep in another room,” Sánchez said.
Elvis José Medrano, another prisoner now enclosed at this home, also has a skin allergy after leaving the prison. Medrano, 24, said his family has had to spend money to try and cure the itching that keeps him from sleeping.
He is also disturbed by the constant presence and vigilance by police and government supporters, outside his home. His ribs still hurt because of the beatings he received in the jail cells of the prison known as El Chipote.
Norwin Gutierrez Alvarez, 20, lost his hearing in one ear after spending six months in jail. He told El Nuevo Diario how one policeman who interrogated him, hit him all over his body and then fired a gun next to his head.
This incident happened in September of 2018 just after he had been arrested and sent to El Chipote. According to Gutierrez, his hearing has been so affected that he now hears constant sound in that ear and has severe headaches.
He has a son but cannot work because of his current legal situation. This means he can’t buy the medicines he needs.
Unable to Work
Patricia Sánchez, the sister of Yolanda Sánchez Moraga, can’t work, either. She is in the same situation as her sister: she can’t sleep, she has no appetite and she suffers from anxiety. The constant police vigilance keeps her on edge. At night she is afraid they are going to take her away and put her in La Esperanza.
She suffers from migraines but cannot get treated at a health center. When she reads news stories about other protesters still in prison, she feels very sad.
Elsa Valle’s Father Plans to Sue the Government
Former Managua city councilman Carlos Valle, who was freed in the first group of 100 protesters released on February 27, stated that he is filing a lawsuit against the state of Nicaragua for damages caused to him and his family.
Valle said that during his 178 days in prison, jailers treated him cruelly and tortured him in every possible way, just because he kept demanding the liberation of his daughter Elsa Valle, who spent 75 days in prison last year for supporting student protests at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI).
Valle described how the rest of his family members were also beaten and temporarily jailed, just for supporting him and his daughter, including his wife, Rebeca Montenegro and their children, Rebeca Valle and David Valle.
The former councilman said that because of the imprisonment and the abuse by police and prison officials at El Chipote, his daughter Elsa Valle miscarried for lack of medical attention. The baby’s father was killed during a police attack on the barricades.
“This has affected my whole family. We are under so much stress compounded by the state of siege and harassment by police and government party members in our neighborhood. This is why I am suing the government of Nicaragua,” Valle said.
A Psychologist: Symptoms of Burnout
Yessenia Paz, a psychologist and forensic doctor, explained that the situation of the recently-freed prisoners is delicate and exhausting. She emphasized that if they do not seek treatment to assimilate these traumatic experiences, their mental health crisis could be lethal.
“Negative thoughts can keep recurring. Not all of us can assimilate them and we do it in different ways. These thoughts can create consequences that affect the person’s daily life, in society, family life and at work,” Paz said, stressing that the damages are serious.
Valle said he will dedicate himself to guaranteeing specialized medical attention for his daughter, thanks to the support of the organizations like Doctors Without Borders and United Doctors of Nicaragua.
Carlos and his daughter Elsa are two of the more than 700 protesters in Nicaragua who were in prison or who remain in prison since the crisis erupted last April.