Nicaraguans Describe Months under Police Siege

Left to right: Attorney Danelia Arguello; released political prisoner Ricardo Baltodano; and Martha Alvarado, mother of released political prisoner Melkissedex Lopez. Photo collage: Confidencial

Martha Alvarado is the mother of a released political prisoner. Ricardo Baltodano is himself a former political prisoner. Together with Attorney Danelia Arguello, they’ve spent months under de facto house arrest, with no warrant, rationale or legal recourse.

By Ana Lucia Cruz (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – They aren’t living “normal lives”. They can’t leave their homes when they want to. They can’t hold a job that requires them to leave their homes. Their children had to abandon their studies and can’t play in the street. The police search anyone who comes to visit them.

That’s the reality three members of Nicaragua’s opposition are facing. All three denounce the “brutality” of the treatment they’ve received for dissenting from the Ortega regime.

These members of the opposition living under police siege appeared recently on the internet television news program Esta Semana.

Martha Alvarado is the mother of former political prisoner Melkissedex Lopez.  Ricardo Baltodano is himself a released political prisoner. Danelia Arguello is a lawyer. All three denounced the police, who won’t let them “live in peace”.

They’re under constant guard, with police stationed outside their homes. These police block them from leaving their property. If they somehow manage to escape and are found in the streets, they’re threatened with jail. In some cases, this situation has been going on for over a year.

Arrested for drinking coffee with a neighbor

On February 16th, lawyer Danelia Arguello was “arbitrarily” detained while she was drinking a cup of coffee. She was outside the home of a neighbor, who lives two doors down. The police handcuffed both of them and forced them to walk to the police station, a few blocks away. This took place in Somoto, a small city of under 50,000, in the hills of northern Nicaragua.

Danelia serves on the Political Council of the Blue and White Unity (UNAB). She explained that she’d decided to leave her house that day because she saw that the police “weren’t out there”. The “punishment” she received was to be publicly exhibited with handcuffs on, although she hadn’t committed any crime.

“Lieutenant Marlon Baez arrived spouting insults. He told us to get moving, to quit screwing around, being a disturbance. He said what we were doing – having coffee in front of the house – was illegal,” Arguello recalled.

The opposition figure explained that it was the lieutenant who forced them to walk through the streets handcuffed. He shouted that order at other officials who had arrived in a patrol car. His reason? So that [Danelia] would “learn” not to leave her house.

The police cordon around Danelia’s house has been a “constant” since December 19, 2020. “If they’re outside, we can’t go out. I can’t go out and my daughter can’t leave, although she was supposed to enter the university this year. The Central American University (in Managua) had given her a half scholarship, but due to this situation, she couldn’t enter. It’s immensely painful to me that she has to miss her year at the university. All because they [the police] aren’t letting us go out to the street,” the lawyer lamented.

Over 200 days under guard in 16 months

In Ricardo Baltodano’s case, the police siege has been going on for over a year. The opposition figure has counted at least 200 occasions in a 16-month period when police officials have kept him under siege. During these times, they harass him and keep him from leaving his home.

The police patrols began to appear in October of 2019, Baltodano noted. At that time, he had participated in a talkathon for the freedom of the political prisoners. Baltodano himself had also been a political prisoner, but he’d been released two months before.

The police patrols have had varied schedules. During the first months, they were there “consecutively”. Later, they lowered the frequency to “one, two or three times a week”.

Up until January of 2020, Baltodano stated, he was able to “adjust” to the situation. He “would leave” his house before the officials arrived, returning when he knew that they’d left. However, he complained, after December 18, 2020, “they began another type of offensive – all day under siege. It’s been practically uninterrupted.”

That situation, Baltodano continued, has left him deprived of free circulation. It’s forced him to “find a safe place where I can resettle my nervous system, work or do some reading.  Sometimes I get up at 6 in the morning and the first thing I do is to turn on my cell phone to see if they’re out there.”

Baltodano believes that the persecution against him is chiefly because he’s an active member of a released prisoners’ organization. He belongs to the Former Political Prisoners’ Reflection Group, made up of people who’ve suffered political persecution under the Ortega regime.

 “Held captive” in my own home

Relatives of former political prisoners also denounced the constant police persecution they’re subjected to in their homes. Martha Alvarado, mother of former prisoner Melkissedex Lopez, is one of such family members. She stated that she’s been “held captive” in her own home for over six months. The police are there “from Monday to Monday”, and don’t allow her to leave.

Alvarado belongs to the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. She works coordinating the territory within Managua’s District VII. She believes that she’s being persecuted because of her grassroots organizing in this opposition organization.

The police siege around Martha Alvarado’s house intensified after she participated in a protest held last August with the Association of Relatives of the Political Prisoners. She joined this association because her son was “unjustly” imprisoned for 386 days.

“I’m not going to abandon the other mothers; whose sons are still prisoners. I know full well what it is to see them unjustly locked up,” she affirmed.

Since the struggle to free the political prisoners began, Martha has been unjustly detained, beaten, dragged, placed under siege and harassed by police. Now, she’s unable to hold a job, and her family faces constant harassment.

“They have me kidnapped, cornered. They won’t let me leave. There are children here. Those who come to visit are stopped and asked to show their ID. I have to rely on selling my Avon products, because with this situation I can’t find steady work. They search the truck of the man who leaves the products. They’ve even asked my husband to park somewhere else so they can station their vehicles in front of the house.”

Freedom before the elections

Danelia Arguello stressed that appropriate conditions must be in place before the upcoming November elections. These begin with the reestablishment of citizen freedoms. In the current context of constant police siege, it will be harder to organize the grassroots. There are many among the opposition’s base of support who don’t have access to the new technologies.

Baltodano reflected that the actions the international community carry out will be key. He noted the importance of an electoral reform, and of national and international observation.

Martha Alvarado urged people “not to lose faith”. Once the elections draw near, she believes, these liberties will be restored. The opposition will “close their ranks and make up one unique bloc. We’re going to run against the dictatorship and knock it over. They’ll have to go. We’re not going to lose this faith.”

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.