Nicaragua’s Political Prisoners Want Their Voices Heard

From the prisons of Nicaragua some heartbreaking letters have come out in which the prisoners tell of the tortures that are being lived under the regime of Daniel Ortega, but the majority ask that the people continue the struggle.

By Ivette Mungia  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – “Twelve months from the first day that virtually all of Nicaragua got tired and shouted for democracy, justice and freedom, I greet you and congratulate you for continuing the struggle from your possibilities and spaces… The struggle must continue. We cannot rest, nor falter when our Revolution is about to triumph,” student Byron Estrada wrote in a letter last April 10.

The text that came out of prison, where the university student from Leon is, had the request that it be published on April 19, when it was one year since the first murders of Daniel Ortega’s forces against the demonstrators.

Although in the prisons of Nicaragua political prisoners have fewer rights than common criminals, according to complaints from their relatives, the letters they have sent from prison are not to complain and rarely to denounce the abuse they suffer while being locked up. In a series of missives written by political prisoners, messages of encouragement can be read for those who are out of prison and resisting the dictatorship.

Letter from Byron Estrada

In one of his previous letters, which he sent from the Modelo prison, Estrada swore to continue “demanding freedom.” In the letter, the young man expressed the melancholy he feels being imprisoned, but “without losing hope,” when he learns that the population “has not surrendered” to the repression.

Beyond the explicit message in Estrada’s letter, the lawyer of the Permanent Commission of Human Rights (CPDH), Pablo Cuevas, sees implicit in these sentences the message of a person that “does not want to be invisible,” who wishes that “his voice be heard,” even if it means “a sacrifice because we have information that some of them have been caught (discovered) and subjected to brutal punishment.”

From La Esperanza

In the Nicaraguan prison system political prisoners do not have permission to send or receive correspondence. Those that have managed to get letters out have faced reprisals. Ilustración: Juan García | Niú

In the “La Esperanza” women’s prison, the story is similar. One of the last letters that came out of that prison was written by political prisoner Irlanda Jerez and is directed to Ortega’s judge Edgard Altamirano. The missive sent by Jerez complains to the judge because he condemned her “without evidence” to five years in prison and for imposing on the peasants Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, sentences that do not even exist in the Penal Code of Nicaragua.

“They have me imprisoned and I am free, while you are a prisoner of your wickedness, of a twisted and perverse way of thinking. A prisoner of obeying because otherwise you are left without money, you’re a prisoner of ambition,” claimed the political prisoner.

Human rights defender Vilma Nunez says the political prisoners have earned the power to protest and express when they believe that processes are not being handled correctly, since “being prisoners is not just being there, it has a meaning. They consider themselves actors of this struggle and that is what they reveal (in their letters) and it is also an encouragement and a great example for those of us who are outside,” she said.

They continue struggling

The message filtered out by the political prisoners Alfonso Morazan, who was a founder of the Sandinista Popular Army and the contra commander Noel Valdez Rodriguez, urges the dictator Daniel Ortega to seek a peaceful solution to the sociopolitical crisis in the country.

Ilustración: Juan Garcia

“In these difficult times that the country is going through, the search for solutions for the peace of Nicaraguan families and people is urgent. Every Government has the obligation to do it and we…as citizens: the duty to demand it. The Government’s acting with conceit and arrogance is not an attitude of leadership, rather it is a demonstration of contempt for society’s general interests by superimposing personal, family and partisan interests,” says the letter.

Vilma Nunez also sees in these letters a method used by political prisoners to tell citizens that “their stay in jail is their contribution to the struggle” against the dictatorship in Nicaragua.

“The message they convey is that they are still struggling, that they are fighting, that they have not been dominated. Furthermore, it is vindication that their presence in prison contributes to the struggle, but also is a way to make a call to those of us outside that if they inside are capable of resisting, so can we,” Nunez pointed out.

Prisoners have also made demands to civil society. During last Christmas, political prisoners requested greater determination from the business sector in the civic struggle.

“The Nicaraguan people require and demand the well-being of the country. With the sanctions that lie ahead, the active participation of the private sector, which has a social responsibility is needed. It’s a responsibility they must assume to solve the crisis we are going through,” says the letter signed by several prisoners.

An expression of their courage

Letter smuggled out from Nahiroby Olivas

The letters also show the disposition of political prisoners like Amaya Coppens, who in one of her letters made clear that: “I have no regrets and I have a clear conscience. The price I am paying is insignificant compared to what many Nicaraguan families had to pay. I am locked up. But, I am fine, and more confident of my struggle and determined to continue in resistance.”

The university student Nahiroby Olivas has been another one of those who has sent letters from the confinement he lives. In the last text he could send, he recalled that on April 19 the strength of the struggle that brought “pain, tears, suffering and despair” was born.

“Even so it is not time to mourn. It has not been time to cry. It is time to continue standing, to not forget that it is time to struggle,” he wrote in a brief text.

So far this year the students have made at least four demonstrations within the Central American University (UCA).  Photo: Carlos Herrera / Niu

Brenda Gutierrez, of the Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners, explained that the first letters from political prisoners were intended to denounce the abuses suffered, but in recent months the letters of the prisoners “show encouragement and positivity.

The message they are sending is to continue struggling until the regime leaves,” she said.

One of the first writings that came out of prison was written by the rural leader Medardo Mairena, who denounced the abuses suffered in the La Modelo prison where “the cells are in poor condition, there is no light, the toilets are broken, the windows to let air in have been closed. They have us as if they are baking us,” said Mairena.