By Carlos Larios (La Prensa)
HAVANA TIMES – Lenin Antonio Salablanca Escobar, 38, grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional family. Later, he got mixed up in bad habits and was even on the street for a while. Then a helping hand gave him the support to move forward. He felt God in his heart, and his life changed.
Now an adult, Lenin says that he can’t remain silent about the regime’s abuses. The Ortega police have imprisoned, tortured, and harassed him. They won’t let him live in peace, and all because of his critical thinking.
Salablanca makes videos every time the National Police officials detain, harass or hit him. He records these interactions with the help of his wife, Cristian Belen Perez Rios, 22. In the videos, Salablanca speaks the truth to their faces and refutes their actions. He indicates his constitutional and human rights. The videos of him directly confronting the police have gone viral. They show his genuine courage in facing the regime’s repressive agents.
This past Tuesday, September 14, reporters from the Nicaraguan newspaper “La Prensa” visited Salablanca at his home in the municipality of Juigalpa. They wanted to know more about this opponent of the regime who has no fear.
He was already imprisoned for nine months
An hour after the visit from La Prensa, the police arrived and proceeded to detain and beat up Salablanca. At that moment, his sister, Roxana Salablanca, his cousin, Yasiris Chevez, and his wife began recording the detention. They too were then taken to the jail cells of the Juigalpa Police station. They were freed hours later.
Before Salablanca’s detention, a group of ten police, two in plain clothes, detained the La Prensa team. They were held for 40 minutes at the entrance to the municipality of Cuapa. Carlos Lam, the driver; Wilmer Lopez the photographer, and the reporter covering the story were all stopped and searched. The agents took their cameras, recorders, notebooks, IDs, and cell phones, while they looked through the recorded material. These were later returned.
The police took pictures of the reporting team. The officer in charge of the “operation” then made a number of calls to report their presence at the location. All this time, the team was directly under the hot sun. The officials threatened to arrest them if they tried to record or take pictures of what was happening. Finally, the team was released. [Salablanca was also released several hours later.]
Difficult early years
Lenin Salablanca had a bittersweet childhood. On one hand, he had a pleasant and affectionate grandfather who taught him carpentry skills and faith in God. On the other, his father had alcohol problems and made his life very hard.
Later, his father abandoned his mother. As a result, Lenin had to work from a very early age. He sold candies and snacks, or snow-cones, and worked in the city parks and markets shining shoes. The poverty and family needs kept him from going further than the 6th grade. Nonetheless, he returned to his studies at 23 and managed to get through the third year of high school.
At 13, Lenin started getting into trouble. He began to sniff glue and to live on the streets. Seeing this, his mother decided to send him to live with an aunt in Costa Rica. However, in that neighboring country, he continued on the wrong road. In fact, his repertory of problems increased, and he ended up going through five different rehabilitation centers. He spent five years on the street, until one day a helping hand reached him.
“The man (a neighbor in Costa Rica) fixed his gaze on me. Then he smiled and spoke. ‘Every time you’ve asked God from your heart, He’s seen you. He has planted a seed in you. One day, without your realizing it, it’s going to sprout, and you’re going to be a different man.’ (…) Later, the time came when I kneeled and asked God from my heart to help me. I never again felt the need for drugs,” Lenin recalled.
A social conscience
At 22, he returned to Nicaragua and managed to get work as a waiter in a restaurant. Later, he worked selling different products. He continues doing so, amid constant police harassment.
His days were spent taking care of his family and selling his products. But things changed in April 2018 when he saw the cowardly actions of the Sandinista Youth. Members of this group were videoed beating elderly protestors. The senior citizens were protesting the recently decreed Social Security reforms that would further diminish their miniscule pensions. After watching this, Salablanca’s conscience no longer left him at peace.
“It pained me greatly, it still hurts. Even today I can’t watch those videos because it moves me to see how they ran amok over the old people’s rights. I told my mother: ‘Mama, I’m defending your rights because you’re also retired.’ That same day I saw a group of girls crying at a Juigalpa gas station because they’d been beaten. They’d taken their protest signs and their flags.” I told them: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make a new sign, let’s talk,’” Salablanca told us.
Lenin affirmed that his family has Sandinista roots, but not followers of Ortega. “Sometime later, we saw that the government we thought would change Nicaragua had become the executioner of its own people. It’s been our lot to experience this in our own flesh and to suffer the consequences of this dictatorship.
“My family and I don’t regret taking that big step. Not all people have the courage to do so, to protest against this government. [This regime] has become the main violator of our fellow Nicaraguans’ human rights of. [It’s] a murderous government, a criminal government.”
Abducted and harassed
Salablanca was detained on August 19, 2018 when he set out to participate in an opposition march in Chontales department. He was released on June 11, 2019 when the Sandinista legislators approved the amnesty law the regime had oriented. He doesn’t deny that he’s fearful of being locked up again by the police. However, he feels that someone must raise their voice against the injustices.
He called the infighting and differences occurring within the National Coalition “regrettable”. “Those below, the everyday citizens, are crying out for unity, freedom, justice. Meanwhile, there’s a certain group on top fighting for their own economic and political gain. They’re forgetting about the suffering and the pain that we’re going through as a people.”
Fear of speaking out
La Prensa asked Salablanca’s neighbors what they thought about the constant police vigilance of the sector. Nearly all of them were afraid to speak out. “Afterwards, the police and the CPC (members of the Sandinista-allied neighborhood committees), come looking for you and won’t leave you in peace,” said one neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified.
Manuel Antonio Lumbi, one of Lenin’s neighbors, wasn’t afraid. He stated: “They [the police] are after him [Lenin] all the time – at midnight, at noon, all the time. It’s a miracle that they’re not here right now. It’s true that they spend all their time following him. He speaks truth to them and has balls, that man. I don’t get involved in that, but sometimes I’m scared that they’ll riddle him with bullets. The case is that he doesn’t belong to the same government party, that’s his crime. That’s why I don’t like to get into political things, because I’m a farmer, I work to support my family.”
Lenin lives in a small house, together with his wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and his three-year-old son. “It scares us when the police stop and search us, because we don’t know what’s going to happen to us. One time a policeman struck me as he took my cellphone, because I was recording the harassment of my husband. My son gets scared when he sees the police outside the house. He says, ‘Mama, Mama, the police are out there!’ But I’m going to keep backing my husband through this siege,” declared Cristian Perez.