The Cries of Families Waiting Outside Managua’s El Chipote Jail

Family members arrive at El Chipote to check the list of those detained. Photo: Rodrigo Sura /EFE

Some people are sleeping outside El Chipote, the Nicaraguan government’s favorite place to interrogate political prisoners, and they aren’t thinking about moving until their loved ones are released. Most of them were arbitrarily arrested by hooded “civilians” and police.

By Franklin Villavicencio  (Confidencial-Niu)

HAVANA TIMES — Anastacia Morales is 96 years old and she has been standing outside the Judicial Assistance Department (DAJ) (better known as El Chipote), where her grandson has been arbitrarily detained, for the past five days. Anastacia waits at the entrance of this detention center, which became famous due to the terror stories of torture within its four walls created.

The old lady waits for hours on end, sitting in a plastic red chair, surrounded by cushions. The person she is waiting for has a name: 27-year-old Bernardo Jose Jarquin Urbina was arrested by the National Police and paramilitary on June 15th, in the Multicentro Las Americas district.

Anastacia had gone out that morning to collect her pensioner’s cheque because she “thought that everything was calm” at that time. However, hours later, attacks broke out in this area. Her grandson, Bernardo, went out looking for her when “he was taken” by policemen and hooded “civilians”. She hasn’t moved from the Judicial Assistance Department’s entrance from that day onwards Photo: Carlos Herrera | Niu


“I feel guilty because in reality he – Bernardo – went out looking to bring me home. I’m just asking them to give him back to me for the love of God and the Holy Virgin. I can’t bear to be here another five days. I’m not even hungry. I’m asking God to please get him out,” she says.

She has managed to see him once when officials let her go inside for 15 minutes. She says that he looked “good” and she at least has “peace of mind” knowing that he hasn’t been hurt, but that’s not enough for her to go home. What Anastacia wants is for them to release him, for “him to go home with her in peace”.

Her face has gone viral on social media and in some international newspapers. She has received signs of solidarity from Spain and the United States. Her relatives have been staying in shifts to keep her company during the day and night. In spite of her having a heart condition and having had to see a doctor, she isn’t thinking about moving until her grandson is set free. “That is the only thing I want, for them to give him to me,” she exclaims.

Alexander Munguia’s mother went looking for her son at El Chipote. A young man who was leaving told her that he was inside, that he had been beaten up pretty bad. The Police never admitted to capturing Alexander, whose dead body appeared at Legal Medicine with a disfigured face. Photo: Rodrigo Sura


Anastacia had raised Bernardo ever since he was a little boy, “this is where her love for him comes from,” said his aunts who have been keeping the old woman company. She is his “other half”. Today, she hopes to see him again and that they let her in, even if it is just for 15 minutes.

“I shouldn’t have gone out. Everything was calm. I only went out for that. I say that I’m to blame… why did I go out?!” Anastacia blames herself.

La Judicial Assistance Department (DAJ) has a dark past. During the Somoza dictatorship, it was used as a torture prison. In 2011, one of the victims from here, Leonel Santana Zambrana, reported being a victim of “brutal torture techniques” while he was inside. With Daniel Ortega in power, human rights organizations have received several complaints about the punishments El Chipote officials hand out. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio | Niu


Next to her, there are over a dozen mothers, sisters, wives and sisters-in-law of those being detained. Nearly all of them have been waiting for their relatives to be released since Friday. Inside El Chipote’s cells, there are young 19-year-olds up to 37-year-olds. Some have been kidnapped on the street while they were heading to work, while others have been taken from their homes without a warrant. Like in Wilder Octavio Garcia’s case. On June 12th, the National Police went to his house located in the Primavera neighborhood. Before being taken to El Chipote, Wilder managed to call his mother, Maria Magdalena Saldana who told him: “Hand yourself in because you haven’t done anything wrong. Let the Blood of Christ protect you.”

Maria Magdalena hasn’t been sleeping at her home ever since her son was kidnapped by members of the National Police. She even locked herself to the El Chipote fence during the day, out of desperation. But, a doctor advised her to stop doing this as a form of protest. Photo: Rodrigo Sura | EFE

“My son will be released because he is a hard-working man who hasn’t committed a crime and if he’s been arrested that’s because he raised a blue and white flag, which is something every Nicaraguan has to respect. I will go and raise more flags and come here tomorrow dressed in blue with my flag raised high because this is every Nicaraguan’s right,” the mother said.

Maria Magdalena is waiting along with another 20 people for it to be 5 PM to take food to her son. Meals are donated by a group of people who come every day. For some families, this is a great help.

Dozens of relatives come every day to El Chipote, waiting for their loved ones to be released. Most of them were kidnapped since June 15th by hooded “civilians” and policemen, without an arrest warrant. When night falls, some people sleep there and others leave in the early morning and come back at 8 AM. Photo: Carlos Herrera | Niu
Media teams come every day. Relatives of those being held at El Chipote say that they aren’t afraid of the cameras anymore. The entrance to El Chipote is full of signs and messages which demand that those arrested be released. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio | Niu

However, that’s not the only help they are receiving. In the afternoon, it’s common to see citizens bringing bottles of water, biscuits, snacks, bread, everything. “It’s when we eat the most,” a relative waiting at El Chipote said.

Maria Magdalena was given a fold-up bed so that she can rest at night. “If my son isn’t released, I won’t go and if he doesn’t come out tomorrow, I’ll still be here. And I won’t go until I know what condition my son is in,” she exclaimed.

While hours pass by, some pray with their rosaries. “This is our only weapon,” a mother who was waiting for news about her 19-year-old son said. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio | Niu


Gina Poveda is standing a few meters away from Maria Magdalena. Her husband, Joel Antonio Mayorga, Los de Palacaguina band member Milciades Poveda’s son-in-law, was arrested on Friday June 15th at his home in Villa Progreso. And that wasn’t all, they also took things that Gina sells. She believes that her husband was arrested because he was on the “CPC list” (governing party block committees). Some have publicly denounced the existence of these lists of people who don’t agree with the party or have helped young people who are at the barricades.

El Chipote officials only let soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and food through. Relatives have tried to get clothes in but this has been denied. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio | Niu


“If anything happens to my husband, I can identify the three people (CPC agents). They are the ones who are responsible for watching and hurting people,” Gina says.

There are other relatives who, like her, aren’t losing their hope. “I know that they will release him tonight,” they repeat over and over again every day.