When she was a teen, her mother was killed; she became a single mother when her ex-partner left her; and today she’s the youngest of the dictatorship’s political prisoners.
By Patricia Martinez G. (Confidencial, Niu)
HAVANA TIMES – Life has hit twenty-year-old Solange Centeno hard. At a very young age, she came home one night to find her world crashing down: her mother had been murdered by the person who at that time was her boyfriend.
Five years later, Solange got pregnant and it fell to her to assume full responsibility for her son when the child’s father abandoned her. Today, Solange is living through yet more hard times that she perhaps never imagined – she finds herself in jail for protesting against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
The death of her mother, up until now, was Solange’s greatest sorrow. She and her mother were very close, so much so that Solange left Matagalpa to move in with her in Managua. They got along very well, affirms Gloria Lopez, Solange’s grandmother.
“They had a good relationship and there was a tight bond between them. They told each other everything.” Losing her was a blow of the very hardest, “but she did everything she could to move forward,” Lopez says.
According to the people who know her, Solange has always been a girl with a strong character, determined to reach her goals. Her friends say that she always knew what she wanted. “Losing her mother made her stronger,” assured an acquaintance of Solange’s who asked not to use her name.
From the time she was a child, Solange showed an inclination to care for others. Every time someone in her family got sick, “she was always there to help,” her grandmother states. Her family noticed that she had a particular love for animals, so much so that she kept a pet snake that had been given to her. She’d spend hours playing in the area around her house, where there’s now a park worn away by the passing of time.
“Solange liked to play in that park. Every afternoon you’d find her playing there, running from one side of it to another. That was her place of leisure,” Gloria Lopez comments.
At just fifteen, she gave birth to a baby that she’s had the sole responsibility for until the day of her arrest. “The little boy has always lived with her and her great-grandmother. While she worked and studied, the little boy stayed here at home and went to school,” her grandmother explains.
In spite of the blows she’d suffered, Solange never gave up. After her mother’s murder, she returned to Matagalpa to finish high school. She also traveled to the nearby city of Esteli every weekend to study at a beauty school, so as to be able to do the thing she loved most. “She liked to put on and paint acrylic nails. She was always looking for someone to practice new designs on,” her grandmother tells us.
Before the protests against the Ortega Murillo regime broke out in April, 2018, Solange had been working for two years in a beauty parlor in the center of Matagalpa. According to one of the workers at this salon, who preferred to remain anonymous, Solange never said “no” to more work.
“She began working with me because I know her grandmother, and I gave her a course in applying acrylic nails. She’s a girl who’s been hard-hit by life, but she always put a lot into her work, and I developed a great affection for her,” the worker recalled.
Her role in Matagalpa’s civic struggle
When the protests exploded all over the country, Solange joined in with other young people in the city to form the Matagalpa April 19th Movement. “Solange had no political affiliation. She got involved because she didn’t like the injustices or the human rights violations,” noted a friend.
As the months passed, Solange became increasingly more involved in the demonstrations. She went to the protests, she helped attend to the sick, and she collected supplies for those who were wounded during the protests. “Since the time she was small, it was clear that she’d become a leader. She was always concerned for others and would help in whatever way she could in any situation,” her grandmother insists.
This young woman, short and thin, would run from one place to another to aid the demonstrators during the attacks on the marches in Matagalpa. Although she’d never studied first aid, she was always willing to assist in any way possible. Her family insisted a number of times that she stop participating in the protests, but she opted to keep going.
The day of her arrest
On June 26, Solange was traveling with other young people from the Matagalpa’s April 19 Movement to Managua, the capital, to leave provisions and to visit people who’d been wounded during the attacks on the protestors. “She was always determined to help the ones who needed it most, even if she didn’t know them,” emphasized one of her friends.
Around four in the afternoon, the five young people were on their way back to Matagalpa when they were stopped by a group of hooded men and police agents. They made them get out of the pick-up they were in, and sat them down in the brush beside the road, holding them there for two hours. “She says that they called them “road-blockers, sell-outs of their country,” says Solange’s grandmother.
Hours later, they were taken to the jail cells of “El Chipote” in Managua where they were tortured. “I found out on social media that they’d abducted Solange, because I was living in the United States. Fifteen days after her arrest, I returned to Nicaragua,” Lopez recalls.
They never let her see Solange. After twenty days of anguish for her family, her grandmother decided to make a public denunciation via the media that she wasn’t being allowed to see her granddaughter. “I felt that by saying it publicly maybe they’d pay some attention, and I put in the complaint,” she explains.
On December 10, Solange was declared guilty of organized crime, illegal arms possession and kidnapping, and sentenced to eighteen and a half years in prison. “The same false accusations that they’re making for all those who protested,” affirmed one of her friends.
Today in the “La Esperanza” women’s prison
Solange is currently in delicate health within the La Esperanza women’s prison. “Before being abducted by the National Police, she had been hospitalized for kidney problems,” recalls her concerned grandmother.
She’s being held with thirteen other prisoners in a tiny cell. According to her grandmother, she’s physically well, but there are days when desperation and the stress of being in that prison overpower her. “The political prisoners don’t have the same rights as the common prisoners: they’re not allowed out into the yard; they’re not allowed to watch television; they’re held in maximum security prisons,” Lopez explains.
Solange has told her family members that thermal waters run directly into their cell through the pipes where the political prisoners shower. “The first days, Solange didn’t have anywhere to store water and let it cool, so she had to bathe in boiling water. When we visited, we’d see her with her skin all red from the very hot water,” her grandmother says.
Despite the hardships, Lopez says that her granddaughter is strong, and she knows that sooner or later justice will arrive for the political prisoners. “She gives us strength – all of the young girls are strong. They’re sure that this won’t last forever, and they’re clear that they’re being denied their freedom today in order to see Nicaragua freed,” her grandmother insists. She’s convinced that her granddaughter will win this new battle.