The Released Nicaraguan Political Prisoners Speak
From prison in Nicaragua to starting from scratch
They arrived in the United States stateless, with a special humanitarian permit for two years and a mixture of joy for having come out of hell, and sadness for having been expelled from their homeland.
HAVANA TIMES – With three hundred dollars in their pockets, some clothes, a backpack and a pair of shoes, Nicaraguan political prisoners released and expelled from their country by Daniel Ortega face the abyss of starting from scratch, carrying trauma, fears, and a story that they hope will make sense one day.
The hotel on the outskirts of Washington that gave them shelter their first days in the United States had become a center of operations to coordinate their lives from now on. Today they abandon it with two objectives: to recuperate and to start their lives over.
The hotel is just minutes from Dulles International Airport, where the 222 former prisoners landed on February 9th on a flight from Managua chartered by the United States, after President Ortega decided to release them, expel them from the country, and revoke their nationality.
Some of the more high-profile political prisoners pass through the bustling lobby these days, including the legendary Sandinista guerrilla Dora María Tellez, as well as the less known, who try to find clues, with the help of NGOs and solidarity compatriots, about what their path will be from now on.
They arrived in the United States stateless, with a special humanitarian permit for two years and a mixture of joy for having come out of hell, sadness at having been expelled from their homeland, and much confusion and fear, for what is to come.
This is what Osmar Vindell, a 38-year-old agronomist, who was incarcerated in Chinandega, Nicaragua for 23 months and 5 days for having participated in the anti-government protests of 2018, he told EFE news agency: “We all arrived with a lot of trepidation.”
A phone and $300
In addition to accommodation for three nights, transportation wherever they want, medical care and legal assistance, they were given initial help for their new start: a phone, $300, a backpack, a coat, underwear, pants, shoes and a shirt, Osmar explains.
He was planning to leave Sunday for Charlotte, North Carolina, where one of his cousins awaits to help him in his first weeks, while he manages to make effective his work permit.
The cousin emigrated for political reasons, and arrived to the United States by land, traveling the more than 5,000 kilometers that separate the promising north from a south of hopelessness and fear of speaking his mind.
Osmar’s brother also fled Nicaragua, taking refuge in Ireland. He is the one for whom Osmar ended up in prison because when they arrested Osmar they confused him for his brother. “I also participated in the demonstrations, but my brother was more involved in logistical issues, and he’s the one they really wanted.”
Osmar was held for seven days, before being imprisoned, tortured in a cell, beaten, and subjected to harassment to make him release information about where his brother was or who was involved in the protests.
“They couldn’t get anything out of me,” he says frankly, unashamed to reveal the two black marks that remain on his chest, scars from an object he was burned with.
Then he was transferred to prison and convicted of drug possession, invented charges used against many to justify the penalties. “For me it was drugs, for others it was rape . . . They invent a crime to hold you as a common prisoner and get prosecuted,” he explains.
He shares horrors about prison: a cell built for 8 holding as many as 33, where they slept crowded on the floor or hanging from hammocks; just one stream of water to wash; dirty beans, partially cooked rice, and a lot of psychological torture.
In spite of everything, he does not regret having taken to the streets to protest: “I believe that freedom of expression is one of the most important rights in any country. If the Nicaraguan people remain silent, we will continue to be marginalized and controlled by the government.”
Osmar, who dreams of one day being able to bring his wife and three children with the help the United States has promised them, is convinced that his suffering will be worth it because “soon there will be a change in Nicaragua that will benefit an entire people who have suffered a lot for a very long time.”
Many have no one
Osmar’s cousin is waiting for him in Charlotte, but there are many who have no one, Ligia Gómez told the EFE news agency. She is a former official of the Central Bank of Nicaragua, one of the first members of the Ortega government to go into exile in the United States, four years ago.
“About 109 have no one. I try to act as a relative,” she says, as she tries to organize who can take in the few who are left without a place to spend the first weeks.
“The entire Nicaraguan diaspora and the people who are living here are offering their homes and almost everyone is already placed,” says Gómez, who explains that people have been very moved by the issue of the political prisoners.
“We feel committed to them because they have been mistreated and tortured and have given up what is most important: their freedom, their family, and their life.”