The Tragic Story of Justo Rodriguez

The Ortega political prisoner was tortured to the extent it provoked a brain seizure.

Emerita Rodriguez points to a photo of Justo, illustrating his physical condition before his arrest on April 20, 2020. He weighed at least 170 pounds at that time, she recalls. Photo: Jadar Flores / La Prensa

By Eva Inestroza (La Prensa)

HAVANA TIMES – Justo Rodriguez, 68, lies inert on the bed in a small room. The farmer from the Island of Ometepe, Nicaragua was released from jail and returned to his family on December 19, 2020. He had been unjustly jailed by the Ortega regime and held for nearly eight months. He was returned to his family in a state of virtual paralysis.

A photo at the head of the bed shows the robust Justo Rodriguez that the police officials “abducted” on April 20, 2020. His sister, Emerita Rodriguez, 70, assures that he was completely healthy at the time. “He weighed about 170 pounds, and now look at him,” she told a team of reporters from “La Prensa”.   

Don Justo has no children. However, he’s the youngest of four siblings living close together in Esquipulas, Moyogalpa, on Ometepe.  Currently, his sisters and nieces are caring for him while his wounds heal.

His family members say that Justo’s delicate state of health is evidence of the torture that the political prisoners suffer. The terrible conditions they endure are the direct responsibility of the Ortega regime.

Punished for witnessing a police raid

Justo Rodriguez was sentenced to three years and six months in jail for the crime of “obstructing public functions”. The incident began when a group of citizens from Ometepe held a small public demonstration on April 19, 2020. They were commemorating the second anniversary of the April 2018 Rebellion.

His relatives affirm that Justo didn’t participate in the activity. However, the Police implicated him in the protest, merely for “observing” the officers’ actions. The agents were realizing a sweep, in search of those who had participated in the protest. [All protests no matter how small are prohibited in Nicaragua under the police state imposed since September 2018.]

On April 20th, the day after the protest, Justo left his house, as always, to check his fields. His family members recall that he’d also been offered a quick job that day, installing a door for a neighbor. However, on his way, he was stopped by the police.

“He wasn’t sick at all. He weighed about 170 pounds, and now look at him,” says his sister, straightening his pillows. Photo: Jader Flores / La Prensa.

“He was going to work, but when he heard the ruckus, he stood watching. He was at the edge of the park, leaning on a Nim tree there. That’s where they grabbed him. They dragged him to the [police] pick-up and threw him in the back. Then they threw a spare tire on top of him,” Emerita declared.

Afterwards, “he was kicked in the Rivas police station. They transferred him to Managua’s El Chipote interrogation jail and later to the prison. In the first visit, he told me that the police in the town of Moyogalpa had beaten him. He was all bent over, and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that his head hurt a lot. He was swollen,” Emerita recalled.

Justo suffered a stroke in prison

Four months after Justo Rodriguez’ imprisonment, guards from the “La Modelo” prison rushed him to Managua’s “Lenin Fonseca” hospital. He had suffered a stroke.

“They operated on him there to remove blood clots. The doctor told me these were reaching his brain, and if he’d arrived 20 minutes later, he’d have died. They immediately brought him into surgery and operated. The doctor told me that it was the result of blows,” Emerita affirmed.

The doctors told Emerita that she should remain in the hospital for 72 hours, to see how the patient responded. They were under guard the whole time, she stated. “I call it a siege. A police officer was assigned to stay with me all day in the ICU, with five riot squad officials outside. They didn’t allow me to speak with anyone.”

“My brother became seriously ill in prison. When he told them he didn’t want to eat, they didn’t give him food. They paid no attention when he complained of pain,” Emerita Rodriguez stated. “The day he had the stroke, they [prison authorities] called me and told me to come alone, without a telephone. I was held for five days, without knowing anything about my family members or anything,” she recalled.

Yonarqui Martinez, the attorney who defends many of the political prisoners, is in charge of don Justo’s case. She’s also been following up on his state of health. She displayed a medical summary from the “Lenin Fonseca” hospital, dated August 30, 2020.

The medical record states that the patient was admitted for blunt force trauma and bruising. This “produced blood clots in the lower cerebral area. He spent months with the results of that blow, suffering intense headaches. When he could no longer stand it, he suffered the stroke. The stroke caused loss of speech and mobility, and that’s how he was left,” Martinez said.

“The blows to the head were so hard that they caused massive head trauma, and he was never attended to medically. The doctors say it went on affecting him as the months passed. Since he didn’t receive medical attention, he had the stroke, and these are the consequences,” Martinez added.

‘[The hospital authorities] themselves recognize that he suffered massive cranial trauma, as a result of the blows.” she emphasized.

Regime officials fail to show their faces

On December 18th, the dictatorship freed over a thousand common prisoners. Only five of the over a hundred political prisoners were included in the pardon, among them Justo Rodriguez. However, he wasn’t even turned directly over to his family. Instead, he was left under medical observation in the same hospital.

“When they released my brother into my custody, we could only see his face. Apparently, the doctor didn’t have an order to show him. The same doctor told me that my brother was now in the hands of his family. He said that [the hospital] was just going to finish the course of treatment… and release him the next day.” It turned out they’d also operated on his back. “We didn’t find out until a nurse told us. She said: ‘Come here, and I’ll show you how to care for the incision, because it’s delicate,’” Emerita recalled.

Family members can’t explain why the dictatorship treated Justo Rodriguez so brutally. Photo: Jader Flores / La Prensa

“That operation on his spine, maybe it was the result of some kick…. It’s ugly, they used 20 stitches,” Emerita Rodriguez added.

“My brother is alive by a miracle,” expressed Lilliam Lopez, 76, the victim’s older sister. Her daughter is the one who cleans the wound on Justo’s back, every morning before heading for work.

“They [the regime] weren’t going to let him out [of jail] just like that. They freed him because he was nearly dead. No one has shown their face, nor given us any reason [for his state of health],” Lilliam Lopez complained.

Emerita can’t explain why the dictatorship treated Justo with such brutality. “They released my brother in critical condition. What I demand is justice. What they did to him and other prisoners is unjust. I don’t know why they did this to him. My brother didn’t even throw a stone, he just leaned against a tree to watch,” she lamented.

Condition improving a little

Justo Rodriguez first arrived home on December 20, following eight months in jail and days in the hospital. At that time, he didn’t speak, eat, or move. However, in the last few days under his family’s care, he has shown some improvements. “He’s eating soup, drinking milk and saying some words. When he arrived, his hands were bent, but we’ve massaged them with rattlesnake ointment. He can now stretch them and pull his covers up without help,” Lilliam Lopez explained.

“We hope to do the same with his legs, as soon as the wound heals (…) He has to walk again. My brother was a strong man, a hard worker. He was very pleasant, he didn’t get into anyone’s business,” Lopez added tearfully.

Photo: Jader Flores / La Prensa

In search of justice

Yonarqui Martinez affirmed that they’d pursue all the necessary steps to get justice for the former political prisoner. “Obviously, all the authorities who should have given him timely aid are responsible.  There’s even in-house documentation that he requested to see a doctor. He never received medical attention at the opportune moment. We’ll have to get to the bottom of this situation. All those [responsible] will have to pay for what happened to don Justo,” declared the attorney.

“What you see in him is evidence of torture. The lack of access to health care, to a doctor. The headaches that this man suffered in his cell were unbearable. They were the product of the police beatings, from the day he was arrested. What he suffered in his cell was additional torture. Like the doctor said, this man suffered in silence until he collapsed,” accused Martinez.

Police continue intimidating family members

Despite Justo’s delicate state of health, the Ortega regime has offered no truce. The same day he was released, police stopped the pick-up truck his family members were taking him home in.  They were waiting at the port to board the ferry for Moyogalpa on the island when their vehicle was flagged. Police asked for their documents, and went through all the luggage they carried.

“We were traveling with him lying down. The police stopped us and arrogantly ordered us to get out.  I asked them how I was supposed to get down when we were carrying him like that. They made us get out, they inspected us, they threw what we were carrying to the ground. They also threw down the food we were carrying in a sack. We were held there for over a half-hour. I told them to have a heart, that we had to get the boat,” stated Emerita.

On the evening of Monday, December 28th, two of don Justo’s family members were also detained by the police. They had gone to the dock to pick up some medicine and some adult diapers. “They weren’t transferred [to the police station]. The police simply stopped them. They inspected the packages because, supposedly, they’d been told they were carrying drugs. Later, they let them go and gave them their things,” Yonarqui Martinez said.

“The police don’t care what we’re going through,” Lilliam Lopez concluded. “They continue intimidating us and harassing us. They were only bringing Pampers. They saw that and let them go.”

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.