The alternative community activists complain about their arrest, deportation and the theft of their possessions.
By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES — The six members of the Meso-American Caravan who were deported from Nicaragua by the government of Daniel Ortega, still don’t understand why they were accused of handling explosives “for no apparent reason”. They want to know why the Sandinista government interrogated them with such persistence, imprisoned them for over 48 hours and why the National Police destroyed their mini-bus.
On Friday, the four Mexicans involved, who are currently being sheltered at the Mexican Embassy in Honduras, gave a press conference via Skype. They told the world how the series of events unfolded and demanded that the Nicaraguan authorities return their missing belongings.
Activist Daniel Espinosa asked what “was so upsetting” about something so simple like building environmentally-friendly cooking stoves, making milkshakes with a blender which operates by riding a bike or holding a sustainable farming workshop. “We still don’t understand what Ortega and other influential people in the country are afraid of. People who work with environmental and social issues?” asked the young man.
It all began on June 25 when activists from the Meso-American Caravan for Good Living were arrested by the National Police when a farmer was injured after having set fire to an old barrel which still had some oil residues in it. Afterwards, President Daniel Ortega himself accused the activists of “handling explosives” in an unusual public speech. This was followed by a news release issued by the National Police, confirming what the Sandinista leader had said. However, police officers at no point presented any evidence of these “explosives”.
We work with junk
“What made Ortega say that we were making explosives when all we do is convert junk materials into useful objects so that people can live better?” Espinosa insisted. He is one of the six activists who were deported, four to the Guasaule border with Honduras and at the border of Las Tablillas in Costa Rica.
Deported from Nicaragua without any explanations were: Mexican-Spanish Daniel Espinosa Gimenez, Emmanuel de la Luz Ruiz, Salvador Tenorio Perez and Eugenio Pacelly Chavez Macedo from Mexico, Ana Laura Rodriguez from Argentina and Byron Francisco Reyes Ortiz from Costa Rica.
The environmentalists noted that the police began harassing them on June 22 when they arrived at La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea, to give a workshop to campesinos in the anti-canal movement, whose coordinator is Francisca Ramirez, who was also taken prisoner, but was then released that same Saturday.
“Ever since we began setting up everything for the workshop, two National Police pickup trucks were circling us. On Friday, a policeman from La Fonseca came to question us, to ask us who we were,” Espinosa tells us.
The workshop was going to be held at the old community market, which is located right in front of the local Police station. However, because of the harassment, they decided to move the event to the street, in front of the Catholic church. On Saturday morning, three policemen from the National Police Special Forces, armed with AK-47s, and commissioner Francisco Huerta, who was dressed as a civilian, broke into farmer Pedro Mena’s house, who was housing the activists for the duration of their stay.
The policemen demanded to see their documents and when they were asked why they had violently broken into the house, Huerta got annoyed. “We asked the commissioner who he was, because he wasn’t dressed in uniform, but he didn’t answer us. He took out his phone and took a photo of us, I did the same thing and he got even more annoyed. He said that we didn’t know how things worked in this country and he reminded us of the 43 people who disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Mexico” said Savaldor Tenorio Perez.
Detained at Immigration
The activists then told us that after the accident with the oil barrel, they were taken to the Nueva Guinea police station and were “tricked”, because they were told all they had to do was to go there and give their statements. Forty minutes later, they were transferred to Managua. “We were escorted by Special Forces agents and we saw that their AK-47s didn’t have the safety on,” Eugenio Pacelly Macedo says.
They arrived at the main Immigration offices at about 8pm. Interrogations took place in a “room that was heavily air-conditioned and too cold.” According to their account, the interrogations went on until 3am early the next morning. They said that the people who interrogated them were very intimidating, because they kept making references to those who had disappeared in Iguala and others who were disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship.
The young environmentalists went on to say that the immigration officers, wrapped up in big coats because the air-conditioning was so cold, didn’t believe that they were a self-sufficient organization, that is to say that they don’t receive funding from anyone. “They were always trying to link us with somebody, to a particular interest,” said Espinosa.
The immigration officers handed them some forms which described the physical attributes of each of the activists there. However, in the box, which is meant for specifying the crime they committed, was left blank. The activists refused to sign.
Costa Rican Byron Ortiz had the longest interrogation, who apparently was told, because he was from Costa Rica and a neighbor of Nicaragua, he would walk free if he told them “the truth”. The interrogations were also focused on trying to link the activists to the Inter-oceanic Canal. “They treatened to charge us with political meddling saying we were trying to incite the campesinos to protest against it,” Espinosa stated.
The activists reported the cell where they were held was of “unsanitary conditions” and that, in spite of having asked for basic hygiene products, they weren’t given any. The same thing happened when they asked to be able to speak to their respective embassies. “The boss isn’t here,” they would say.
On Monday the 27th, they were taken from Immigration and driven towards the border. In Guasaule, the National Police handed over the mini-bus back to the activists. There were over ten armed policemen with AK-47s.
The young environmentalists reported that the mini-bus had been handed back to them on the Guasale bridge completely broken. “Most of our belongings and tools from our Mobile Lab (what we call our mini-bus) weren’t there,” they expressed in a statement.
The mini-bus was given back to them without a handbrake, the brake pads had been burnt, there wasn’t any gas, it had 2 dents (one on each side), the steering wheel had been taken off, the steering wheel protector had been broken, the three-ply part on the front grill had been damaged and the environmental technologies they’d been given were all broken.
In addition, the National Police didn’t give them back the mini-bus’ official papers: original receipt, registration, driver license, power of attorney and other tax payment documents, and of the fumigations the vehicle had undergone in Central American countries.
Consular Relations “affected”
Both Mexico and the US have issued travel warnings to their citizens who are planning to visit Nicaragua. The State Department’s measure has frightened Nicaragua’s tourism sector, as US citizens are their main customers.
The Mexican Ambassador in Managua, Miguel Diaz Reynoso, highlighted the fact that in a very short period of time, several Mexican citizens have found themselves caught up in very unusual situations in Nicaragua, such as student Jobany Torres Becerra and political expert Viridiana Rios.
“This does affect our consular relations, as we have already asked a thousand times for an explanation with regard to the young activists and they still haven’t given us any,” stated Diaz Reynoso.
The Mexican Ambassador said that his country is “worried” about these deportations. This explains why the Mexican government has issued a warning so as to prevent “further abritrary arrests.”