The former political prisoner affirms that the preordained verdicts and the current crisis in Nicaragua’s Judicial system merely reveal that the “real head honcho” is Rosario Murillo.
HAVANA TIMES – Former Nicaraguan foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, 79, is now a released political prisoner, exiled to the United States. He still wonders what he did to trigger his arrest in July 2021, and why he was imprisoned for more than a year and a half. Not even the El Chipote interrogators believed that, at his age, he was involved in any actions against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
“As time went on, the number of interviews or interrogations began to decrease. Many times, the sessions had very little to do with issues related to my supposed rebellious activities,” recalls Aguirre, who was banished and denationalized on February 9, 2023, and subsequently had his home and all other assets confiscated.
In Francisco Aguirre’s case, at least, he had company in his cell. During some of his later interrogation sessions, he dedicated himself to teaching basic economics. “There was a young policewoman, who I noticed had a certain curiosity about economic issues. I could tell from her questions, and spent the time giving her an economics class.
For Aguirre, the imprisonments and unjust convictions were a sign that Nicaragua’s judicial system was already dysfunctional. The person in charge, even then, was Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s all-powerful vice president and first lady. Given this, says Aguirre, the current administrative crisis in Nicaragua’s Courts – which has seen more than 900 dismissals – should not be seen as “a blow to democracy or the rule of law,” because they no longer exist.
In an interview with the online television news program Esta Noche, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa analyzed Nicaragua’s current policy of facilitating irregular migration, which has brought yet more tension to their relations with the United States, and the Ortega regime’s alliances with “problematic” countries such as Russia and China.
The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship declared you guilty of “Treason to the Homeland,” and you remained in the El Chipote jail for one year and seven months, before being banished to the United States. Can you describe your arrest, and why you were imprisoned?
In fact, this was my second arrest. Some six months before [actually in August 2020] I was detained and accused of having participated in the purchase of some stolen church bells. At the time, I didn’t know how to interpret what was happening, and I only spent two days in El Chipote for that issue. The incident should have alerted me that, for one reason or another, the government had their eyes on me. But honestly, it wasn’t clear to me at all why I’d be under their lens, because I wasn’t involved in politics. I had resigned from the political party I belonged to over a year and a half before. Previous to [my arrest] I wasn’t a candidate for deputy or president, or vice president, and I wasn’t an active member of any political party. Their desire to imprison me is still an enigma.
The second arrest occurred on July 21, 2021. I was stopped at the border with Costa Rica, when my wife and I were traveling to the city of Liberia there. We were going to Liberia to catch a Delta flight [to the United States], because at that time the airline was no longer traveling to Nicaragua and I was a frequent flyer with the company. When we reached the border, the first thing they did was take my passport away. They held me there in the Nicaraguan immigration offices for an hour, and although they gave my wife permission to go on to Liberia, they said that in my case I had to go to Managua to straighten out my legal situation.
I told them: “I don’t have any legal situation.” So, then we both turned around and left for Managua in our car, but a short time later, we noticed that we were being followed by a Police pick-up with three or four police in it. We headed north going at over 60 mph, until we got to the Ochomogo bridge [between Rivas and Granada] where they stopped and grabbed me.
I barely had a few seconds to say goodbye to my wife. They loaded me onto one of those pick-up trucks and took me to El Chipote. That time, they put me in a cell with one other person in it – Pedro Mena who later became a great friend. He was a farm leader, and he served as company. A year later, Juan Lorenzo Hollman [former general manager of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s oldest opposition newspaper] was added to our group, and in that way, little by little different [fellow political prisoners] were added to our cell. At least, there were people to talk to, because the loneliness in jail is something that’s very difficult to cope with.
How would you describe those days in El Chipote? What were you interrogated about?
The interrogators were amateurs. In some cases, it was very obvious. They asked me why I opposed the Government, and I’d answer: “You explain to ME why you back the Government.” In other words, I ended up passing the ball back to them [the El Chipote interrogators]. By the end, they were just going through the motions of questioning me.
Sometimes they’d take me out to ask questions up to three times a day, but as time passed, the number of interviews or interrogation sessions began to diminish to one a day. Often the sessions had very, very little to do with topics related to my supposed rebellious activities, or my supposed attempts to overturn the government. I think that none of those people who interviewed me really believed that I was mixed up in any political activity, but they had to go through the motions of interrogating me.
There was a young policewoman who I noticed had a certain curiosity about economic topics. So, I approached her questions that way, and then dedicated myself to giving her a class in economics. I remember that after seven or eight interviews I told her: “Ok, now you have your PhD in economics,” after I’d asked her certain questions about what interest rates, inflation, fiscal deficits, etc. were. She was happy as a lark.
What happened during your bogus trial? What evidence did they present, and why did they find you guilty?
The guilty verdict was for supposedly having tried to undermine the national sovereignty. Suddenly a policewoman appeared – the only person to be interrogated by the judge – with a Beretta pistol that I had in my home. She handed over the pistol [to the judge], and my lawyer asked her what my Beretta pistol had to do with “my activity to try and overturn the government.” The poor thing wasn’t prepared for any questions on the part of the lawyer, so she answered that the Beretta had nothing to do with the accusation. A little while later, the judge found me guilty and sentenced me to eight years in jail. That’s how that thing went – a total and complete farce.
You were temporarily mandated to house arrest, but they later returned you to El Chipote. What happened during that time?
They sent me home because they were worried. Following the death of General [Hugo] Torres, they feared that I, who was the oldest or second oldest of all the political prisoners, could die there, and that the national and international criticism that already existed would multiply if they lost another political prisoner.
Then why were you sent back to jail?
I made the mistake of obtaining a cellphone, and they had put me in a room where the curtains were open. One night, they saw the light the telephone emits, and found out I had a cellphone on. That was the pretext they used to send me back [to jail], although they were already doing so with other political prisoners like Jose Adan Aguerri, who they also sent to house arrest and then returned to El Chipote.
What impact has this chapter had on your life and health?
For me, it was a period of much meditation, an experience I never thought I’d have. I’d done many interesting and unusual things in this life. With the World Bank, and during my time as Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister [1997-2002], I had the opportunity to travel the world a lot, but it never occurred to me that I was going to spend time in El Chipote, after trying to exercise my right to travel to Costa Rica for a hip operation.
That was the reason for my trip to Costa Rica. I was intending to go on to Washington, where I had an appointment because my hip was causing me a lot of pain. That pain was a very serious problem for me during my time in jail.
What repercussions has the release and banishment of the 222 political prisoners had in the country and in the Ortega regime’s relations with the United States?
I believe that at the moment it happened, it was an important topic in the US. I had no way of being able to sense that, because I didn’t have easy access to communications. But one of the things you do in jail is to spend a lot of time speculating. In the lapses when there weren’t any police in the corridors, we would talk a lot amongst ourselves. I remember having assured several of them [other political prisoners] that – especially because of communications I’d had while I was under house arrest – I thought we were going to get out. What never occurred to me was that it would be such a massive exit.
The dictatorship has closed off all civic spaces, and has radicalized the repression and control over the country, even within the FSLN ranks and against the public employees. Is that a sign of the regime’s strengthening or weakening?
Viewed from outside, it’s a sign of weakness, but if we were to conduct a more professional study we’d really have to ask some more substantial questions. For example – What’s happening right now in the so-called judicial system? In reality, Nicaragua’s judicial system is no longer operational. I just finished describing how my case was handled, and why I’m sure that Rosario Murillo, the real “head honcho” in Nicaragua, had already ordered my guilty verdict. She’s the one who was making the decisions, and that judge or judges I had contact with had no independence.
Hence, what’s happening now in the Nicaraguan judicial branch has absolutely no effect on Justice in Nicaragua, because previous to this, politically speaking, the Nicaraguan judicial system was totally flawed. The fact that they’re fighting amongst themselves, or that they maybe need to offer salaries to people who are younger or more unconditional – that’s typical of Nicaragua politics. But we shouldn’t be lamenting or seeing this as a blow to Democracy and the Rule of Law in Nicaragua, because those elements haven’t existed in the country for a long time now.
In the past few months, Ortega has promoted the irregular migration movement of Haitians, Cubans, Africans, and Asians across Nicaragua towards the United States. What impact has that policy had on Ortega’s relations with the Biden Administration?
It’s a serious mistake, because they’re picking at a festering United States political sore, which is illegal immigration. As a result, we’re suddenly seeing a large number of illegal migrants appearing at the US southern border after traveling via Nicaragua, which previously hadn’t been a major source of illegal migrants.
These people [the migrants] know they have an open door in Nicaragua, as long as they’re willing to pay for the privilege. In order to earn these hundreds of dollars, Daniel Ortega has opened an additional flank in that highly sensitive topic of irregular immigration to the United States. The coming year is an election year in the US, and illegal immigration will be among the two or three most important issues. The fact is that Nicaragua will be seen in the United States not only as a corrupt and dynastic dictatorship, but as a regime that’s facilitating the arrival of illegal immigrants.
Ortega has also moved to strengthen his alliances with Russia, Iran, and China. What repercussions will those alliances have?
It doesn’t surprise me, because that’s the trilogy that other countries look to – countries that are seen by the United States as clear enemies, or countries whose relations with the US are problematic. In the case of Russia, there’s the invasion of Ukraine. The case of China is a very special one. Coincidentally, on November 15th, President Biden will be meeting in San Francisco with Chinese head Xi Jinping. This indicates a very particular relationship, that’s different from that of the United States with Russia, for example.
The fact that the Nicaraguan government has chosen [as alllies] three countries that are viewed very badly in the United States, serves to feed those US citizens who believe that the sanctions against Nicaragua should be increased.
Currently, the only sanction with “financial teeth” that the US have imposed on Nicaragua is to cut them out of the sugar quota. That ended up taking six million dollars in earnings away from the Nicaraguan sugar sector. Up until now, that’s the only sanction that has any economic teeth. What else could the US government impose? The easiest thing for them would be to totally cut off Nicaragua’s access to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. If their ties to those three international financial institutions were cut, Nicaragua would really find itself in a much more precarious economic situation than what it faces now. The United States could shut off that faucet quickly, if they had the will to do so.