Nicaraguan Musician Josue Monroy on his Banishment
“A policemen comforted me: ‘but you will be free’”
Nicaraguan musician of the Monroy & Surmenage band describes his arrest and interrogation in El Chipote and later expulsion from the country.
By Contracorriente / Celia Pousset* (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – In April 2022, Nicaraguan musician and singer Josue Monroy was arrested at his home and expelled from Nicaragua by policemen who left him without papers at the border with Honduras after making him sign a document forbidding him to return to his country. Days earlier, he had dared to sing in public “En el ojo del huracán” (In the eye of the hurricane), a song committed to the social movement of 2018.
While the United States revises its immigration policy by restricting the “irregular” entry of Nicaraguans, among others, the Ortega-Murillo regime continues to show a willingness to harass critical voices, to the point of psychological breakdown and exile.
This is the first time that Josue Monroy tells a media outlet what happened on April 12, 2022, and the days that followed. He feels nervous, even “anxious.” But from a room in Barcelona, “on the other side of the Atlantic,” he finally found relative calm —and enough distance— to recount that day when, for singing to his country, he was deprived of it.
“Many newspapers wanted me to give a statement right after the events, but I couldn’t. I disappeared from social networks for a while. I was hiding. I did not want to see or hear anything. Until now I am starting to be able to talk about it,” explains Monroy.
On April 2, 2022, a concert was held at Managua’s French Alliance to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Monroy & Surmenage Band, and its musical career. Monroy organized that event together with his former manager, Xochilt Tapia, as a big party that brought together eleven Nicaraguan bands from different parts of the country. The date also coincided with the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the protests that broke out in April 2018 and were repressed.
“At the end of the concert, at two in the morning,” Monroy recalls, “the public asked me to sing the song I had written about the 2018 demonstrations. It is called ‘En el ojo del huracán’ (in the eye of the hurricane) and I hesitated. I knew that it was a very sensitive issue. In 2019, a concert in Masaya had been cancelled because of that song. A member of the band told me: ‘don’t sing the song.’ But the public was euphoric, and Xochilt gave her opinion: ‘Oh well, let go up on stage.’ So, I ended up singing it. The audience accompanied me in such a beautiful way that I carry with me the memory of a magical moment.”
The song comes from the record “El vuelo de la medusa” (Medusa’s flight). The song “En el ojo del huracán” conjures through poetry the struggle of those who rose up to protest against the policies of the Ortega-Murillo regime.
“The winds of the new era shimmer when we breathe. In the rain, we all cling together, joining hands. Shouting is not in vain. We will not be silent. A loud cry since April. All shout: present. An outbreak over me, a murmur over the people (…). In the rain they come closer, dying in pairs. Fireflies like stars shine at the sound of a loud cry from April…”
“That music emerged amid the emotional stress that the country was going through. Its intensity continues to grow. I got inspired by what I was hearing in the marches. I tried to channel the anger that I felt. The eye of the hurricane is the moment of calm, but that’s when you must get stronger because the other side of the storm is coming. If you are not ready, that wind breaks your heart,” Monroy explains about the origins of his creation soaked with the courage he perceived among the youth. “In the marches of 2018, I felt that all the people were like fireflies in the middle of the darkness,” he says smiling.
In the wake of this concert, authorities canceled all of Monroy & Surmenage’s scheduled concerts nationwide.
Police officers laughed during the arrest
Ten days later, on April 12, 2022, at 2:00 pm, while he was cleaning his house, he heard the outside gate being knocked down. Monroy knew he was going to be arrested. A dozen police officers forced their way in. They grabbed him in shorts and sandals and threw him into the patrol van under the helpless stares of his neighbors and a drummer friend who came to protest and who was also beaten.
The police took the instruments and amplifiers on the first raid. In the patrol car, Josue Monroy asked why he was being arrested, but the policemen laughed, “as if it was all a joke.” The musician was taken to the facilities of the infamous “El Chipote” jail.
As soon as he entered, Josue realized that they had already captured Leonardo Canales, the drummer of the band that played in the concert that day. Shortly after, Xochilt Tapia and her husband, Salvador Espinoza, the owners of Saxo Producciones, one of the last independent (unofficial) music production companies of Nicaragua, arrived. “When they learned of our arrest, other musicians and singer-songwriters fled the country,” says Monroy.
“The cell was one meter by half a meter, the singer recalls, with bars at face’s height and a lightbulb above. There I could not even lie down, only sit. I went through a two-day interrogation without sleeping. They sent me to bathe so I would be cold in the freezing interrogation room. They would ask me the same question over and over again and threatened to go see my family and friends if I did not talk.”
The detention conditions and interrogation practices of the Nicaraguan Police, employing torture methods, are aimed at mentally breaking political detainees perceived as “terrorists,” according to Daniel Ortega. On January 9, 2023, during a solemn ceremony to install the legislative term 2023, the dictator justified the imprisonment of more than 235 political prisoners whom he called “criminals,” guilty of fomenting the “coup d’état” of April 2018 and affirmed that “not even with a life-sentence will they be able to pay off the damage” done to Nicaragua.
In 48 hours, Monroy passed through eight officers who questioned him alternately, always asking the same questions, thus revealing the regime’s obsession with the alleged interference of foreign countries in national affairs. The questions were: who is funding you? Was it an NGO? What does my song mean? Why did I dedicate a song to my mother on May 30, 2019, the same day that a big massacre also occurred?
While some policemen were interrogating him, others were carrying out the second raid on his house. They confiscated all his documents, “everything that showed that I am Nicaraguan.”
“I was being accused of disturbing the public order. They wanted to imprison me for ten years,” Josue explained. A young policeman seemed sympathetic, he knew that what he was doing was wrong. I could feel it. When he finally announced that I was going to be expelled, I totally broke down. When he saw me crying, the policeman got nervous and to console me he said: “but you will be free.”
On April 14, 2022, Josue Monroy was expelled from Nicaragua. “I asked permission to say goodbye to my family, but a policeman said that they already knew I was leaving. On the way to the border, I was saying goodbye to my country through the window. They released me on the bridge that crosses the Guasaule River, in sandals and shorts, nothing more. They were insulting and filming me with their cellphones. It is something psychological, they want you to feel like shit. Exactly like that. They made me sign a document stating that I could not return to Nicaragua, otherwise they would put me in jail. So, I signed it. They took my picture and left.”
In the border town, a Honduran family gave hospitality to the stateless man. They learned through social networks that Josue’s story was true and that “he was not a criminal, but a Nicaraguan songwriter with an opinion.”
“After three days, a family from Tegucigalpa came to pick me up at the border and took care of me for four months. I can’t say much about those Honduran families because I don’t want anything to happen to them,” warns Monroy. He is careful with his words and fears, more than anything, to cause problems to those who protected him during those long weeks in which he was confined in someone else’s home. Although, much more open than his own country.
Meanwhile, he knew nothing about Xochilt, Salvador or Leonardo Cardenas. He lived self-absorbed with fear of meeting a man in uniform. He learned later that the two producers had been released by the police at the airport on April 21, and that they had sought asylum in Germany.” “Leonardo Canales was thrown out at the Costa Rican border,” he says.
Since the 2018 protests and the repression that followed, the music scene in Nicaragua has been divided —like the entire country— between the “sapos” (toads) and the “puchitos” (smidgens): between those who support the Ortega government and those who raise their voices to defend the few freedoms they have left. Josue Monroy explains that the “sapo” musicians emphasize the 1970’s war against the Somoza regime and use nostalgia as a propaganda tool. And the “puchitos”? “They left,” the singer-songwriter assures. “Almost all of them left or have been banished, most of them are in Costa Rican and cannot return.”
With the forbidden country behind him, Josue had to reinvent his life, starting with nationality. He managed to get a Honduran Identity Card and a passport.
“Finally, I did a couple of concerts in Honduras and tried not to talk about politics. I found out that several people who were in the 2018 protests and who had been exiled from Nicaragua, disappeared even in Honduras. I heard about two cases. But I was trying not to watch the news to regain my sanity and self-esteem,” Monroy recounts.
Artists are one of the many targets of attacks, intimidation, arrests, and banishment by the Ortega-Murillo regime. In 2022, a total of 703 attacks on press freedom were recorded and 93 journalists fled the country, according to a report by Voces del Sur, a regional network of Latin American civil society organizations.
At the end of September, Josue left for Spain as a political refugee. Now he is trying to get used to life in Barcelona and make a living from his music: “I am going back to singing. I have a record in mind. It will be titled: lightening at two pm.”
Monroy & Surmenage did not disappear, it mutated. And their cry will continue to resonate.
*This article was originally published in Contra Corriente, Honduras, with the title: “Monroy & Surmenage, the band that the Ortega-Murillo regime banished.” Confidencial reproduces it with authorization from the media outlet.