The On-Going Needs of ex-Nicaraguan Political Prisoners

Yaritzha Mairena urges opposition forces to “unify a strategy” to free the remaining political prisoners and work towards “access to justice for the victims.”

By Alejandra Padilla (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The National Union of Nicaraguan Political Prisoners (UPPN) denounced the fact that the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo hasn’t offered families any information about the health of the 35 political prisoners that remain in the country’s different jails and prisons, among them Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, imprisoned in the El Modelo penitentiary. 

In an interview with the independent online news site Confidencial, Yaritzha Mairena, who represents the prisoners’ organization, stated that the Nicaraguan opposition needed to “become aware” of the importance of “maintaining alive the demand for justice for all the crimes committed against Nicaragua’s political prisoners.” Even those released still suffer the physical and psychological scars of their time in jail.

“There still hasn’t been adequate attention to the victims,” Mairena insisted.

Yaritzha Mairena should know. She herself was arrested at a peaceful protest in Leon in late August 2018. Then only 24 years old, the political sciences major and leader of the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice was charged with terrorism and homicide. She remained in jail until March 15, 2019, and is currently in exile.

Since May 2022, the UPPN, made up of released political prisoners, has maintained a permanent campaign called “Justice with memory,” that gives voice to the regime’s direct victims and their search for justice.

What information do you have regarding the political prisoners that remain in Nicaragua’s jails?

We’ve tried to maintain communication with the relatives of the 35 political prisoners who were left in the jails to assess their situation. [Note: 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners were released and banished to the United States on February 9, 2023. Some 35 remain.] What they’ve told us is that many haven’t been allowed to have contact with their families since the release of the 222. That’s really concerning, because no one knows how they are, or where they were moved to – if, in fact they were moved.

We’re also awaiting some new additions to the list [of political prisoners], because the number has been rising, with new arrests and constant police sieges since the release of the 222. We understand that there’s been an increase in police vigilance towards other formerly released political prisoners, and it’s feared there could be reprisals taken against those who are still in the country, but have been “labeled” by the police, like the political prisoners that were released in 2019.

You yourself were a political prisoner in 2018 and 2019. What physical, emotional and personal scars does such jail time leave?

There are people who still bear the scars of the medical conditions that developed during their arbitrary detention, for example skin funguses, gastritis, blood pressure problems. Many of these people didn’t have health problems before, but now they do – ulcers, hair loss, skin problems. It also caused other serious consequences such as migraines, bone and muscle aches, stomach aches, colon problems.

In the case of those who had bone lesions, or who suffered burns and poorly healed wounds, those people now find they have limited mobility and constant joint pain.

In terms of the consequences of the psychological torture, I could mention a ton, but I’ll summarize them this way: anxiety, depression, claustrophobia, spasms, dissociation, isolation, inability to resume your life’s plans, paranoia, insomnia, nightmares, and suicide attempts.

Last year, the UPPN launched their ongoing campaign “Justice with memory”. Along with the campaign, they presented a report entitled “Detained, tortured and displaced,” with narratives from the political prisoners the dictatorship had released [mainly through a conditional amnesty in 2019]. What do the testimonies and that report tell us about treatment of these prisoners in the jails?

The report includes a description of the brutal mistreatment and the scars the prisoners have suffered since their arbitrary imprisonment. However, it’s also important to mention that we present a description of what it’s been like to live as a released political prisoner in Nicaragua. These people have had to live under constant watch, threats, persecution, and criminalization, which affects lots of aspects of their lives, such as denial of health services, educational services and other services that take place in the government institutions. The released prisoners who have tried to get passports or identity cards and have also been denied these.

A short while ago, Juan Bautista Guevara – a teacher who belongs to our organization – was briefly detained. He was beaten and threatened, with the intention of driving him out of the country. The threats led him to flee the country. This is a recurring event for the released prisoners, and it’s brought a different type of scar, due to the impossibility of attaining the stability that allows you to overcome the traumas, because at any moment they could come and arrest you again and accuse you of some crime.

Since 2019, your organization has maintained a permanent campaign for the liberation of all the political prisoners. What does this campaign involve? How can the demand for the release of the prisoners be maintained in Nicaragua – now a de facto police state?

The UPPN has emphasized the need for a joint strategy among all the opposition forces to obtain the freedom of the political prisoners. Due to the high level of repression in Nicaragua, neither demonstrations nor protests for their release can be held, but other mechanisms exist. We’ve insisted greatly on the use of cyber-activism, and the social networks to give an image of collectivity or unanimity in the demand for the liberation of the political prisoners, but the work mustn’t stop there. We must also make use of the instruments at an international level, to continue demanding their freedom and obtain support from other pro-democratic governments.

We also want to implement certain mechanisms for access to justice, in order to exert pressure on the regime. Now, more than ever, it should be demonstrated that arbitrary imprisonment is a crime against humanity.

April will mark five years since the 2018 civic rebellion. What’s left of that struggle and of people’s aspirations?

The Nicaraguan people are still firm in their demand for justice, freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, the constant repression and criminalization has caused people to avoid making any declarations with respect to this. It’s also caused problems in terms of organizing. It’s time for the opposition to unite in a single strategy, no longer a platform, that really brings the political prisoners release and access to justice for the victims.

It’s unfortunate that five years after the April civic insurrection, many victims of the regime continue needing medical attention but haven’t received adequate treatment. The former political prisoners should be treated with the seriousness they deserve – we can’t continue leaving that topic for later.

What are the main challenges today, with the principal leaders in exile, banished or stripped of their nationality, and with a police state wreaking terror in the country?

The greatest challenge we have as opposition is the creation of a unified discourse that’s not only words, but also a strategy for pressuring the dictatorship. We’ve always had the problem that many people talk but their speeches aren’t in accordance with what we’re denouncing. Those are the discords in the opposition that we must correct.

The opposition must recognize itself and understand that all of us need each other, because the people are united and know what they want – they continue with the demand for justice, freedom, and democracy.

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