Avoiding exile was an act of “resistance” and “solidarity”

Journalist Sofia Montenegro and activist and lawyer Azahalea Solis, who left Nicaragua in February. Photo: Archive.

Sofia Montenegro and Azahalea Solis noted that they left Nicaragua when there was no other option. “We spent these last five years under house arrest.”

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Journalist Sofia Montenegro and lawyer Azahalea Solis, who went into exile last month after being stripped of their nationality, assure that to remain in Nicaragua during the last five years was an act of “resistance” and “solidarity” to support, even from their homes, the families of the victims of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

“To stay and do resistance, to accompany the families of political prisoners, and, of course, the women being held, was a political decision. This was a decision we made consciously,” relates Solis.

Both suffered police harassment until the last day. So that, the raid that occurred on February 17th, in the apartment complex where they lived, was not a surprise. “After the sentence was read [taking away our citizenship] we knew that night, at the very latest, we would have the Police on us. There was only time to leave with the clothes we had on and leave the house as it was. Everything, all of our things, were left behind. I just grabbed my bag and some papers, and we left, because we could not wait any longer,” explains Montenegro.

Solis remembers that on June 13, 2021, when they arrested the opponents Dora Maria Tellez, Victor Hugo Tinoco, Suyen Barahona and Ana Margarita Vigil, all members of the Democratic Union for Renewal (UNAMOS), they spent the day on edge, waiting for them to come and pick them up. The apartment complex where they lived was surrounded by police, so they remained dressed and with their shoes on, just in case the police decided to enter and take them away.

It was like being under house arrest

The feminists confess that living in Nicaragua for the past five years was “hard.” Although they were not imprisoned, they did suffer police harassment, which prevented them from having a normal life. They could not go out anywhere without being pursued. Even the person who occasionally helped them with house chores was followed.

“Firstly, we had to try not to scratch the walls to try not to go crazy (…) It was impossible to do absolutely nothing, much less go out after five in the afternoon, go out for a walk or exercise in the street, because we could be kidnapped. Therefore, we spent almost five years literally under house arrest,” narrates Montenegro, who despite her situation was still active in social networks.

Two days after the regime stripped 94 Nicaraguans of their nationality, including Solis and Montenegro, the Prosecutor’s Office along with the Police Special Operations Division confiscated the 16 apartments of the “Amazonia” housing complex, where both lived. The officers raided the apartment and it was later learned that the rest of the tenants were told they had to pay 500 dollars rent to remain in their homes.

“According to what I have been told, the people were given time to leave because, it seems, they have refused to pay the rental fee, which the state now wants to collect. They were even called a third time to the Prosecutor’s Office where they were asked how much they were willing to pay and it seems that most of them told them not even one peso, so they have to vacate,” said the journalist and researcher.

She adds that among those affected were people sympathetic to the regime. For her, this situation has been “an act of brutality,” because they are citizens who had been living there for 30 and 40 years.

“I could have understood that they would have confiscated me, but 16 apartments is a really mind-boggling thing and to make matters worse they want them to pay rent for something they already paid for,” she stresses.

Ortega’s severance with the Catholic Church

This week, Pope Francis described the government of Nicaragua as a “Hitlerian dictatorship,” of whose main leader, Daniel Ortega, he commented— “with a lot of respect”—seems to suffer from “a mental imbalance.” Journalist Sofia Montenegro thinks that these declarations show a severance between the Catholic Church and the Ortega regime.

“The Pope, it seems to me, had been dragging his feet on the matter. His Nuncio had been expelled. But now it was too much. They have not only exiled almost half the Church, but they also don’t even allow the Holy Week processions and on top of that they have a bishop “locked” in one of the most infamous prisons in Nicaragua. I believe that there is a total breakup with the Church after the Pope’s declaration,” says Montenegro.

However, she adds that despite the Holy Father’s stance, she does not believe that there will be major changes in the Church in Nicaragua. “What I do believe will happen is that this will give enormous wings to the whole Church in Latin America and in the world, which had already all the episcopal conferences expressing themselves in each country. If from far away [the direction they were going] seemed that way, from up close there is no longer any doubt.”

Then on Sunday, Ortega ordered the severance of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the highest institution of the Catholic Church in the world. Hours after the news became known, the regime assured that “between the Republic of Nicaragua and the Vatican State a suspension of diplomatic relations has been proposed.”

Victims have more resources to denounce

Regarding the report published by the UN Group of Experts, before the United Nations Human Rights Council, in which it confirms crimes against humanity and extrajudicial executions against Nicaraguans, Solis said the victims now have more resources to denounce at the international level.

“This latest report comes to complement, in a much more global way, the 2018 GIEI report. But this one is saying we have the evidence. That is the vital element. They have safeguarded a series of evidence because many Nicaraguan citizens know who were the perpetrators of the crimes that were committed, the material authors,” she highlights.

“All these facts: the murders, the forced disappearances, the displacements, the torture, the ill-treatment and now the issue of denationalization and exile are crimes, practically crimes against humanity. Those Nicaraguans who feel they are victims of this can go with greater ease before universal justice,” she asserts.

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