Three humanitarian measures are urgently needed: suspend the torture regimen; immediately transfer all aging political prisoners to house arrest; order the Supreme Court to annul the trials.
By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – On Friday, February 11, former FSLN guerrilla commander and retired Brigadier General Hugo Torres died in police custody. Hugo Torres had spent the past eight months as a political prisoner, enduring conditions tantamount to torture in the El Chipote jail.
The immediate cause of Torres’ death remains unknown, because the regime maintained complete silence about his worsening health condition, wrapped in the isolation that prevails in the El Chipote jail.
What we do know from the statements of other prisoners, is that the brutal conditions of his captivity provoked an irreversible deterioration in General Torres’ health. We also know that the authorities acted negligently in not granting him the timely medical attention his case required. Only after he collapsed in his cell was he transferred to a hospital.
On Friday, February 18 – a week after Hugo Torres tragic death profoundly shook the country and international public opinion – Daniel Ortega finally authorized the transfer of three elderly political prisoners from their jail cells to house arrest. The three are: Arturo Cruz, 68, a former presidential hopeful; Attorney Jose Pallais, 68, a member of the National Coalition; and former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, 77.
Besides their advanced age, all have visible health conditions that have greatly worsened during their six, seven or eight months of unjust imprisonment under conditions that lacked even minimum respect for their human rights as prisoners. All have been accused and tried behind closed doors in the jail itself, with zero evidence, on unsupported charges of conspiring against the national sovereignty – a conspiracy fabricated in the El Carmen presidential bunker.
In justifying the changed prison protocol, the District Attorney’s Office alluded to the “physical condition” of Cruz, Pallais and Aguirre. They didn’t, however, dare to recognize that the deterioration in these prisoners’ physical and mental health has been aggravated by the inhumane jail conditions. They also failed to present any corresponding medical diagnoses.
Prosecutor Ana Julia Guido’s actions are complicit with, and in accordance to, the presidential couple’s orders. They want to continue covering up the dictatorship’s responsibility for the harm done to the political prisoners’ health, as well as that of their families who have also been victims of the regime’s cruelty.
The Prosecution dared invoke “humanitarian reasons” to justify the change in prison protocols. However, if any respect for the humanity and dignity of the imprisoned truly existed, the first thing the regime should do is immediately suspend the torture practices being implemented in El Chipote. These harsh conditions are at the root of the prisoners’ worsening health.
On Friday night, after months in jail, Arturo Cruz, Francisco Aguirre and Jose Pallais were able to sleep at home for the first time, with their dignity as human beings intact. Nonetheless, El Chipote is still there, and the three men’s fellow prisoners are still suffering under the jail’s punishment and torture tactics. Those still suffering under the same hardships include seventeen other elder political prisoners in their 60s and 70s, who also have chronic illnesses.
The “humanitarian” principles the regime invokes can only be reestablished if Daniel Ortega applies at least three emergency measures to confront this grave human rights crisis. First, an immediate suspension of the jail practices that comprise physical and psychological torture – isolation, constant interrogations, lights left burning 24 hours a day, lack of sunlight, poor nutrition, no regular family visits or consistent delivery of food packages, etc. Second: the 17 remaining political prisoners of advanced years should be immediately remanded to house arrest. Third: the Supreme Court should immediately be ordered to declare null and void the bogus trials, and to free all the prisoners of conscience while restoring their political rights.
Ortega began to cede only after the death of Hugo Torres, and in the face of the dramatic expressions and denunciations of the political prisoners’ families, to avoid seeing Arturo Cruz, Jose Pallais and Francisco Aguirre also die in jail. Their family members now have the opportunity to save their lives, and to undertake the long and painful process of restoring them to health.
However, in order to recover the freedom of the 177 political prisoners, much more national and international pressure is needed – not only from the political prisoners’ families, but from all the Nicaraguans, that great blue and white majority. From the university students, the trade unions, and the civil society organizations, as well as from the bishops of the Episcopal Conference – who represent the country’s moral leadership – the small, medium and large business community, and the public employees, both civil and military.
Ortega and Murillo are only going to free all the political prisoners when national and international pressure and civic resistance, combined with the internal fissures and growing cracks in the regime’s repressive and economic pillars, force them to leave power and return the country to freedom, in order to initiate a new democratic transition.
While national and international pressure builds towards this critical denouement, the indelible memory of Hugo Torres – the guerrilla who rescued dozens of political prisoners from Somoza’s jails in 1974 and 1978 – is key to reigniting our national crusade. In the daily battle to recover our liberty, Hugo Torres – like El Cid Campeador [renowned knight andwarlord in medieval Spain] – will continue on after his death, rescuing, one by one, the political prisoners of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.