The Ortega Dictatorship Keeps Our Families Hostage
Act for a democratic transition in my country. For life, peace, and justice. For an end to crimes and impunity.
By Tamara Davila* (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Good morning, Ambassadors
I am Tamara Dávila Rivas. I am a Nicaraguan woman, feminist, human rights defender, and mother of a 7-year-old girl. It is an honor to be here and speak to you.
I want to thank Chile, its president and people for allowing our voice to be heard. I want to thank the countries that have offered us refuge and citizenship and have worked for our release. I want to thank the OAS and its member states, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the IACHR for their attention and denunciation.
I, like hundreds of others, was kidnapped and illegally prosecuted and condemned by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, in the ever-increasing repression that my country has experienced since April 2018. International organizations report at least 355 people killed, and thousands imprisoned. Eddy Montes was murdered in prison. Hugo Torres, my friend, died as a political prisoner, in the hands of the regime.
My testimony here today is not only mine, it is collective, because it shows the hatred with which the dictatorship acts against anyone who is “perceived” as an opponent. I was violently kidnapped and imprisoned on June 12, 2021. For 14 months I was in a sealed cell, with no human contact other than that of my jailers. They allowed few visits to my family. I continued to be held in solitary confinement the whole time, as were Suyen Barahona, Dora María Téllez and Ana Margarita Vijil.
The Inter-American Court ordered our release in 2021. This order was disregarded by the Ortega-Murillo government. Their disregard continues, because expatriation, banishment and exile is not liberation.
Even though I was, in some sense, prepared to be detained –because I had been under surveillance and siege for months– my detention was very violent for my daughter and for me. Even though I opened the door and said I would surrender, the police kicked in the gate, stormed the house and disconnected the security cameras. Female officers beat me until I bled and dragged me into a patrol vehicle.
I didn’t know where they were taking me. I feared for my life. So many dead, so many disappeared whose families I had accompanied. In my mind I sent all my love to my daughter, because I did not know if I would ever see her again. For more than 80 days I didn’t know anything about her or the rest of my family. They didn’t hear anything about me either. That was the worst torture. Had they kidnapped my daughter, had they sent her to an orphanage? For 14 months, like dozens of us, I could not see my daughter, not even in pictures. I had to go on hunger strike to be allowed to see her in July 2022.
Imagine a 5-year old girl witnessing the violent assault of her home, the place that should have been the safest place for her. Armed people searching through everything, taking her story books, her birth diary, her music, and then taking her mother. She would constantly ask her grandmother “Grandma, is my mom dead? Is that why I can’t see her?” This same horror was experienced by dozens of children and families in Nicaragua.
All this torture caused me severe anxiety crises that the jailers would quell with Xanax.
During the 20 months of imprisonment, we suffered psychological torture, food restrictions, isolation, no access to reading and writing materials, continuous interrogations, and even physical torture in several cases. Our families suffered and continue to suffer reprisals, harassment and threats.
On February 9, I was released from prison, banished, expatriated and deprived of my political rights along with 221 other people. We, and many others, have been stripped of our property, retirement pensions, academic records and our own civil registry records, as if we did not exist. They have even deprived some of our sons and daughters of their last names.
I have been free for 48 days, but I have still not been able to reunite with my daughter. She prays every night, asking that the document be delivered so she can travel, meet her mother and not be separated from her ever again. The dictatorship is keeping our families, sons and daughters hostage. It is intimidating and watching over them, so far preventing many of them from leaving the country to reunite with their released family members.
The terror continues in Nicaragua. Ten out of every 100 Nicaraguans have fled the country in the last five years. There are still more than 37 political prisoners, among them Bishop Rolando Álvarez. They suffer psychological and physical torture on a daily basis. We cannot forget them. Martin Luther King said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE”. It is incumbent upon the international community and particularly the Americas.
My mother taught me that all people –in any condition– have power. I used mine in that cell, to resist. My daughter will use hers, when she chooses, to denounce the denial of her right to be and live with her mother and in her country. I myself am here now, using my voice to speak to you.
You can use your power, too. To act for a democratic transition in my country. For life, peace, and justice. For an end to crimes and impunity.
Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, Nicaragua continues to need your voice and the actions of your countries to achieve this.
Thank you for what you have done, and for what you will continue to do.
*Former political prisoner Tamara Davila address the OAS Permanent Council on March 29, 2023.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.