The Silence of the Lambs in Nicaragua’s El Chipote Jail
By Raul K. Bautista
HAVANA TIMES – Hugo Torres was the perfect sacrificial lamb. His death sent a strong message to the Nicaraguan people: if the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship could kill in prison a revolutionary hero, a courageous guerrilla fighter who participated in the two most audacious actions of the Sandinista Front and a retired brigadier general without being held accountable or paying any consequence, any opponent could be arrested, kidnapped, imprisoned, torture or eliminated.
His death also revealed that the regime’s intention is to kill or irreversibly damage the physical and psychological integrity of the political prisoners captured since May 2021. If they do not end up dead like Hugo Torres, they will be sent to house arrest in deplorable health conditions like Arturo Cruz. Unrecognizable, with chronic illnesses, permanent injuries, or significant psychological damage.
In 1842, US writer Charles Dickens visited a prison and described prisoners in solitary confinement with “nervous tics, difficulties in fixing their gaze or holding a conversation, stooping posture, and nervousness.” Dickens would later describe solitary confinement as a “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain” and concluded that it is “immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” Many studies in recent decades confirm Dickens’ observations and note that the psychological changes caused by solitary confinement range “from depression to psychosis.”
It produces, in addition, “changes in the structure of neurons and a reduction in neuron volume of about 20%” and a similar loss “in the synaptic contact region of the nerve cells.”
Such damage occurs over a period of one to three months. For this reason, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) considers that it is an unusual measure that should not be applied for more than 15 days. Rosario Murillo knows this well because the Nicaraguan Police have been trained in human rights for more than 15 years, she knows firsthand Daniel Ortega’s experience in prison, and solitary confinement has been used for several centuries and continues to be used in many countries. But, since her will is to physically and psychologically destroy 64 political prisoners in El Chipote, she has kept them isolated (some in solitary) for more than a year and has added other forms of torture (inadequate food and health, daily interrogations, cells lighted up or in complete darkness 24 hours a day, limited access to sunlight, physical and psychological aggressions, etc.).
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), this cruel and inhumane treatment violates the Mandela Rules (UN Standard Minimal Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners), the Bangkok Rules (UN rules for the treatment of women prisoners), and other human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega could not care less about that. Reports by human rights organizations do not matter to them, nor the precautionary and provisional measures of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, nor the OAS or European Parliament resolutions, nor the bilateral appeals of other governments and much less the pleas of the relatives of the political prisoners. They are aware that their human rights violations, crimes against humanity, arbitrary detentions and trials are very well documented.
Like the serial killer Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” Rosario Murillo behaves as a ruthless psychopathic killer. She was the one who gave the order of “Vamos con todo” (Let’s hit them with everything) on April 19, 2018, to kill students. She participated in the group that coordinated “Operation Cleanup” to riddle with bullets from weapons of war the opponents who were at the roadblocks. Now she is the one who decides who is arrested, imprisoned, tortured, who receives medical attention or not, when family visits are going to take place and those who are moved to house confinement.
She even demands for her enjoyment that they send her photos of the deplorable condition of the political prisoners, transcripts of the interrogations, photos and videos of family visits. During the arbitrary trials that took place, she gave instructions and watched the proceeding by direct transmission, which were suspended when she had to attend another task or duty. And she was the one who determined the sentence applied to each political prisoner, because it was known beforehand that they would be found guilty.
Her excessive hatred towards all opponents, youth and people who rebelled since April 2018, made her criminal instincts flourish and forced her to take off the disguise of democracy. Just like “Buffalo Bill,” she hides a deep self-hatred and her need to transform herself. Just as “Buffalo Bill” isolated overweight women to slim them down, starve them and murder them to skin them and make a “woman suit” for himself; Rosario Murillo has imprisoned the country’s main political and civil leaders to silence them, neutralize any possibility that they could dispute her power. She seeks to destroy their souls, life and human dignity in order to consider herself an admirable leader, an efficient ruler and an outstanding revolutionary.
Rosario Murillo may have achieved her purpose of causing physical and psychological harm to the political prisoners, but she will never be able to transform herself and have the recognition of a heroic guerrilla fighter, nor the intellectual capacity and courage of Dora María Tellez, nor the intelligence and generosity of Tamara Davila, nor the empathy, tenderness and commitment to human rights of Ana Margarita Vigil, nor the humility and compassion of Suyen Barahona, nor the coherence and fighting capacity of Violeta Granera, nor the strength and commitment to freedom, justice and democracy of Cristiana Chamorro, heiress to the legacy of her parents.
Starving the political prisoners —almost of them have lost up to 50 pounds or more-, causing irreversible damage to their physical and psychological health and silencing them goes beyond Rosario Murillo’s hatred and malice, it is a necessary step in the consolidation of the totalitarian system that she is promoting to achieve her dream of absolute power and to be the only citizen of the country, the only person with the right to think, to have an opinion, and to make decisions. That is why she has eliminated all opposition parties, annulled almost all national and international NGOs, academies and associations. Only the Sandinista Front will have the right to exist as a single party and under her and her husband’s leadership.
Not freeing the political prisoners and sentencing them to 8, 10 or 14 years in jail, under cruel and inhumane treatment, also responds to the fact that she can act with total impunity and throw into the trash the international and constitutional norms that highlight the state as guarantor of the rights of prisoners, of their lives and integrity. They have already killed Hugo Torres and Eddy Montes (shot in the back by a guard), and others have been released from prison in a vegetative state or in serious physical conditions, without any repercussion.
There will be no Hugo Torres or Dora María Tellez to lead a group of combatants to carry out a spectacular action to free the political prisoners, nor will there be covert operations to remove them from power, nor to date have significant economic sanctions been applied, nor have diplomatic relations been broken, nor modifications in investments and trade. Nor is there any international mechanism to apply the supposed supremacy of human rights or the principle of “responsibility to protect” the Nicaraguan population from the crimes against humanity committed daily by the dictatorship.
Rosario Murillo will not negotiate the release of political prisoners, nor can we expect her to change the deplorable conditions in which she keeps them. The only thing she has been willing to do is send to house arrest those whose health is so deteriorated that they may die in jail and because it is another way to silence them and their relatives, who are threatened that their loved ones will be sent back to prison if they say something about their health condition or leak information about it.
Conscious or not that they were going to be arrested, imprisoned and tortured, all political prisoners are being sacrificed for wanting a more just, free, and democratic Nicaragua. And even in the conditions previously mentioned, they continue to resist and that should encourage us to continue fighting and clamoring for the freedom of the 180 political prisoners, for the suspension of solitary confinement and other inhumane treatment of those who are in El Chipote and to become their voices. As the lambs in biblical times, they surrendered without resistance to their kidnappers, they are innocent, and their sacrifice will lead to their redemption and ours.