Violeta and Felix are united by a common history: they have both lived in exile and suffered firsthand the attacks of Sandinismo.
HAVANA TIMES – On June 8th, Felix Maradiaga and Violeta Granera, two of the people whom I most appreciate and respect as true leaders of the Nicaraguan opposition, will have reached one year of unjust and illegal incarceration by the Ortega dictatorship. I worked with them on a day-to-day basis on communication matters, in the middle of a period in which both sought to give their best for the country. On June 8, 2021, when Felix and Violeta were kidnapped, Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Jose Adan Aguerri were also imprisoned.
Violeta and Felix are united by a common history: they have lived through exile and suffered firsthand the onslaught of Sandinismo. Violeta’s father, Senator Ramiro Granera, was assassinated in 1978 by the Sandinista guerrillas, a year before they took power in Nicaragua in 1979. From there, she and her family fled into exile out of fear. Maradiaga experienced a first forced exile in the 1980s, when the Sandinista Front even confiscated the small business of his mother’s family.
It is not surprising that both have become tireless fighters for human rights and democracy in Nicaragua. It never crossed my mind that despite being so young I would work with them as press officer for the Blue and White National Unity coalition. And then, as press officer for Felix’s presidential campaign. He called me very early one morning in early September 2020 to offer me the position. Even knowing the risks involved in “campaigning” in times of dictatorship, I accepted.
Those risks today have taken me far from my country, looking to rebuild a life that was taken from me by those who cling to power with weapons and authoritarianism. But I do not regret it, because amid adversity I am relatively free. Contrary to Felix and Violeta. Contrary to 22 other colleagues who are members of the National Unity. Contrary to more than 180 political prisoners. It hurts me to know that they are locked up, violated, and tortured within four walls.
A few weeks ago, on one of the few visits Felix has been allowed, he sent word for the team to read the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a document written by Martin Luther King on April 16, 1963. In that letter, Luther King points out the importance of non-violent struggle, of the fight against injustices and of not sitting idly by, because “what affects one person directly affects everyone indirectly.”
I am clear that he did it to tell us that he is firm; that his fighting conviction is undaunted; that we must not lose our way in the face of uncertainty; that from our trenches we continue doing everything possible to keep civic resistance alive. We cannot let the regime sink the country further. It is evident that the dictatorship affects all citizens, including the Sandinista fanatics themselves. All of Nicaragua today is a prison. But as we mentioned in the campaign: Nicaragua can and deserves more.
Felix had the opportunity to take refuge in embassies of democratic countries, as some opposition leaders in Venezuela did at the time, so as not to be imprisoned. But he chose not to because he believes there are risks worth taking and living through, especially when your nation is “engulfed in injustice,” as Martin Luther King pointed out in his letter.
Maradiaga even made the decision to return from his second exile, despite knowing that the regime had put a price on his head. It was perhaps a kamikaze action, considering the level of violence with which Ortega, Murillo and their police and paramilitary forces act. But he did it. Although he had to leave behind his little daughter Alejandrita, his mother Doña Carmen and his wife Berta. I can remember how Felix’s face changed, from exhaustion to happiness and optimism, when he talked about his daughter. I can’t imagine his nights in the cell, without the routine call to his little girl.
Violeta and Felix were tireless. Working until late at night and early morning. I remember Felix calling me at dawn so that I could listen to some new proposal or modification to his nation project, which without a doubt was (and is) the most solid to achieve the social cohesion that Nicaragua needs. I remember Violeta texting me at midnight to ask if we could reschedule the time of an interview. She did not like to neglect the media.
A commitment with the victims
Felix was motivated to put forth his candidacy because he was tired of the abuses against the poorest and the least favored sectors of society. He believed his government would be capable of understanding and responding to real problems, promoting profound political change, developing a quality educational system, and promoting citizen participation. His nation proposal is based on five key points: 1) Prosperity for all, 2) Peace with freedom, 3) Future with memory, 4) A new social conscience and 5) Equilibrium with the Earth.
However, above all, Felix is clear about his commitment to the victims. He pointed that out at his campaign launch: “We will not forget, we will not allow impunity, we will not allow agreements behind the people’s back… we assume the commitment of justice for those who gave everything, with those who were murdered, with those that were imprisoned and tortured.”
I remember in 2020 my first trip to other departments with Violeta Granera, it was to the north of Nicaragua. Suyen Barahona was on that trip. Today she is also kidnapped by the dictatorship. Violeta was always attentive to make us comfortable. Always respectful, kind and keeping calm in the face of impertinence and police siege. On that trip I went like a child listening to her anecdotes and experiences, such as when she began to lead marches and civic campaigns against electoral fraud and in favor of transparency from the Movement for Nicaragua, in 2007. By that year I was just starting high school.
That day I thought to myself: “How can I not admire her, if she has always been active in politics from an authentic democratic vocation?”
How could I forget the special affection she treated me with, that tone of a fighting woman and mother. How could I forget the attention with which she received us at her house and her constant search for agreements, to achieve consensus in the meetings between the different opposition groups. I’m sure they wanted to break her in prison, but there are ancient trees that are not knocked down by weak gales.
Among the departmental visits, I also remember the one in Chinandega. That day Felix, along with a member of the National Unity Political Council and the driver came to pick me up. I remember that I was tired because that same day we had returned from a visit in Carazo. When we were already heading to Chinandega, the police stopped us in Nagarote. They told us to go back to Managua. We told them that they couldn’t force us because we were all legal. They kept us like 30 minutes interrogating, searching, and threatening.
After letting us go, they deployed more than 160 riot police, in more than 20 patrol vehicles, to follow us. A display that I have only seen when the dictator Ortega takes to the streets. But we did not give up the mission. At the entrance to the department of Leon, Police Chief Fidel Domínguez, known as the “hitman of Leon” and sanctioned by the United States, issued a threat to Felix. He told him that there were a lot of people in the department wanting to kill him and he wanted to “take care of him.”
Felix was neither intimidated nor moved by Dominguez. We were followed by plainclothes and riot police agents. The hotel where we checked in was quickly surrounded by Sandinista fanatics and police. We couldn’t sleep, thinking that they could come in at any moment and kill or kidnap us. I remember that we all called our mothers, as if saying goodbye in case the worst happened.
At dawn, Felix, with the kindness that characterizes him, asked the hotel to send breakfast to the police, who were sure to be hungry and tired. But, although the lower ranks were eager to accept the food, the chief ordered them not to receive it. Inside the hotel, we ate while we talked with Felix about the danger of the situation in which we found ourselves. Planning how to get to the meeting we were heading to as a delegation.
While we were discussing how to act and go out to the scheduled meeting, Felix told us about the journeys he has gone through since the civic insurrection and that he could well be with his family, living quietly and not exposing his safety. But he could not remain in “another country sitting with arms crossed” while Nicaragua sank into an authoritarian state of violence and injustice.
It’s that as Luther King wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail, “injustice committed anywhere constitutes a threat to justice everywhere.”
That time in Chinandega I feared for my life, but unlike me, Felix, instead of fearing for his life, feared not giving Alejandra, his daughter, the opportunity to return to a free country.
From that time on, Felix had no more rest and the Police stationed agents outside his house to monitor him and follow him wherever he moved. They prevented him from leaving the house, from the beginning of December 2020 until February 28, 2021, the date on which he deceived the agents saying that he would go to the doctor. Instead, he turned to the Holliday Inn Hotel, where we had everything ready to launch his campaign.
There is so much I want to tell, but the length of the article does not allow it. So many experiences, so many memories with people who have enormous value, commitment, and interest in moving Nicaragua forward. A commitment that Ortega and Murillo do not even know about. But history will make them pay for all the damage they have caused us.
*Journalist and advisor in political communication