Opponents describe appalling conditions in Nicaraguan prisons

MIAMI – constant fear. screams and torture sounds. Darkness in a small cell with only a hole in the floor for a toilet.

Nicaraguan opposition prisoners tell of the months – and sometimes years – they spent in the notorious prisons of President Daniel Ortega’s regime.

“It’s been a terrible three years. There were threats and I thought they could kill us at any moment,” recalled Victor Manuel Sosa Herrera, who was being held in three different prisons. He said water was scarce and what little food there was was often rotten beans.

Sosa Herrera was among the 222 opposition figures whom Ortega recently released, as his critics had long sought. But Ortega’s government went a few steps further, deporting them and saying their Nicaraguan citizenship would be revoked and their property confiscated — a fire as an example of an exile that violates international norms.

On February 9, they were flown to the United States, where they began telling stories about the harsh prison conditions, where visits were severely restricted or banned altogether.

Sosa Herrera, 60, was running a grain and feed business in the northern Nicaragua city of Matagalpa when he was arrested in early 2020 and sentenced to 110 years in prison for treason and destabilizing the government.

He says he was not an activist in the massive 2018 protests that rocked Ortega’s government, but suspects he was arrested for refusing to join the government’s paramilitary forces that violently crushed the protests.

In one prison, Modelo Prison, he was confined alone in a sunless cell measuring 2 by 3 meters in the maximum security unit known as “El Infiernillo” or “Little Hell”. He says another prisoner in a similar cell believed he was blind from years of living in the dark.

Sosa Herrera said he was kept in isolation, only on a concrete platform to sleep. The water was turned on twice a day for an hour each time. The metal cell door had a steel window that opened only three times a day to give him a “meal”: a spoonful of rice and rotten beans. That was his only daily contact.

His wife was only allowed to visit him for 15 minutes each month, and they saw each other through a glass wall.

At night, he said, he could hear other prisoners being tortured.

“The guards handcuffed and shackled them, then beat and dragged them,” Sosa Herrera recalled. “We heard them scream.”

The Nicaraguan government did not respond to requests for comment on the prisoners’ accounts.

Ortega has claimed his jailed opponents and others were behind the 2018 street protests, which he claims were a foreign plot to overthrow him. Tens of thousands have fled into exile since the Nicaraguan security forces violently crushed those protests.

In a way, those being held in solitary confinement may have been lucky.

Isaías Martínez Rivas, a milk delivery worker, ran an independent online media company, the kind that Ortega’s government hates.

Martínez Rivas was arrested in late 2021 in front of his wife, their baby and the couple’s adolescent son. He was taken to a maximum security prison without an explanation or warrant. Six months later he was sentenced to ten years in prison for alleged anti-government activities.

Martínez Rivas, 38, was being held in Chontales prison, 160 kilometers east of Managua and a two-hour drive from his home.

He was thrown into a cell with 13 other inmates, all but one of whom were common criminals.

“It was terror, we lived in fear,” he said. The other inmates threatened the opposition prisoners and stole their food, clothes and shoes.

“I was subjected to psychological torture in prison,” he recalls. “You never let me see my family.”

He was only able to see his youngest, now 2, on video calls from Miami.

Another prisoner, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals against her family, said she still does not know why riot police broke into her home in November 2021 and dragged her away from her family as she was out for dinner wanted to sit down.

The 43-year-old perfume retailer said she is not a political activist. However, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison after prosecutors accused her of plotting to burn ballot boxes and receiving funds from abroad.

She spent 15 months in a cell with nine other female inmates, all of whom – except her – were charged with murder or drug trafficking. The guards would subject the opposition prisoners to psychological abuse, she said.

“They would try to reach us by telling us we were rotting in prison to be eaten by worms,” ​​she said.

In fact, some prisoners didn’t make it.

Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader who once led a raid that helped free then-rebel Ortega from prison in the 1970s but later broke with Ortega, died while awaiting trial. He was 73.

Torres was among opposition figures arrested in 2021 when Ortega tried to clear the field ahead of the presidential election in November that year. Security forces arrested seven potential presidential candidates, and Ortega slipped for the fourth consecutive year in elections described as a farce by the US and other countries.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2023/02/21/opponents-describe-hideous-conditions-in-nicaraguan-prisons/ Opponents describe appalling conditions in Nicaraguan prisons

Sarah Y. Kim

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