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Amaya Coppens: In Nicaragua “There’s No Turning Back”

“I’m not looking for political gain. I want to finish my career, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” to change Nicaragua, Coppens affirms

Before the “Water Carriers” were presented on television as armed and organized criminals, one of the criminology officials forgot to plant the evidence in one of the confiscated autos. 

The officers were taking bullets out of a bag and then putting them on the seats of the vehicles used by the 13 youth to transport water to a church. They had forgotten one and had to go back and replant the needed “proof”. 

Amaya Coppens, dressed for the second time as a political prisoner, couldn’t keep it to herself, and she made fun of the detective, exclaiming sarcastically: “Wow! What a great example of evidence collecting!”

Coppens recalls how the “water carriers”, lined up for the television cameras, watched astonished as the police investigators planted the false evidence in their cars.  “It’s really shameful that all your work is based on such ethics,” the student leader continued berating the criminologist.

It was at that moment that the officers silenced her. “They told us that we had nothing to say, and that they didn’t care what we said anyway,” Coppens recounted in an interview twelve days after her release by the regime. According to her, some of the guards dropped their gaze. She hopes that they were doing so out of shame.

Amaya Coppens spoke of that episode during an interview on the internet news program Esta Semana, transmitted Sunday, January 12th. While speaking of her second experience as a political prisoner, she never stopped flashing that perennial smile that has characterized her struggle against the dictatorship.

Young, sharp, sensitive and calm, the student leader complained of the attacks against her family home in Esteli after she was released on December 30, 2019, together with 90 other prisoners of conscience, as well as the beating that her brothers received days before in Chinandega.

“There are things that we’ve had to experience that no one should have happen to them. For example, the beating suffered by my brothers and my father were very painful to me. I’ve repeated this several times: in the end, I decided to continue being involved in this, and it pains me that my family should suffer that way. To know that my brothers, my cousin, were so badly beat up hit me hard. But after getting together with them, [I saw] that they were also excited, because they feel part of this. They [the regime] are disturbed, and we’re happy that they’re disturbed, that this makes them uncomfortable,” the university leader affirmed.

Beaten and isolated

Coppens also spoke serenely about the isolation she suffered in prison, and the beating that she received the night she was arrested for trying to take water to the relatives of political prisoners who were holding a hunger strike in the San Miguel Archangel church in Masaya. Above all, she complained that she hasn’t yet regained her total freedom.

The politically motivated judicial accusations that the regime has directed against her and her peers continue to be open.  On January 30, they are supposed to present themselves before the regime’s tribunals for the court hearing. Coppens isn’t daunted. For her integrity and determination, the Spanish newspaper “El Pais” named her one of the most outstanding faces of Latin American social protest in 2019.

“This solution (release from jail) puts into evidence the illegality of the whole process. I feel that, in a way, those of the Ortega mobs are resentful, because they [the regime] let us go despite everything that was said against us. It’s a clear message that, even though we’re out and not in jail, we’re not free or secure. At any moment they can do whatever they want, because they have the complete complicity of the police and the other State institutions,” stated Coppens on Esta Semana.

Federico Coppens (center) and Tamara Zamora, parents of Amaya Coppens who was recently imprisoned and released for the second time. Photo: Carlos Herrera

The young woman criticized the fact that the change of imprisonment regime from jail to “family coexistence” (house arrest) demonstrates the legal aberration within which the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo operates. “It doesn’t fit,” Coppens noted scathingly.  She affirmed that her 46 days locked up were under the concept of “preventive prison”, and the “water carriers” were never taken to the courtroom. “The family coexistence regime is something assigned after a person has been sentenced within the prison system; later you’re transferred to family coexistence,” she argued.

Her case had enormous visibility

The case of Amaya Coppens is very well known in Europe. It even resonated forcefully in the inner chambers of the European Parliament when she was locked up. Given her dual Nicaraguan and Belgian citizenship, Coppens has occupied a prominent place in the agendas of the European parliament deputies with respect to relations with Nicaragua.

“I want to thank [the European Parliament deputies] enormously. I know that there’s been a lot of work. They’ve always followed my cases very closely,” Coppens affirmed. “They came to the El Chipote jail and the prison once to inquire about general conditions. I really want to thank them deeply, not only for myself. What makes me happy is that it’s brought visibility to the situation in general and to the condition of the political prisoners. That’s been something that, personally, has helped a little to convey the situation in Nicaragua to the outside,” she added.

“I believe in this struggle”

Coppens rejected outright the idea of leaving the country to avoid being imprisoned. Rather, she states with assurance: “I believe in this struggle”.

“I’m not seeking political gain. I want to finish my career; being a medical student took a lot, I invested a lot of effort.  Nevertheless, in 2018, I didn’t think twice. I put what was happening in Nicaragua as a priority, and I couldn’t keep silent. I believe that’s still out there. … There’s still a lot of work left,” Coppens said.

Amaya Coppens and the young “water carriers” accompany family members demanding freedom for the political prisoners that remain in the regime’s jails. Photo: Carlos Herrera.

The university student believes that one of the causes of the socio-political crisis that exploded last April was that the youth and the citizenry in general had been “passive”. “The discontent didn’t begin right at that moment; it had been accumulating.  However, we never realized it. We weren’t capable of changing anything with our individual actions,” she noted.

Coppens explained that since April 2018 they’ve had to vary their forms of struggle. She is certain that there are still ways to continue resisting and protesting. “Each day, we are seeing the path of protest to follow, keeping in mind that there are reasons to continue struggling, raising our voices, because they haven’t freed all the political prisoners.  There are 65 prisoners left, and every day they continue arresting more. They haven’t given us back our rights as citizens, and this is part of our civic protest. These are civil liberties that they have no right to take away from us. We’re in the right, and they want to repress us, silence us, but they have no justifications for that. Things in Nicaragua aren’t normal at all. There are still families waiting for their relatives [to come home],” she insisted.

“There’s no turning back”

Upon being asked how she would define her generation, Coppens paused for an instant to think, then responded forcefully: “There’s no turning back. It’s a decision that we’ve had enough,” she stated, referring to the Ortega-Murillo regime. Coppens recognized that some students had returned to their studies in the public universities. She assured that she understood, that they were young people who wanted to finish their careers.

The “water carriers” demand the full liberation of the over 65 political prisoners that are still locked up. Photo: Carlos Herrera

“It’s something that all of us want [finishing our careers]. There’s a lot of frustration around that aspect. It’s something that’s out there. If the people should rise up again, as in 2018, they’d be there. The discontent is there. They’ve seen everything that this dictatorship has been doing to us. At this point, the Nicaraguan people have awakened. There’s no turning back,” she declared.

Coppens noted that from the position of her student sector they’ll continue working towards the formation of a great opposition coalition against the regime. She recognized that within the blue and white sector there are distinct points of view, but affirmed that the students continue to “put in our own opinions.”

“Our university agenda continues to be part of the discussions. Yes, I believe that all of this and the time that it’s stretched out has been very difficult for us students, who don’t have an economic support network behind us. It’s something we’ve been dealing with. It’s made it difficult, but we’re working with our own limitations. The force for changing Nicaragua remains constant,” she asserted.

The only question that brought pause to Coppens, and that she had to think about a little before responding is how a young person so persecuted manages to challenge the Police with a smile on her lips. The medical student cited as an explanation the support within her family.

“I’ve always had my family behind me.  Everyone knows them by now. My family is amazing, super-strong. The first thing they told me in their first visit to jail was: ‘We’re proud of you’. So, knowing that I have my family with me, doing something that I believe is the right thing, then they can say what they want, I’m okay. If jail is the price I have to pay, well, fine then.  It’s not the highest price that some other people have had to pay. I feel that being in jail as a political prisoner is a way of daily protest, because I’m there; because they want to shut me up, and they haven’t managed to do it in any way.  So, for me, knowing that I’m inside, but that my voice continues being heard outside, also brings that smile to my face.”

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