Tortures and Missing Persons Denounced in Nicaragua
Victims of government repression tell of the mistreatment they received at the hands of the police and the paramilitary.
In addition to the hundreds of dead, the repression from Daniel Ortega’s regime has left innumerable cases of abductions, disappearances and tortures in the worst killing and political persecution in the peacetime history of Nicaragua. The testimonies of Ricardo Gutierrez, Xavier Mojica and “Karla” offer clear examples of the scope of the human rights violations and the vulnerability of the entire population, who have been living in anxious uncertainty and a state of defenselessness since April 18.
In the basement of the “El Chipote” jail
“Karla” was abducted by paramilitaries from Daniel Ortega’s regime. They took her to the feared basement of the El Chipote jail, where she was beaten with fists, threatened with death and sexually abused. Her crime was participating in some of the demonstrations during the citizen rebellion.
That day her ordeal began, government party thugs burst into her house to grab her while the National Police kept watch over the area. While they drove her to the closest police station, she was already expecting the worst, including the fact that they might kill her. “I resigned myself to everything that could happen to me,” she states. Right afterwards, they took her to the “Head office of Judicial Assistance”, better know as the “El Chipote” jail. They covered her face with a ski mask turned backwards; she wouldn’t see daylight again for another 24 hours.
“I only know that I went up and down a ton of stairs. They took me to a place and told me to take my clothes off. They had me in a room naked, handcuffed and with my head covered by a hood,” she recalls.
Afterwards, they brought her in to be interrogated by an official agent, escorted by four hooded figures. Each time they interrogated her, they told her to take her clothes off and do sit-ups. The police wound strips of foam around their fists and began to beat her. “Karla” assures that they did this eight times over a day and a half.
Every time they called her in, the questions were the same: “Who’s paying you?” “Who’s paying the people that are going to the demonstrations?” “Where are the arms?” Her silence infuriated the agents, who remained covered by hoods and without any police badges.
They threatened to kill her family and they accused her of the crimes of illegal arms possession, possession of homemade weapons and ammunition, influence trafficking, terrorism, exposing people to danger, disturbances of the public order, arson against public institutions and homicide.
“I remember they told me: ‘the crimes you’ve committed are going to add up to a 120-year sentence.’” However, she responded: “You have no proof.” Their reply to this was that if they didn’t have the proof, they’d invent the evidence and that they weren’t interested in convincing her, but the judge.
Following every interrogation, they’d send her back to “reflect” in an isolated cell with half the roof missing, exposed to the rain that night, with neither food nor water and with the marks of the blows that withered her strength against that putrid, damp earth.
“You say that you have evidence against me – then accuse me, open up a legal process and that’s that. Why must I talk and waste time in interrogations if you have proof, as you say?” she declares were her replies.
That night, before they abused her, “I couldn’t stand the cold and the ache in my head.” After hearing that more people were being brought into the jail, a policeman came by her cell and asked her if she was hungry. He then responded to his own question: “If you’re hungry, eat shit, and if you’re thirsty, drink the rainwater.”
A little later, she heard her abuser approach. All this time, “Karla” had a hood on, and only knew that the agents were approaching from the noise of the keys they carried.
“Uh huh, bitch, talk! Who’s paying you?” he asked in a menacing tone.
He threatened to kill her, “and he told me: either let me f-k you or I’ll lay into you,” to which she responded, “Do I have a choice?”
Later they called her in for more interrogation.
“Do you feel like you’re right at home?” the official asked her.
“’Sure, it’s all good.’ Me trying to look strong, but at that moment I heard terrible cries from a woman. They were cries of pain, begging for help. My eyes teared up, I felt bad,” Karla says.
“Uh huh hijueputa be glad you’re here and not there, but if you want to be there, I’ll send you over,” she remembers him saying to her.
By this time, Karla had been captive more than 14 hours without eating or drinking, submitted to blows and forced to do naked sit-ups in the cold that froze her bones. At noon the next day, they moved her into the common cells, they took her mask off and she was able to hear the others who’d been detained. She was also able to speak to them on the other side of the wall. One of them gave her a pill for her headache.
Afterwards, she was taken out to be photographed and fingerprinted. They tried to compel her to sign a blank page, but she refused to do so, bringing another beating on herself.
Several hours before obtaining her freedom, Karla then went through the experience she calls “the scene of the good policeman.”
A man – “one of those crazy historic combatants”- took her to a room. He asked her nicely to sit down while he took a seat in front of her, picked up his weapon and began delicately to clean it. He promised to help her get out of there, if in exchange she would stop going to the protests. All this time, he was loading his gun. Karla’s reply was silence, and her gaze was frozen on the rifle.
At nightfall, they notified her that they were letting her go. By that time, her stomachache was unbearable; they hadn’t given her any food, even though her mother had brought her four meals during the time she was in El Chipote. When she got out, they handed her all of them, but “those from the day before were already spoiled.”
Around six pm on that Thursday, she ended her torment at that place and began suffering the after-effects of persecution and isolation. From that time on, she hasn’t returned home.
She’s sure that they brought her into El Chipote via the back door, near the Plaza Inter shopping center. They first put her into a room full of mirrors, later to the holding cells and others that she couldn’t see because she was hooded, but in some “you can barely move,” she affirms.
Even though it’s been a nightmare that still pursues her, she dreams of enjoying freedom, democracy and justice for Nicaragua. “I don’t want to abandon this struggle, I can’t,” she states with conviction.
No trace found of Xavier Mojica
The defenseless state that Nicaraguans find themselves in makes no exceptions, nor does it separate those who participated in the citizen protests from those who didn’t. All are vulnerable in the massive wave of abductions and forced disappearances that have been the legacy of the Ortega regime’s political vengeance.
During the period from April 18 until the end of August, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) received over 300 reports of missing and abducted people across the country. These people have been appearing little by little in different hospitals, morgues and jails. Xavier Mojica, however, is one of those who have disappeared without any trace being found.
The 21-year-old student disappeared on June 11, some three blocks from his home. His mother, Lorena Centeno, remains waiting outside the “El Chipote” jail, with the hope of receiving news that he’s there. However, the Police do not have his name on any of their lists. “My mother’s heart tells me that he’s in there, because I haven’t found him anywhere else,” she confides.
Lorena has walked the halls of Legal Medicine, the hospitals and all of the police precincts in the capital. Early one morning she even visited the slope known as the cuesta del plomo “Hill of Lead” because she’d been told that an abandoned corpse had appeared there, but it wasn’t her son.
For three months she’s been living with the horrible anxiety of not knowing where he is. She believes that because he was a student, the paramilitaries abducted him, despite the fact that he never participated in any type of protest against the government.
Lorena states that the day he disappeared, Xavier was carrying his backpack with two notebooks and a USB flash drive. He was coming back from the university with her, but shortly before they got home, her son got off the #119 bus to pay for his cell phone minutes. She never saw him again. “I think maybe they confused him with someone else,” she affirms.
Responsibility of the State
The uncertainty and lack of response on the part of the public institutions increases the turmoil for family members of the missing. Despite the fact that in the case of Xavier there’s a complaint filed with the National Police, “there hasn’t been due diligence paid to the matter, nor has there been any report from the national police – either from the unit for investigation of human trafficking, or from the department of legal assistance,” explains Braulio Abarca, the Cenidh lawyer.
His mother feels that the State and the National Police share the responsibility since, “they should be safeguarding people’s lives, but I’ve had no support from them.”
“I’ve already lost one,” she states amid tears. “My worry is that just like Xavier disappeared out of nowhere, without being part of the protests or participating in politics, or anything, so could my other sons. I’m also frightened for the lives of my other two boys,” she concludes.
Ricardo, tortured and jailed
The family members that manage to find their loved ones face a different kind of turmoil. Ricardo Gutierrez, 24, disappeared on June 15. They found him two days later in the Lenin Fonseca Hospital with serous blows to his face, a concussion, and one of his toes cut off.
The day after his disappearance, his sister, Angeles Montenegro Gutierrez, went to look for him in the Velez Paiz Hospital. “They told us there that in the wee hours of Saturday a car had arrived and dumped him outside the hospital in critical condition and they transferred him to the Lenin Fonseca.”
Ricardo Gutierrez worked as a mechanic in an auto shop in the area around the Israel Lewites market. He commuted from his home to work in a motorcycle, but on that Friday evening he didn’t return home.
“A doctor at the hospital said that my brother told him that the mobs had hit him with a pistol and robbed him. In the hospital they suggested that he shouldn’t say anything about it, because he wasn’t in a secure place; that he should wait to get out of the hospital to talk about it outside,” his sister told us.
Ricardo suffered from severe nervous crises in the hospital and also at home. His family decided not to ask him anything about what had happened to him because of the psychological condition they found him in.
“During the crises that affected him he’d plead: ‘get my motorcycle, get my motorcycle.’ Maybe he was sleeping and tied up, he wanted to get up, and he’d say ‘open the trunk, get my motorcycle out, give me my motorcycle, don’t kill me, don’t kill me,’” his sister related.
His nightmare continues. Despite the condition he was in, eleven days after leaving the hospital while he was home resting, the National Police burst into his house to take him away in a patrol car without presenting any warrant for his arrest. They arrived with the excuse that he had participated in a robbery with intimidation. His mother says that up until the present they don’t know who put in the complaint and who was the “supposed victim” of the robbery.
“They put him in the back of a pick-up and they surrounded him like he was a drug trafficker or a murderer, and wouldn’t let us come close to see him and talk. They took him away, and his foot was infected. They wouldn’t let us see him to help cure it,” his sister assures.
His mother affirms that Ricardo was never involved in political affairs, nor in the citizen protests, nor much less was he a criminal.
The intentional misinformation, to the detriment of the victim and his family, is a characteristic of this state of defenselessness. The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh), this is one more case of a forced disappearance carried out by the National Police.
“They don’t let the family see him or have contact with him. Those factors define a forced disappearance, because for over 30 days there’s been no determination made on his case and the accusation against him,” asserts Braulio Abarca, a Cenidh lawyer.
For the last few weeks, his family has been living only on speculation and the hope that Ricardo is all right and has recovered. They only news they’ve had is that he’s in the prison known as La Modelo.
“We don’t have any news of him. If we at least knew something, that he’s okay, it would be different. To know that we’re struggling, but that he’s alive. What they are doing is unjust,” his sister lamented.