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Lesther Aleman’s Journey from a Nicaraguan Prison to Exile

Lesther Aleman, Nicaraguan student leader and political activist, addresses the 16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Lesther Alemán

17 de mayo 2024


Good afternoon, I am Lesther Alemán Alfaro, I was born and raised in Nicaragua, being here before you is a miracle. I am a communicator by profession and by vocation I carry out political activism. Founder of Nicaraguan University Alliance, AUN a political movement created by young students. My country is currently controlled by a bloody, dynastic dictatorship.

A nation where thinking differently and demanding your rights costs: death, prison or exile. A country with more than 6.2 million inhabitants immersed in poverty and tied to the absolute control of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

On May 16, 2018, a dialogue table was set up between sectors of the opposition and the regime. Ortega was about to speak when I faced him directly, less than 2 meters away. Not with violence, but with the strength of my voice.

I was 20 years old, I didn’t know what words to use when rebuking him, but I know that I had to confront the dictator who condemned us as a nation with the truth. I managed to tell him: this is not a dialogue table, but a table to negotiate your exit, because you are a murderer, give up.

I was not wrong, the different repressive and violent strategies against the civilian population today number more than 355 murdered – mostly young people – in addition to 1,500 political prisoners who have experienced physical, psychological, emotional and prolonged torture. There are currently 121 Nicaraguans imprisoned as prisoners of conscience in “La Modelo” and “La Esperanza” prisons; without ignoring the million Nicaraguans forced into exile without the right to a homeland.

 In recent history there is no precedent like that, least of all in Nicaragua. The fact is that the strength of young people cannot be stopped by a decrepit regime. The moral voice, the democratic aspirations, the peaceful vocation in the face of conflicts and the tireless fight for rights are impossible to annihilate; even in the face of the worst threats.

Those 4 minutes that my intervention lasted, six years ago, changed my life. I do not regret the costs: an exile to the United States because they offered money on my head, constant persecution, imprisonment for more than 20 months, a sentence of 15 years in prison, perpetual disqualification of all my rights that define me as a human being, and subsequently the stripping of my nationality and the elimination of all my official records.

In Nicaragua, democracy, justice, freedom and your rights can even cost your own life. “It hurts to breathe” were the last words of Álvaro Conrado, a 15-year-old boy, murdered on April 20, 2028 for giving water to those of us who were demonstrating.

“Don’t kill me, please, I’m not doing anything” was Junior Gaitán’s plea to the police officer who pointed the gun at his head. He was a 15-year-old boy who was protesting in Masaya. Both murders remain unpunished today, as do hundreds of other crimes.

In Nicaragua, being young, being a student, being a farmer, being an opponent, being indigenous and Afro-descendant is a crime and means death. After his return to power in 2007 until today, Daniel Ortega violated institutions, incipient democracy and national sovereignty.

Perpetuating himself in power, eliminating his adversaries, controlling the powers of the state, army and police at all. And committing obvious electoral fraud as in 2021. A year in which we as the opposition prepared for general elections that would define everything and in which we did not renounce the civic, peaceful and orderly route to resolve the crisis. Ortega decided to destroy all red lines and mock the international community including: OAS, United Nations, European Union and even the Vatican itself.

In April 2021, I was appointed official spokesperson for the Electoral Alliance, which brought together all the pre-candidates and the active opposition forces – political parties and movements. A few days later, a hunt broke out, one by one we were being captured in our own homes, late at night, without the national police presenting any arrest warrant other than a search warrant.

I was arrested on July 5 of that same year, before the eyes of my mother who was crying out for them to stop hitting me on the ground. More than 100 police officers viciously avenged my “offense” to their commander. They took me to Chipote, one of the torture centers of the dictatorship. It was an order from Daniel Ortega and his wife.


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They isolated me in a 2 meter by 2 meter completely sealed cell, with artificial light 24 hours a day, without access to medicine, information, a lawyer, visits, and due process being respected. According to the judges – controlled by the marriage – I was responsible for violating national sovereignty and betraying my country. THIS IS WHY occupying spaces to tell the reality of what is experienced in Nicaragua.

During those more than 20 months in prison, I was interrogated almost all of those days, at any time and with the clarification from my torturers that “although I did not deserve to live, the commander – in reference to Ortega – had spared my life.” because he is merciful” and the image of the great and unquestionable leader is believed even by many who romanticize the revolution scam of 1979.

Until February 9, 2023, they arrived at my cell, took me out and took me to the airstrip of the international airport in Managua along with 221 political prisoners. A plane with an American crew would make our liberation possible, also becoming exile.

While we were flying to Washington DC, the National Assembly in Nicaragua approved the law that denationalized us and subsequently any immediate family member we had. Creating an incubator for stateless people.

Daniel Ortega today is a North Korean model, a tropicalized Talibanist, who without paying international costs trusts in the passivity of multilateral organizations, while making Nicaragua a space of generalized impunity, confiscated land, exporting stateless people whom he tortures for a prolonged period of time and space because it maintains a regime of transnational persecution, the transit of drug trafficking and the safe harbor for irregular migration to the United States.

My last memory of that Nicaragua, which today we build even from outside its borders, was kissing its soil, the one where I was born and I promised that I will return. Because I am convinced that, although Ortega has done everything possible to silence me, he will not be able to eliminate the strength of an entire people who decided to change their history.

  • The international community cannot take its eyes off Nicaragua.
  • It cannot justify economic growth rates based on remittances that are a product of exile.
  • It should not provide financing to repress, imprison and exile nationals.
  • It should not close the doors of thousands of Nicaraguans who ask for asylum.
  • It is time to act – financially isolating the regime –
  • Accompany and support the opposition in their fight for their freedom.
  • Demand the prompt release of political prisoners who constantly suffer torture. As well as the safe return from forced exile.
  • We hope that Europe welcomes, as in Argentina, jurisdictions so that victims can bring their cases to international justice bodies.

The international community must stop being timid, we expect more from the United Nations, the European Union and every country that defends rights, not only their statements but their actions.

Henry Blass you are not alone

Jasson Salazar you are not alone

Adela Espinoza you are not alone

Olesia Muñoz you are not alone

Eliseo Castro is not alone, the political prisoners are not alone

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Lesther Alemán

Lesther Alemán

Integrante de la Alianza Universitaria Nicaragüense (AUN) y la Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia. Participó en el primer intento de Diálogo Nacional ante la masacre orteguista contra la Rebelión de Abril, encarando a Daniel Ortega para que cesara la represión. Excarcelado político y desterrado por el régimen orteguista.