Nicaragua’s political prisoners a month after banishment

The former prisoners are trying to heal their physical and psychological wounds, and start a new life that they did not ask for in the United States

The former prisoners are trying to heal their physical and psychological wounds

10 de marzo 2023


Free, but confused and lost. This is how many of the 222 former Nicaraguan political prisoners who were expelled from their country by the Ortega regime a month ago today feel. They are trying to heal their wounds and start a new life that they did not ask for.

“We have been here for several weeks now, but it is still very difficult to get used to the idea that we must make a new life for ourselves,” Alex Hernandez told the EFE news agency in a video call interview. “It is the obligation of having to start from scratch,” he adds.

A former leader within the Blue and White National Unity, a movement of organizations opposed to Ortega, he is still trying to assimilate that just a month ago his life took another unexpected turn.

In the middle of the night, they took him out of the El Chipote prison, where he spent close to a year and a half (and another half a year in 2018) and put him on a plane with 221 other political prisoners. They were sent into exile to a country where he never considered living.

“Deep down I feel a bit guilty because I created my own future, although I assume my responsibility, because I knew that by getting involved (in politics) I was going to lose some things,” he stated.

“We are free but not 100% because full freedom would mean being able to grab my things and go to Nicaragua,” says the 32-year-old, whose nationality was taken from him by Ortega, like that of the 222 and many other opponents in exile.

What to do with their lives?

In the conversation he was accompanied by two other ex-prisoners, Yader Parajón and Marcos Fletes. The three met in the El Chipote jail and feel similar things after this month: the bewilderment of not knowing what to do with their lives and how to heal the strong psychological wounds that prison has left them. Things similar to what the majority of the 222 feel, they say.

“The most difficult thing is to know where to settle, where to locate myself”, says Marcos, from the house of a brother who has received him in California.

Yader says the most complex thing has also been deciding where to stay, having a relaxed mind and being able to sleep, he tells from the house of some friends who have welcomed him in Florida.

Alex is in Maryland with some compatriots who opened their doors to him without knowing him. Among the things that have surprised him the most this month is “the display of solidarity from so many people.”

“I’m living in the house of people I didn’t know, and yet I already feel that they have known me for years and support me,” he explains. Thanks to them he is gradually recovering and also having recognized to himself that he needs help.

“I am taking therapy for anxiety. I have always been arrogant, and thought I had a lot of resilience, but this time I told myself no, that I need help to accept this new reality,” he explains.

For the moment, like Yader, he has decided to distance himself for a while from the struggle “for emotional health” and not participate in the political action that other ex-political prisoners are trying to initiate from exile.

Nicaraguan Yader Parajón looks out the window of a hotel room in Washington during his first couple day in the US in February. Photo: EFE / Paula Escalada

Work permits have still not arrived

The three of them agree that starting a new life in the United States, that many people dream of, is a process and that soon they will be fine. They hope to be able to work, study and, in the case of Marcos Fletes, live with his children.

They also agree that, despite the gratitude they feel for the United States, there have been some concerns in the process, with a strong “information deficit” about the procedures and problems such as not having health coverage, despite their situation of vulnerability.

The humanitarian parole that the US granted them is not effective yet and, for the moment, they are also still waiting for the papers that allow them to work.

In another telephone interview, the activist Suyen Barahona, although grateful, repeats the same complaints. “Most have many health needs, to have check-ups, and also to have a job,” she explains, since work permits have not yet arrived.

Worried about their families in Nicaragua

Barahona, one of the 33 women who traveled on the flight, also talks about other collective demands, which the group shares through virtual meetings, such as the reunion of families, since the Ortega regime is making it difficult for them to obtain passports.

Although some have their family here in the US, the majority live “with the anguish” of having theirs in Nicaragua, vulnerable to any reprisal.

This is how Lazaro Rivas tells it from his daughter’s house in Chicago, where he is spending these weeks. In Nicaragua he has two other children and his wife, who are now his main concern, he told EFE.

That and not knowing what to do within the four walls that remain as small as a cell.

“I spend all day here in this apartment, doing nothing,” he points out, overwhelmed by the situation, with a maximum urgency for the papers to arrive so that he can work and start living in this new reality that was imposed on them.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times


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Agencia EFE

Agencia de noticias internacional con sede en Madrid, España. Fundada en Burgos durante la guerra civil española en enero de 1939.


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