The Ortega regime has imposed a “starvation diet” against the political prisoners locked up in the Managua jail known as El Chipote. Prisoners report a drastic reduction in the quantity of food they’ve been receiving this past month. Their family members, who were recently allowed a visit to the prisoners, denounced the acute hunger their loved ones are forced to suffer.
In a series of interviews, family members of political prisoners Tamara Davila, Ana Margarita Vigil, Felix Maradiaga, Pedro Vasquez, Miguel Mendoza and Medardo Mairena spoke of the distressing conditions their relatives must endure. These interviews were broadcast August 28, on the weekly online television news program Esta Semana.
“Immediately after the last visits (July 22-24), there was a drastic reduction in the quantity of food. Once again, there’s a policy of ordered and intentional starvation, to wear out, annihilate, decrease the physical capacities of our relatives,” denounced Ana Lucia Alvarez, sister and niece respectively of political prisoners Tamara Davila and Ana Margarita Vijil.
“During the visit, they told us that on a typical plate they receive, they can count the individual beans – maybe 40 – plus two small spoonsful of meat, when they get meat, three centimeters [1.2 inches] of boiled plantain, when they get that, and zero vegetables. The conditions they’re held in are completely unsustainable, extremely worrying,” she added.
Her sister Tamara has been transferred to a cell with bars (instead of totally walled in), but continues to be “isolated, incommunicado and in solitary confinement, without adequate medical care.”
“She had a fever and they [medical staff] never came in to see her, or check how she was. She continues to go without gynecologic attention although she hasn’t had a period in a year. When they do examine a prisoner, they don’t release the results; there’s also a policy of punishing any of the staff that show some kind of humane treatment for our relatives in the jail,” Alvarez asserted.
The Ortega-Murillo regime in Nicaragua maintains over 190 people locked up for political reasons. According to data from the monthly lists of the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners, at least 34 of these prisoners are in the cells of the main Managua jail, El Chipote, known as a center of cruel treatment.
In nearly 15 months of imprisonment, the political prisoners in the jail have been allowed only ten family visits. Before the authorized July visits, families had mounted a campaign of “spoken portraits” – artists’ drawings based on the families’ descriptions. The campaign dramatically highlighted the physical deterioration of the prisoners of conscience. Following wide attention, the regime increased the food allotments given the prisoners in the jail. At the time, family members spoke of the improved quantity, although not the quality, of the food, but stated they feared the measure would not be permanent, which has proven to be the case.
Pedro Vasquez: weight and hearing loss
Norma Vega, wife of political prisoner Pedro Vasquez, denounced the drastic reduction in the food her husband receives. Pedro suffers from blood pressure and colon problems, and he’s lost another 3 pounds, making a total of 63 pounds lost in 14 months of confinement in El Chipote.
“They’ve reduced his food, and he’s receiving only rice and beans. (…) Before, he told me, when the denunciation was made through the spoken portraits, the food allotment improved. But now, not only is he served just rice and beans, but only a scant ounce of rice (…) It’s not like what they gave him before, which was supposedly so that we’d find them [the prisoners] a little fatter. Nothing of the sort – it all changed,” she criticized.
Norma Vega also noted that her husband hasn’t received any medical attention for the hearing loss problem he’s developed in prison, although he receives medication to control his blood pressure and colon problems.
“I’m concerned about his hearing problem. He can hardly hear. He’s going deaf and he wasn’t having that problem before becoming a prisoner. Now you have to talk loudly for him to hear, and they haven’t checked him at all for this,” she commented.
Felix Maradiaga now losing weight again
Berta Valle, whose husband is political prisoner and former 2021 presidential hopeful Felix Maradiaga, also expressed concern for the scant portions of food he’s once again receiving. “It’s back to the way it was at the beginning. With no possibility of entertaining himself (books, and not even a bible, are permitted) and with all the time he has on his hands, he took on the job of counting the beans, the grains of rice and quantity of protein they’re given. We could really see that it’s a totally deficient diet.”
During the visit, Maradiaga’s weight was documented at 152 pounds, the same as last July 2, when his family was able to see the images of Felix broadcast by the government television channels.
“Felix had gained around three pounds at that time, because the food had improved. However, after that, they went back to the original policy, with very small portions. He lost that weight again, and is still extremely thin. The family members who were able to see him were struck by the loose way his uniform hung on him. They even commented that his slippers were too large for him, because the weight loss has been general.”
“The problem of reduced food portions for the prisoners is totally alarming to us because it directly affects their health. As family members, we continue demanding their unconditional release, but while this situation continues, they have to guarantee the welfare of these political prisoners,” Bertha Valle concluded.
Poor nutrition has aggravated Miguel Mendoza’s chronic conditions
Margin Pozo, wife of sports columnist Miguel Mendoza, echoed other families’ concerns over the return to minuscule food allotments for the political prisoner. It’s greatly affecting Mendoza’s health, she asserts, especially because he already suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. Like the others, Mendoza continues losing weight.
“Seeing him impacted me greatly because he’s thinner. I couldn’t say exactly how many pounds he’s lost. He told us that they haven’t taken him to the health clinic, and he doesn’t know his current exact weight. However, he appears very thin. Unfortunately, the food portions have been reduced since the last visit we had.”
She added that Mendoza, “continues having problems in his left leg, pain in the bone,” and hasn’t received any medical care from the specialists he needs.
“He’s not being given the medical attention he should, especially as a patient with chronic diabetes and high blood pressure. The person who comes to see him in his cell, because they haven’t taken him to the clinic, isn’t listening to the symptoms he’s having – for example, leg cramps and that pain he now has in his left leg bone. Even though he’s told them he doesn’t feel well, they don’t give him the medications,” Margin Pozo accused.
Medardo Mairena lost another six pounds
Alfredo Mairena’s brother is Medardo Mairena, a farm leader and 2021 presidential hopeful who’s been imprisoned in El Chipote since July 2021. Like other family members of the El Chipote political prisoners, he denounced Medardo’s extreme weight loss as a result of the insufficient diet he receives in the jail.
“He remains in a punishment cell with one other person. The cell is closed on all four sides, with only one little window. When it’s hot, it’s so suffocating that they can barely breathe. He also continues losing weight; he’d already lost 68 pounds, and now he’s a full 74 pounds lighter, with no improvement,” Alfredo Mairena declared.
Although Medardo has received attention at the jail’s clinic several times, he continues having “a problem in one of his knees, plus poor blood circulation”. For these conditions, “They just medicate him. They don’t examine him to see what’s wrong, and that worries us.”
The brother did mention that Medardo is authorized to receive sunlight in the jail yard. However, he continues being subjected to interrogation sessions once or twice a week.
Visitors also receive humiliating treatment
Alfredo Mairena, among others, mentioned the humiliating treatment family visitors receive in El Chipote. Medardo receives visits from two women relatives, but the women must first endure the jail authorities’ degrading and abusive treatment, in which visitors are strip-searched before entering, and even their private parts are examined.
He also noted that families get only a few hours of notice that a visit has been scheduled. Medardo Mairena’s family members live almost nine hours distant from the jail, which makes this system especially complicated.
“This time, they notified us one day before, on August 26, but not until about 4 pm. It takes two hours just to get out of the community where they live; then the trip to Managua takes another seven hours. So, they had to leave right after they were notified, in order to get there in time. They didn’t have time to get anything ready.”
“For other visits, they’ve called the same day. But on those occasions, the family members had already begun the trip – they left the community as soon as they heard that other prisoners were being allowed visits. If they hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t make it, because there’s no calendar, no regular visiting schedule, nothing. They make everything hard, so that people can’t come,” Alfredo Mairena denounced.
Along the same lines, Tamara Davila’s sister confirmed they were notified of the scheduled visit just two hours before the allotted time. This left them with little time to prepare themselves for the gathering.
“This is intentional, to keep the families from coming. They put up every possible obstacle, so you can’t make it on time, or prepare what you’re going to take, or see if they’ll let you give some things to the prisoner there. Absolutely everything is a struggle. It’s a fight even to be allowed to bring in some water or a drink, or to know if there’s a visit and when,” denounced Ana Lucia Alvarez.
“Once again, the situation is alarming, critical. I feel we really need to send out an S.O.S., because there’s an intentional policy of wearing down here, of torture, of erosion – not only through starvation, but by a systematic policy of not having any visitation calendar, or allowing visits from the prisoners children,” she emphasized.
Minors still not generally authorized to visit
Miguel Mendoza’s wife complained that – once again – Mendoza’s eight-year-old daughter was denied permission to visit. The regime did recently authorize two other prisoners’ children to visit: on August 18, political prisoners Miguel Mora and Tamara Davila were each permitted to see their children, after holding a hunger strike to demand the right.
“This time, when they called us for the visit I asked them if I could bring my daughter. They responded very rudely, that only if I had a judge’s order, and if not, then I should stop insisting. Through a lawyer, we’ve presented 11 formal legal requests for the girl to be able to see her Dad, but we’ve received no response,” Pozo stated.
“This has caused my daughter physical and psychological harm (…) She’s being seen by a psychologist for the symptoms she’s presented. She cries a lot at night and tells me she’s afraid something will happen to her Papa. Sometimes she asks me if her Papa is really alive, since she hasn’t seen him.”
Bertha Valle and family had to flee the country for their safety. In over 13 months, they’ve not been allowed any kind of communication with Felix Maradiaga.
“It’s been a year and three months now, without any kind of direct communication with Felix. (…) We’ve presented different documentation to the Police, to the courts, insisting they comply with the law. Because we’re not asking for anything extraordinary, only something that the rules mandate,” Bertha Valle underscored.
Both mothers urged that their little ones, and the children of all the other political prisoners in El Chipote, be authorized to receive regular visits or some kind of communication with their parents who’ve been unjustly imprisoned, since the isolation and lack of communication imposed by the regime is affecting the health of their children.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times