Sports reporter and blogger Miguel Mendoza spent 598 days kidnapped by the Ortega regime, in the cells of the infamous El Chipote prison. For months he was not allowed to speak with his wife, and for more than a year and a half he could not see his young daughter or communicate with his 91-year-old mother. Nevertheless, the ex-political prisoner does not hold “any kind of animosity” towards his captors.
“I wish no evil to anyone. I am capable of greeting those who captured me, those who took me away. Getting off the bus to get on the plane, the last words I said to a policeman was, ‘God bless you and your family. See you shortly,” Mendoza said.
The journalist was sentenced to nine years in prison for the alleged crime of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity, to the detriment of the state of Nicaragua.” Today he is one of the 222 released political prisoners who were exiled to the United States and illegally stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality.
In an interview with the online program Esta Noche, Mendoza spoke of how he lived the days of confinement in El Chipote, the habits of his cell companions and the long interrogations to which he was subjected to.
“They did not break me in El Chipote. In the interrogations I always defended the independent press. If one day those tapes come out, you are going to find out,” he stressed.
How are you and how has this first week of freedom been?
Tired. I haven’t slept enough since we left El Chipote in Managua, six days ago. But I think that now my face is not as withered and battered as when we came here.
How were your conditions in prison? What did they say to you during the interrogations?
The questions were quite silly, without much sense. First of all, who financed me? Did you receive money from abroad? On one occasion they told me that as a journalist I was guilty of publishing negative news, because they said that negative news is bad news and that this made the people of Nicaragua unhappy. As a journalist I was obliged to publish only positive news. That is, when the government inaugurated a bridge, when a stadium was built. I told them: ‘you are wrong. The media publishes news, and it is the people who decide whether it is negative or positive.’ One thing is that they tell you that it is fake, another is that they tell you that they are speaking the truth, which is what I did through my social networks.
At the beginning, the interrogations stressed and upset me. But, when they stopped taking me to them, I even missed them, because it was the only training or calisthenics to talk with someone I had. With the detectives we were able to get information about the outside world that we did not have. For example, we found out of that outrageous epithet that Ortega said about us after the presidential elections, where he called us “sons of bitches.” They did not tell me that exactly, they only told me that after what the president said we were going to spend a lot of time in here.
Some people question why a sport reporter started to give his opinion on politics, human rights violations and the national crisis?
They also said that to me in the interrogations. I told them: ‘you have a deputy mayor (of Managua) who also is a sports reporter. If it is a crime for a sport reporter to give his opinion on politics, then there are a lot of government officials who have been sports reporters.? After pointing out the contradiction that question ended.
Why did I start to express my opinion? Because it is a responsibility of every decent Nicaraguan, committed to justice and democracy, who loves our country. We should be the voice of those who don’t have one and emphasize the brutality that they are doing to the country since 2018.
What I did in the networks became a snowball that began small and suddenly was increasing, until I became a source of information and I felt that people trusted a lot in what I said.
You were imprisoned for voicing your opinion on social networks, but besides that, was there any reason why you were imprisoned because you belonged to some organization during the protests or supported some political candidacy.
They insisted a lot on that in the interrogations. What political group did you belong to? Do you have any political ambitions? Were you looking (for a post) in the Ministry of Sports? Things that made me laugh. I told them that I did not belong to any party. Obviously, I have sympathy for some kind of ideological current, but I am neither a militant nor do I aspire to anything. I simply want our country to straighten up, that it return to the democratic path.
They asked me about independent journalism. They asked me about you (Confidencial), they asked me a lot about colleagues who have a great impact on the population. They even told me that I was financed by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, and I told them that ‘Cristiana (Chamorro Barrios) did not even give me a phone top up.’
In an occasion they told me: ‘you were involved in money laundering, defending people who were laundering money.’ I told them: ‘there are some who have TV channels, go and investigate there (in reference to the Ortega Murillo siblings, who own several television channels), and not to be investigating someone who only has a cell phone, who moves standing in a bus, who barely can put a top up on his phone.’
After your arrest there was a worldwide mobilization of the international press demanding your release. Did you know about it?
Well, I found out when the visits began, and they began to tell me. Margine said that I was in the newspapers every day, that there were organizations, that my colleagues from the independent press in Nicaragua. But one thing is what they tell you, and another is to see it. Now I am here, and I am seeing the things that were said about me and I am moved by them.
They did not break me in El Chipote. In the interrogations I always defended the independent press, if one day those tapes come out you are going to find out. When they took me to a court hearing, on September 1 (2022), I shouted to the pro-government journalists: ‘Long live freedom of expression. Long live free journalism. You will also be free because you cannot even think for yourselves.”
From El Chipote we did receive denunciations of psychological tortures, solitary confinement, mistreatment, what was your situation?
The fact that they did not allow me to see my daughter, the fact of going long periods without visits; 72 days passed from the time I was kidnapped until the first visit.
The only thing I read were the recommendations and labels of toothpaste, juices, bottle drinks, bags of cookies, seeds and peanuts. The only times I touched a pen, in a year and a half, was when I had to sign an agenda, when my visit was over. That is the only thing I signed, nothing else.
Not reading drives you crazy. With some fellow inmates we commented: ‘I am forgetting words. I am forgetting names.” It was because of the rate that one has when speaking or debating, but when you are stuck in that hole, in which you only talk about the exercises, about whether the gallopinto (rice and beans) has enough beans, or if today they are going to bring me water or pass the Ensure that my family brought me, or question why they did not bring my medication today. Those were the conversation topics.
From time to time, we would say that we were repeating stories, anecdotes or jokes. We managed to build a strong friendship among us. I was with about nine other people. I learned from each one of them. I think I got a master’s degree in world history from Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, I got a master’s degree on the peasant movement from Pedro Mena, and so on from each one of them, with Lesther Aleman, Irving Larios and Juan Lorenzo Holmann. Conversation was very important and also exercises.
We prayed a lot. We prayed the Holy Rosary in the morning, the Divine Mercy chaplet in the afternoon. We made pleas to our Lord regarding our release and when pleading we asked for our relatives. I think that we all left very different from how we entered there.
I came out without any resentment. I wish no evil to anyone. I am capable of greeting those who captured me, those who took me, and getting off the bus to get on the plane the last words I said to a policeman was, ‘God bless you and your family. See you shortly.’
Miguel, on the same day you were released from prison and banished, Rosario Murillo said on national radio and television that the children of the former political prisoners were not to blame, what is your reaction to that statement?
It is not my fault either for what they did to me, not only our family. We are not guilty. It was a crazy decision, because everything that happened to us is senseless. I hope that Rosario’s words give safety to our relatives, that no one will harass them, that no one will persecute them and that they will be able to lead a normal life.
The United States announced that they will offer you a temporary stay of two years under a humanitarian program. Are you planning to stay in the United States for now?
At the moment, I am staying for two weeks in Nashville with my eldest son, taking a little break. Afterwards I will travel to Miami where the Baseball World Classic will be held, and I will be covering it. They told me that they had my credentials.
There I will make the decision on where I will settle down definitely. My son wants me to stay here. There (Miami) I have a sister who also is trying to convince me to stay. I have not decided yet which will be the final step in this exile, in this expulsion that they gave us, in which we did not play any role.
The dictatorship approved a constitutional reform to strip you of your nationality, what do you think about that?
Being Nicaraguan is something that is carried here in my heart. That can never be taken away from me. Besides, I do not dwell on this situation because, anyway, even being a Nicaraguan citizen, I would not be able to return to Nicaragua. And all this is going to be reversed when everything changes in Nicaragua, which I hope does not take long.
The Spanish Government offered all of you nationality, would you consider it?
I already submitted the application. I think that all of us did. Later the time will come when the citizenship will be approved, and that is when each one of us will have to decide whether to accept or not. But for the moment, I already submitted the application.