At last, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo allowed the political prisoners locked up in the El Chipote jail to visit with their young children and grandchildren. They hadn’t been allowed any access or communication with them for over a year and a half, in most cases. All these political prisoners have been imprisoned, “tried” and sentenced unjustly for fabricated crimes.
The visits were held on December 7th and 8th, in the context of the Nicaraguan celebration of La Purisima, which marks the conception of Maria and culminates in La Griteria, a night of singing at neighborhood altars and distribution of sweets and small gifts. The National Police issued a press statement announcing the special visit.
This time, visitors noted that the authorities were “pleasant,” the search at the jail’s entrance “wasn’t as intrusive,” and “a family atmosphere prevailed” in the reception area. The visit lasted for four hours, and the prisoners of conscience were allowed to see two to four family members together. Visitors with children were separated from groups with only adults.
The political prisoners were allowed to remove their blue uniforms for a few hours and wear the clothes their families had brought them the day before. These prisoners hadn’t previously been seen without their prison garb, even during their public exhibition in September.
Miguel Mendoza finally allowed to see his eight-year-old daughter
Sports columnist and political prisoner Miguel Mendoza was finally able to see and hug his eight-year-old daughter, Alejandra Mendoza, after 534 days in prison.
Alejandra was accompanied by her mother Margin Pozo, and the visit was “very emotional.” The time went by among “hugs, kisses and every kind of paternal love,” stated Ramon Mendoza, the prisoner’s brother. “Every detail” of the visit was photographed and recorded by the regime’s authorities.
“Alejandra was able to tell her father how much she had suffered. The days she spent crying, her desperation and prayers, as well as the letters, drawings, and audio messages she made, but was never allowed to give him. She also told him that she was at the head of her class, was taking swimming lessons, and about the books she read, her health problems and doctors’ visits,” Ramon Mendoza described.
The little girl also shared with her father a summary of what was happening with the World Soccer Cup and the boxing match between Nicaraguan Roman Gonzalez El Chocolatito, and Mexican victor El Gallo Estrada.
The political prisoner’s brother noted that the little girl “wouldn’t leave her father for even a second” during the four hours the visit lasted. He added that their farewell “was hard.” Alejandra “didn’t want to leave her father – she wanted to stay with him. She left in tears, which didn’t stop until they got home.”
Relatives of the sportswriter commented that the day before the visit the jail authorities had requested that they bring a shirt, pants, and shoes for the prisoner. These clothes were given to Mendoza minutes before his daughter arrived at the jail. “The pants were falling off him because he’s lost 30 pounds. One of the officers got a belt for him, but it was impossible to hide his thinness,” they commented.
Prisoner Roger Reyes brought to tears
Lawyer and political prisoner Roger Reyes couldn’t keep from shedding tears when he saw the two daughters he hadn’t seen for a year and a half. His wife, Fernanda Guevara, stated that the emotion was so intense that there were moments when all of them were laughing and crying at the same time.
“It was very emotional after all we’ve been through,” Fernanda Guevara stated. “The girls hadn’t seen their Dad for 15 months. Roger screamed their names, and they came running to embrace him. I gave them their space – it was a special moment for the three of them. They laughed, cried, it was a mix of emotions,” she described.
As in the case of Miguel Mendoza, the Reyes’ family visit lasted four hours. “It was a special visit for the end of the year,” Guevara cautioned. The atmosphere was “serene,” you could say they’d “arranged it like a family restaurant.” Maybe because there were children, [the authorities] didn’t want to call attention to themselves,” she commented.
Reyes’ wife also observed how the prisoner tried to be “strong” and “cheerful” for his two daughters. However, his physical and emotional deterioration was clear. “He continues battling discouragement and stress. That’s not going to go away with one visit – that will go away only once he’s free. But he wanted to present himself to the girls as a strong Dad, and he succeeded,” Guevara summed up.
Suyen Barahona got to see a photo of her son
Meanwhile, Suyen Barahona, president of the outlawed “Democratic Renewal Union” (Unamos), and a political prisoner since June 2021, had to settle for only seeing a photograph of her son, since the boy and his father had to leave the country for their safety.
Cesar Dubois, Suyen’s husband, reported that she “was very happy” to see in the photo “how much our little boy has grown, because a year and a half has passed since the last time she saw him.” [Note: up until now, the political prisoners have been held completely incommunicado, not allowed to see so much as a photo of their children]. Even on this occasion, Cesar Dubois lamented the fact that the regime’s jail authorities wouldn’t allow Suyen to keep the photo.
“We continue insisting on Suyen’s right as well as that of our son, to a telephone call. With so much technology available now, that’s not something impossible,” Dubois emphasized.
He also described that during her visit Suyen was allowed to share a lunch with her relatives, all documented with photographs by the prison authorities.
Sociologist and political prisoner Irving Larios was allowed to receive some nuts and cookies from his family members. “He was very happy to be able to see his relatives, even though he’s still suffering from a number of physical ailments. He still can’t lift his left arm because it’s very painful. They still haven’t checked what’s wrong,” stated a source close to the family.
Visits in the context of the “Purisima”
According to the police press statement, the special visit was authorized in the context of the Purisima, a Nicaraguan holiday celebrating the conception of Mary.
“The Directorate of Judicial Assistance of the Nicaraguan National Police informs the Nicaraguan families that on the occasion of the festivities of La Purisima and La Griteria, today, December 7, and tomorrow the 8th, those being held in El Chipote are receiving special visits from their families,” reads the document.
The press statement also indicated: “During these visits, those in detention have been allowed to receive and share food with their wives, mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren and other members of their family circles.”
According to the police communication, this “month of December there will be other, similar visits, sharing the Christmas and New Years’ traditions.”
Chairs and awnings set up in El Chipote
Relatives of the political prisoners noted that – unlike in previous visits, when they’ve even been strip-searched before entering the prison’s visiting area – this time, the Police treated them “decently.” In order to enter, they only “had to pass through a metal detector.”
The family members were notified by telephone before the visit that they could bring clothing for their relatives. That caused some suspicions, because on the previous occasions they weren’t allowed to bring “even a blanket” to the political prisoners.
In addition, on December 6th family members learned that an events truck would be entering the jail, carrying chairs and awnings for the family visit.
The Mechanism for Recognition of the Political Prisoners has counted 235 political prisoners in Nicaragua’s different prison centers, up until November of this year.
Of these 235 prisoners of conscience, some 225 have been imprisoned within the context of Nicaragua’s ongoing socio-political crisis, which began in 2018. Ten political prisoners have been locked up for longer.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times