Families of Nicaragua’s prisoners of conscience and human rights advocates have confirmed that 23 political prisoners have begun a hunger strike: three in the El Chipote jail and 20 in the Modelo prison. These prisoners are risking their own worsening health to demand the suspension of the policy of isolation and other cruel conditions imposed for over a year by the former political prisoner Daniel Ortega.
This is an extreme protest measure that would never have been necessary if the prison system were open to inspection and verification by the national and international human rights organizations. But the El Chipote jail – technically a temporary holding center for cases under investigation – in practice has become a permanent jail where torture is common. It has remained closed off to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Red Cross, and the UN Commission of Independent Experts. The political prisoners in El Chipote only have the rightto a two-hour family visit every 45 days; they’re denied a balanced diet, as well as specialized medical attention; and they’re not permitted books, pencils, or notebooks, so they could read or write.
Hence, the hunger strike the political prisoners have undertaken is a last resort, is a wake-up call to the national conscience and the international community to reject the normalization of this torture. Demanding that the jails be opened to international scrutiny is the first step in overturning a jail system that symbolizes the cruelty and dehumanization of the dictatorial couple. Their absolute power, based on the force of their repression, leaves their thirst for vengeance, their fear of freedom and their moral decrepitude with no limits.
Dora Maria Tellez is 66, one of the most outstanding women in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. She now has suffered serious weight loss and chronic health issues. With her hunger strike, she’s demanding that the regime end the solitary confinement that she and another three women leaders of Unamos have been subjected to for their 475 days in jail. In addition, she’s demanding that all the political prisoners be granted their right to reading material, and that she be allowed to sign a legal power of attorney, so her family members can receive the social security pension that’s her lawful right.
Family members of Suyen Barahona, one of the other political prisoners being kept in solitary confinement for over 475 days, began a campaign called “a phone call for Suyen.” They demand she be allowed a video call with her little boy of five, who now resides outside the country.
Journalist and blogger Miguel Mendoza, also locked up for over 467 days, began a hunger strike so the regime would allow him a visit from his nine-year-old daughter.
Attorney Roger Reyes, imprisoned for over 400 days, is on a hunger strike, demanding the right to visit with his young daughters, who are ill.
Prisoners of conscience Miguel Mora and Tamara Davila have already gone through the martyrdom of a hunger strike, in order to receive a visit from their children. The despots in the presidential residence of El Carmen don’t accept that visits are the right of all. Likewise, they continue to keep the political prisoners isolated in solitary confinement. El Chipote and other prisons systematically violate the UN Nelson Mandela rules which establish minimum regulations for the treatment of those in jail. They’ve imposed a system of isolation that medical specialists have classified as psychological torture that leads to irreversible physical and psychological damages to the health of the political prisoners.
The demand of the 23 political prisoners who are on hunger strike to end their isolation is a humanitarian imperative to preserve the life and health of all the political prisoners. Afterwards, their political sham trials need to be annulled, so that they can all recover their freedom.
After the death of political prisoner Hugo Torres in police custody in February of this year, no political prisoner should be forced to risk their health in a hunger strike, to demand an end to the cruel jail regimen.
Nonetheless, on Wednesday, September 28, in his speech commemorating four years of the imposition of a police state, Daniel Ortega tried to justify the system of torture against the political prisoners as one of the pillars of his regime. The dictator termed the political prisoners – people he has locked up for demanding free elections- “terrorists”, and lashed out at the Catholic Church, the Pope and the UN Secretary General, all of whom have demanded an end to the repression. But his most virulent attack was against Gabriel Boric, president of Chile, one of the leaders of the new democratic left in Latin America, who – like Colombia’s new left-leaning president Gustavo Petro – has demanded freedom for the political prisoners in Nicaragua.
In the Orwellian language of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo Boric and Petro are “lap dogs” of imperialism for invoking human rights as universal values and condemning their reign of cruelty. The family dictatorship – progressively more isolated, both within Nicaragua and in the world – has aligned itself with Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. They can’t offer any national solutions, only a process of dynastic succession. Ortega may manage to prolong his regime’s torment for a time by imposing more pain and suffering on the Nicaraguan people. However, he can’t cover up the failure of his government that can only maintain itself in power through a police state and threats of political imprisonment.
The dictators also refuse to accept a way out via political negotiations or a dialogue with the international community. By refusing the humanitarian gesture of Gustavo Petro to free the political prisoners, and by expelling Bettina Muschdeit, the European Union’s ambassador, Ortega is dynamiting his bridges. He knows that no one can offer him immunity from the crimes against humanity committed. Like all tyrants at the edge of the cliff, he’s radicalizing the repression and the total closure of political and civic space. His objective is to maintain cohesive his group of fanatical followers, but his repressive leap forward is also alienating the civil and military public employees who aren’t involved in the massacres and the corruption.
Standing before this dead-end street, the hunger strike of the political prisoners represents a call for national resistance. It’s a dramatic call to break the silence, that demands extraordinary international pressure – not to try and pacify the tyrant, but to achieve a suspension of the regime of isolation and torture in the jails. It’s the first step towards achieving the liberation of the prisoners of conscience that embody the hopes for a democratic change in Nicaragua.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.