MEXICO CITY (AP) — A former Sandinista guerrilla leader who once led a raid that helped free rebel and now President Daniel Ortega from prison has died, his family said Saturday, eight months after the government of Ortega arrested him and dozens of other Nicaraguan opposition leaders. .
Hugo Torres has died aged 73, relatives have said.
Torres was the first of a large group of opposition leaders to die in a crackdown in 2021. It is unclear whether his death was hastened by the conditions of detention. He died in a hospital in Managua, the capital, “of illnesses from which he suffered”, according to a statement from government prosecutors.
Torres was a key commander in the 1970s Sandinista Revolution who broke with Ortega more than 20 years ago to found the Sandinista Renovation Movement.
Torres was one of 46 opposition figures and presidential candidates jailed by Ortega in May and June, to pave the way for his almost unopposed re-election on November 7.
Three of Torres’ children released a statement announcing their father’s death. They gave no cause and said that, in accordance with their father’s wishes, there would be no public funeral or ceremony.
The prosecutor’s office said that when it learned that Torres was gravely ill, the office “requested judicial authorities to suspend the start of his oral public trial for compassionate reasons.”
In fact, the trials are not public and take place in prison, in many cases only the defendant’s lawyer is allowed to be present. Some events only last a few hours.
Prosecutors had justified Torres’ arrest by charging him and most of the other imprisoned opposition leaders with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity“.
On June 13 last year, Torres predicted his own arrest in an interview with The Associated Press after seeing drones flying around his home. “This interview may be the last I give,” Torres said. “I’m here, waiting for them to pick me up.”
“They’re not just potential candidates anymore, they’re political leaders,” Torres said of those arrested. “This is not a transition to dictatorship; it is a dictatorship from every point of view.
Torres was a guerrilla commander who fought alongside Ortega in the Nicaraguan Civil War and later a general in the Nicaraguan Army. It was part of efforts to transform the Sandinista People’s Army created after the rebels’ victory in 1979 into a professional Nicaraguan army in the 1990s.
His death may prove to be a major embarrassment for Ortega; Torres broke Ortega out of prison in 1974 by raiding the home of a close ally of the then dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Ortega had been imprisoned for a botched bank robbery in Managua, the capital, years before.
In a video he posted hours before his June arrest, Torres said, “46 years ago I risked my life to break Daniel Ortega and other fellow political prisoners out of prison.”
“I am 73 years old and I never thought that at this stage of my life I would fight against another dictatorship, now more brutal, more unscrupulous, more irrational and more autocratic than the Somoza dictatorship” , said Torres.
After leading a revolutionary government following the guerrilla victory, Ortega served as president from 1985 to 1990 and was re-elected to power in 2007.
He has not left power since then, and his regime has become increasingly harsh, crushing any protest or opposition with the police and the military. International organizations have called the November 2021 elections a farce.
Ortega’s Sandinista Front and its allies control the Nicaraguan Congress and all government institutions.
A series of recent trials of opposition figures have taken place in the notorious Chipote prison. Only their lawyers were allowed to assist the defendants. So far, all trials have resulted in convictions and sentences of 13 to 15 years.
Relatives of jailed opposition activists said prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement, constant interrogation and insufficient food, which affected their health.
Families complained that they were not allowed to bring blankets to prisoners and said some were held in cells with lights on 24 hours a day, while others were kept in darkness. They said most cells were small, with concrete bed slabs covered in worn mattresses.
Thousands of people have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently suppressed anti-government protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were in fact a coup attempt with foreign backing, and many of those who are on trial were accused of working with foreign powers for his overthrow or of encouraging the foreigner. nations to impose sanctions on his family members and his government.