Nicaragua: the consequences of the death of Hugo Torres

Demonstration in San Jose, Costa Rica, demanding the release of political prisoners. Photo courtesy: Social Movement Coordination Group

Three humanitarian measures are urgently needed: suspend the torture regime; immediately transfer all aging political prisoners to house arrest; order the Supreme Court to annul the trials.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidential)

HAVANA TIMES — On Friday, February 11, former FSLN guerrilla commander and retired Brigadier General Hugo Torres died in police custody. Hugo Torres had spent the past eight months as a political prisoner, enduring conditions amounting to torture in the El Chipote jail.

The immediate cause of Torres’ death remains unknown, as the regime has kept complete silence about his worsening condition, shrouded in the isolation prevailing in the El Chipote jail.

What we know from the statements of other prisoners is that the brutal conditions of his captivity caused an irreversible deterioration in the health of General Torres. We also know that the authorities acted negligently by not granting him the necessary medical care for his case. It was only after collapsing in his cell that he was transferred to hospital.

On Friday February 18 – a week after the tragic death of Hugo Torres deeply shook the country and international public opinion – Daniel Ortega finally authorized the transfer of three elderly political prisoners from their prison cells to house arrest. The three are: Arturo Cruz, 68, a former presidential hopeful; lawyer José Pallais, 68, member of the National Coalition; and former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, 77.

In addition to their advanced age, all have visible health conditions that have worsened considerably during their six, seven or eight months of unjust imprisonment in conditions that did not even minimally respect their human rights as prisoners. . All were charged and tried behind closed doors in the prison itself, without any evidence, on unsubstantiated charges of conspiracy against national sovereignty – a conspiracy fabricated in the Carmen presidential bunker.

To justify the change in prison protocol, the district attorney’s office alluded to the “physical condition” of Cruz, Pallais and Aguirre. However, they did not dare to acknowledge that the deterioration of the physical and mental health of these prisoners was aggravated by the inhuman conditions of detention. They also did not present a corresponding medical diagnosis.

The actions of prosecutor Ana Julia Guido are complicit and in accordance with the orders of the presidential couple. They want to continue to conceal the responsibility of the dictatorship for the damage caused to the health of political prisoners, as well as that of their families who have also been victims of the cruelty of the regime.

The Prosecution dared to invoke “humanitarian reasons” to justify changing prison protocols. However, if respect for the humanity and dignity of detainees really existed, the first thing the regime should do is to immediately suspend the torture practices implemented in El Chipote. These harsh conditions are at the root of the deterioration of the prisoners’ state of health.

Friday evening, after months in prison, Arturo Cruz, Francisco Aguirre and Jose Pallais were able to sleep at home for the first time, with their dignity as human beings intact. However, El Chipote is still there, and the fellow inmates of the three men are still suffering under the prison’s punishment and torture tactics. Among those still suffering from the same difficulties are seventeen other political prisoners aged in their 60s and 60s, who also suffer from chronic illnesses.

The “humanitarian” principles invoked by the regime can only be restored if Daniel Ortega applies at least three emergency measures to deal with this serious human rights crisis. First, an immediate suspension of prison practices which include physical and psychological torture – solitary confinement, constant interrogations, lights left on 24 hours a day, lack of sunlight, poor diet, no regular family visits or regular delivery of food parcels, etc. . Second: the other 17 political prisoners of advanced age should be immediately placed under house arrest. Third: The Supreme Court must be immediately ordered to declare the bogus trials null and void and release all prisoners of conscience while restoring their political rights.

Ortega only began to give in after the death of Hugo Torres, and in the face of dramatic expressions and denunciations from the families of political prisoners, to avoid seeing Arturo Cruz, José Pallais and Francisco Aguirre also die in prison. Their family members now have the opportunity to save their lives and begin the long and painful process of restoring their health.

However, in order to reclaim the freedom of the 177 political prisoners, much more national and international pressure is needed – not only from the families of the political prisoners, but from all Nicaraguans, that vast blue and white majority. University students, trade unions and civil society organizations, as well as bishops of the Episcopal Conference – who represent the moral direction of the country -, small, medium and large companies and public employees, both civilian and military.

Ortega and Murillo will only release all political prisoners when domestic and international pressure and civic resistance, combined with internal fissures and growing fissures in the repressive and economic pillars of the regime, force them out of power and return the country to freedom, in order to initiate a new democratic transition.

As national and international pressure mounts toward this critical outcome, the indelible memory of Hugo Torres – the guerrilla who rescued dozens of political prisoners from Somoza prisons in 1974 and 1978 – is essential to reinvigorating our national crusade. In the daily battle to recover our freedom, Hugo Torres – as El Cid Campeador [renowned knight andwarlord in medieval Spain] – will continue after his death, saving political prisoners from the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship one by one.

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