A little less than three months ago, Nicaraguan opposition leader Medardo Mairena was “buried alive” in one of the regime’s torture prisons in Tipitapa, in Managua.
He spent 11 months in a dark cell there — a place dubbed by its prisoners as “The Infiernillo,” or the little hell, because of its suffocating heat. He was forbidden to call his family and merely managed to sleep a single hour a day.
“Those are not prisons, they are graves,” said Mairena, who was released in June through an amnesty law passed by the government.
He is now in the United States to denounce the suffering of 140 Nicaraguans who remain imprisoned, the continued repression against the farming sector and the firm gag placed on the media by the regime, headed by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo.
“The streets in Nicaragua are fully militarized. [We all live] in distress,” Mairena said, indicating that the police constantly monitor those they consider government opponents.
“If we set up a small meeting, even if it’s just 15 or 20 people, the police show up to intimidate us,” he said, stating that they still continue to organize regardless of that.
Mairena is the coordinator of the National Council for the Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, which is known as the Anti-Channel Farmer Movement. This group, which emerged in 2013, opposes a law passed by the Ortega regime that gave a 100-year concession to Chinese businessman Wang Jing to build a channel that would connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through the Caribbean Sea. Their main claim is that the law opens the door to violations of their rights as landowners.
The farmers joined the marches that erupted in April 2018 in protest of Ortega’s social security reforms at the time. Since then, they have endured an increasing number of murders, kidnappings and disappearances, which are sometimes not reported by the victims’ relatives for fear of retaliation.
“There have been farmers’ bodies who have been cut piece by piece until only a little bit of meat is left in a bag. It’s hard what, us, Nicaraguans are experiencing,” Mairena said in an interview with el Nuevo Herald.
Mairena personally experienced this kind of serious threat after being kidnapped by regime forces at the Managua airport about a year ago. He was supposed to board a plane for the U.S. He planned to update Nicaraguans abroad on the dialogue being carried out at the time between the Alianza Cívica and Ortega’s government.
One of his interrogators told Mairena that they were going to murder his 3-year-old daughter if he did not agree to publicly accuse the Episcopal Conference, led by the Catholic bishops and a part of the Alianza Cívica, of orchestrating an alleged coup d’etat in Nicaragua.
“I am going to tape a video where I’ll cut her, finger by finger ... and then you will realize that we’re serious,” said Mairena, quoting the police officer, who also tried to bribe him with cars, money and a house in Managua.
The peasant leader did not accept the proposal in exchange for his freedom and was charged with supposedly killing five police officers and a civilian in Morrito, in Río San Juan.
“How is it possible that you saw me in Morrito if we had called for a march of more than 200,000 people in the streets of Managua that same day,” Mairena argued in his defense.
In December 2018, in what he described as a “tainted” and “corrupt” trial, Mairena was sentenced to 216 years in jail. In Nicaragua, the maximum penalty is 30 years in jail.
Mairena called the amnesty law through which he was released a government strategy to exempt the paramilitaries and other repressive forces from liability.
“Ortega is protecting the true murderers and kidnappers, and uses us as a mask to say that he took us out of that amnesty,” said Mairena, adding he considers what was done to him a kidnapping because he was convicted without committing a crime, as were other opposition members who still remain in captivity.
Mairena also denounced the fact that nine others who were also released through the amnesty have been kidnapped again by the regime, and in some cases the government is now accusing them of common crimes.
“The world must know what is happening in Nicaragua, and hopefully the international community can do something for Nicaraguans, because we are human beings and they are killing us every day,” he said, stating that he will not go into exile because he feels committed to working for a better future for Nicaragua.
“We are not going to get used to living under this regime. My daughter also needs to go to school; she needs education. We need to develop Nicaragua, but through a democracy, and we don’t have that right now,” he said.