Before fleeing Nicaragua, Bayardo José Siles Rodríguez, a university student and human rights activist from Matagalpa, was illegally locked up in prisons across three departments for ten days. All in unsanitary conditions. Among those dungeons was El Chipote, where he lived a nightmare.
In those prisons, he also saw the suffering of other prisoners and confirmed “how defending, promoting, or requesting human rights becomes a crime in Nicaragua.”
“Those ten days were years for me, I spent my time crying, because I had never been a prisoner and I never imagined that this would happen just for protesting or exercising my rights, something I have been doing for years, like asking for the democratization of my country or stopping the discrimination,” said the 27-year-old, who is now in another country out of fear of being imprisoned again, like what happened on Aug. 9.
That day Siles and three friends boarded a bus to Costa Rica and the police detained him at the border, telling him they would ask him questions and he could travel on the next bus. But after a few hours, they took him to the police station in Rivas.
Since he was a teenager, Siles has opted for activism in defense children’s and adolescents’ rights, as well as the LGBT community. More than once he could be seen alone in Matagalpa, carrying a banner alluding to social demands. Sometimes he did it accompanied by one of his friends.
Police had that information when they detained him. Siles says that they have “real lists” at the border sent by the Sandinista Front.
On Aug. 13, he was taken from Rivas to a police facility known as El Chipote, in Managua, but the transfer was done in “an impressive caravan, as if I were a very dangerous person.”
Four “eternal” days in El Chipote
As soon as he entered El Chipote, an arrogant policewoman checked his belongings and found a pair of shorts from a friend who was traveling to Costa Rica with Siles.
“Inside those pants was a blue and white scarf, that was the only thing she needed to even tell me what I was going to die of,” said the young man.
“So are you a pig?” asked the woman, trying to intimidate him and ordering him to strip and do fifty squats. Once the order was completed, they left him in boxers and put him in a “dark dungeon, with only one little window in the upper part supposedly for air to enter, but nothing comes in and that feels like an oven. Actually, El Chipote is designed to mentally pressure you. You hallucinate, you sleep to forget you’re locked up. ”
“An angelic voice”
Accompanied by four other prisoners, involved in other crimes, Siles spent the whole time in underwear “without showering and I was rotting.” He got fungal skin infections, mainly on his feet and admits that “they did not hit me, but I was always afraid because others were suddenly taken out, hit and you could hear terrible screams… They never took me out or interviewed me.”
The fear prevailed among the prisoners, but things changed every noon, when a woman “with an angelic voice you could hear throughout the hall, the best style of opera, she sang Avemaría and other religious songs. Everyone went silent to listen to her, nobody talked and every time she finished, we all shouted out of happiness, full of hope,” said Siles, admitting that “I get a lump in my throat when I remember that lady.”
Later he learned that the singer was Olesia Auxiliadora Muñoz Pavón, a pianist and member of the Santa Ana of Niquinohomo Parrish choir in Masaya, but she is being accused of terrorism for supporting the protests against the government.
“It’s a spectacular voice and every time she sang, the day’s problems, the confinement, the desperation, the anxiety, they left and she managed to make us feel and sleep well,” said the university student. When Muñoz was transferred to the penitentiary system, everyone in El Chipote shouted for them not to take her away, but she shouted back that she wanted to leave.
On Aug. 16, Siles was told he would be transferred. His mother, Rosa Amelia Rodríguez Herrera, was outside El Chipote and wanted to hear from him, but there were also Ortega supporters, supposedly demanding justice.
“I saw, when they moved me, that members of the Sandinista Youth pressured my mother, wanting to make her dance to “Daniel se queda.” (A song about Daniel Ortega staying in power) She was crying outside in the sun… I wanted to shout that they were taking me to Matagalpa, but one of the policemen pushed an AK in my side to keep me quiet,” said Siles.
Questioned by political operator
After a few hours in the Matagalpa police station, Siles was taken to Commissioner Major Javier Martínez’s office. Moments later a Sandinista Front operator arrived and quickly began interrogating him about organizations the university student has worked for and insisted on asking which organization financed the “purchase of weapons” for those ran the barricade.
They have thousands of photos in Chipote
The Sandinsta operator demaded accountability from the National Union of Nicaraguan Students (UNEN) in Matagalpa and then showed him photos of demonstrators.
“They have thousands of photos, but don’t have names to identify them,” said the university student. He said the interview lasted approximately 15 minutes, and he questioned the officer, telling him “it’s you who should interview me, not a political party.”
“Go rest, only cooperate with what we ask you later,” Martínez would have told him and the university student was taken to the jail, where “I spent two more days, without bathing, begging to go to the bathroom, urinating in some stinking container, there were cockroaches and mice…”
His release and exit from the country
On the afternoon of Aug. 18, Siles was released in Matagalpa, after returning from Managua.
Outside the police station, his mother was waiting for him. He ran to hug her. They went home, where the student said goodbye to the rest of the family, asking them to take care of the seven dogs he has as pets, “please do not give them away.”
He immediately went to Managua where he sought attention for his skin infection. He left the country after a few days with the intention of keeping up his activism and exerting international pressure to tell people “how defending human rights becomes a crime in Nicaragua and why defenders are persecuted.”
Read the original story in Spanish at La Prensa, first published on Aug. 27 2018.
This story was translated into English and republished in The Tico Times as part of a partnership with La Prensa to help bring their coverage of the Nicaraguan crisis to an English-speaking audience.