"The IACHR and the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua said they found no signs of torture in the Office of Judicial Assistance facility. Nor have we"

Submitted bytortilla onMar, 25/09/2018 - 16:28

Tortilla con Sal, September 19th 2018

Interview with Lic. Corina Centeno Rocha, Procurator of the Legal Office for the Defense of Human Rights

Tortilla con Sal: What has been the work of the Legal Office for  the Defense of Human Rights in Nicaragua in the context of the failed coup attempt between April 18th and early July this year?

Procurator Corina Centeno: Thank you for the opportunity of giving this interview. This national human rights institution, in compliance with the Political Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua and the law establishing it, Law 212, has fulfilled its mandate from the very first moment in which these recent events took place. And in particular one of its fundamental objectives is “to promote, defend and safeguard the rights contemplated in Title 4 of the Republic’s Political Constitution, ensuring its fulfillment on the part of the Public Administration”.

In this context we created, on April 27th, the Victims Committee to receive denunciations, accompany the families of victims and demand justice and reparation for the acts of violence that have bereaved so many Nicaraguan families.

The protests that later generated acts of violence began on April 18th when no fatalities occurred. The second day of the protests, April 19th, three people died, one was a police officer, Hilton Rafael Manzanares Alvarado, who was killed by a gunshot near the Polytechnic University (UPOLI) while re-establishing public order and free movement of traffic. The other person who died was a passer by not associated with the protests, called Darwin Manuel Urbina Urbina, who was passing by the environs of that university and died as the result of a mortar impact. The third person who died was Richard Eduardo Pavón Bermúdez, a Sandinista supporter who was not a student and who died defending the local municipal offices of Tipitapa from attacks by criminal gangs.

The foregoing indicates clearly that from the first day on which deaths were reported, as well as police officers, there were civilians among the protests carrying all types of weapons , something widely documented in videos that have circulated in social media.

Without making any distinctions, we have visited all the families recording a total of 251 denunciations of people deceased. Of these we have verified 192 cases in the whole national territory; Managua, Masaya, Carazo, León, Chinandega, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Chontales, Boaco, in all the departments where deaths took place.  And we continue working on a few cases still pending. It is important to stress that among the dead one finds citizens taking part in acts of violence, as well as Sandinista supporters, police officers and other members of the population not associated with the events in question.

Of these 192 genuine cases visited, we have their complete details, we have complete files on every last one of those cases. Similarly we have held coordinating meetings, bilateral meetings with the National Police, with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the Ministry of Health, to exchange information but at the same time to verify that the cases are being addressed, that the processes are being carried forward and that everyone fulfills their respective responsibilities.

We have gone as far as Siuna on the northern Caribbean Coast to investigate the case of a young man who was in the list of deceased and found that he was not connected to these events. But we fulfilled our duty  to visit case by case. I remember his name perfectly, he was called Harlington López. Harlington was a young man who moved to Managua to find work and was hit by a bullet in the Waspám barrio when he was going home from work

In Jinotepe, we visited the family of murdered woman police officer, Juana Francisca Aguilar Cano. We also visited the family of Cristian Emilio Cadena in León, this person died when the CUUN building was burned down in León. We also visited the family of the very first police officer killed, comrade Hilton Rafael Manzanares, who died on April 19th. In Palacagüina, we visited the family of Kevin Josue Rivas, another young man not connected to these events.

Likewise we visited families in Managua, in Waslala and in Rio Blanco where we visited the family of Aran Molina, who had gone to the rescue of Dolores Soza who was under attack in her house and was going to be set on fire with her family by persons unknown based in the barricades set up in Matagalpa.

In the municipality of Mulukukú, in the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, we visited the families of the police officers murdered in the attack on the police post in the Pueblo Nuevo hamlet of the community of Sislao Paraska on June 11th, in which two police officers were murdered, Dixon Bismark Soza Enriquez and Carlos Zamora. Two officers were wounded, Ramón Saturnino Zavala Olivas and Leonardo Castillo Ruiz and officer Ezequiel Sánchez Gutiérrez was kidnapped, his body being found 22 days later.

In Matagalpa we also visited all the families of deceased comrades there, among them the teacher José Alfredo Urroz Girón, who was shot and died because he could not get medical attention since the roadblocks prevented him being taken to Managua’s Lenin Fonseca hospital in time.

To date we have produced two reports that were presented in the 38th and 39th sessions General Assembly of the United Nations and we also presented two videos showing the acts of violence that demonstrate the cruelty and hatred with which Sandinista supporters and police officers were tortured and murdered by the opposition groups operating the roadblocks.

TcS : Can you say a bit more about the contrast between your own work and that of the international organizations?

Procurator Corina Centeno: We could offer as a comparison of the investigative work we have done in relation to the visit carried out by these international organizations. Our investigations are real, objective, concrete, documented, different from the investigation that the IACHR, for example, came to do here in Nicaragua on there first three-day visit. It’s impossible, because an investigation requires the application of a methodology, the carrying out of a series of necessary tasks to verify the events denounced. In three days the IACHR visited various departments and made their report based on unverified events, false news reports and lists of people deceased given to them by non governmental organizations of the political opposition to the government, NGOs who were integrated into the work teams of the IACHR, which delegitimizes that body’s impartiality.

We reviewed the lists of people deceased presented by the NGOSs that consisted of just names. They had no addresses, no information about the cause of death or where they occurred. By means of our investigative work we verified that many of these cases are of people who died in circumstances not related to the conflict, such as for example, traffic accidents, common crimes and others of these cases were people who were alive and were unaware they figured in those lists. Non governmental organziaitons like CENIDH, CPDH and ANPDH had unverified lists. They even said they had a list of people disappeared, but when news media asked CENIDH for the list CENIDH had nothing to say.

Despite the openness of the government that in good faith allowed the entry of these international organizations, the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, they simply took one side and did not give the other side of the story. They covered up the acts of violence against Sandinista supporters and the true intentions of the opposition groups. They were biased, because for us this is the first interview we have been able to give to make the truth known, the other side of the story which is the truth.

And this is the truth. This is the truth of each case visited one by one. And do indeed have the moral caliber to say to Nicaragua’s People and to the whole world that these are the genuine cases we have verified. We still have a very small number of cases to visit, but we are going to visit all of them, right down to the very last one. We have visited over 20 cases that had nothing to do with the events of the crisis, involving gang fights The self-same families told us “No, it’s nothing to do with it, they weren’t involved in anything” instead someone or other shot them in the back...

The only real case we are aware of involving people disappeared are the police officer kidnapped in the attack on the police post in Mulukukú whose mother came to this office to denounce her son’s disappearance and 22 days later the body appeared. And the other case is of the Managua municipal authority worker Bismarck Martinez of whom to date the remains have not appeared. We only know of the videos showing his torture at the hands of his captors. For us, those are the two genuine disappearances we have had, the comrade Bismarck Martinez, a Sandinista supporter, and the police officer in Mulukukú.

TcS: But you receive cases from all sectors of the population without making political distinctions.

Procurator Corina Centeno : We have received denunciations from all Nicaraguan citizens with no exception at all. To everyone we receive here we offer guidance as it is our duty to do. Our obligation is to attend to everyone, to all people who visit us and seek us out.

A little while ago the parents came here of Elsa Valle to ask why she is being held in the La Esperanza women’s prison. And we went to visit her and verify her physical well being. And there is a video in which says that she is in good health and has suffered no physical or psychological ill treatment as falsely reported in the news media but that she sprained her ankle when getting down from her bunk. We confirmed that she is getting family visits, food packets and medical attention in the prison.
Likewise we visited the Tipitapa Prison and both there and in the La Esperanza women’s prison we managed to verify that the infrastructure is good, that they have new modules. They have beds or bunks with mattresses. They have sanitary facilities. They have drinking water. The hygiene and sanitary conditions are good. They get visits from their lawyers and their family who bring them food stuffs weekly. They get medical attention, both the check-up on their arrival and when they need it otherwise.

We have made four visits. We went to the National Prison System for men in Tipitapa, we went to the Women’s Prison. We  have been twice to the Office of Judicial Assistance facility known as El Chipote. These visits were made to verify the conditions of people arrested in relation to the violent acts that occurred in our country following April 18th. On one of the visits to the Office of Judicial Assistance facility in mid-May we went as guarantors and witnesses for the handing over to the Verification Commission and the IACHR of ten people arrested at the roadblock in Nagarote, since internationally there is a terrible campaign of falsehoods and defamation, of manipulation of news and we are obliged to tell the truth. As the Bible says, the truth will set you free.

We have to tell the truth and the truth is that there is no torture. That the conditions are humane. Maybe not as we might wish, because it’s not the same being in prison as sleeping in your bed at home. But the prison system has humane conditions. The right to health is guaranteed. they are guaranteed access to the open air. We were able to confirm that. They are permitted family visits. They are allowed conjugal visits. We confirmed that.

Equally, these human rights organizations that came, like the IACHR and the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua said they found no signs of torture in the Office of Judicial Assistance facility. Nor have we. We have been verifying since May and there are none. We talk with the people detained there and they tell us they are well treated. They are fed. They are allowed food sent by their families. If they are sick they get medical attention and medicine.

So then we think this is part of a defamation campaign  of falsehoods and lies against the government. We see every day new actions as part of the execution of their plan to overthrow the government. It’s the same recipe as in Venezuela. No different. This defamatory campaign here, thank God the People opened their eyes to it. We saw how many human rights violations were committed at the roadblocks and even so it was said to be part of the mechanism of civic protest.

And we watched how they abused the People, how they unleashed that campaign of hatred, of lies and what people felt really was fear, fear that they might lose their life. And that is why people didn’t go outside their houses. But now we are seeing the very opposite. I think only a blind person cannot see what is happening in Nicaragua

TcS : What do you think of the accusation that there are political prisoners?

Procurator Corina Centeno : The issue of political prisoners is one many people are talking about now On that, we want to be categorical that it is part of the destabilization campaign to make over as political prisoners all those people who committed crimes of hate, death, bodily harm, destruction of property both public and private, who burned people alive, who destroyed much of Nicaragua’s economy and of which we at the Legal Office for the Defense of Human Rights have also been victims.

They burned down our office in León. They kidnapped one of our comrades in León.  Also we had the death of our territorial representative in León who died, I’d say as collateral damage, because with our office in León burned down, a comrade kidnapped, the stress, fear and persecution, this comrade suffered a stroke and died. So to us as the Legal Office for the Defense of Human Rights too they caused damage. Here in Managua they attacked one of our colleagues near the Polytechnic University.

We have analyzed all the cases of arrests carried out by the National Police between April 19th and August 17th this year. We recorded a total of 1259 arrests of which 1046 people were set free- 31 were under police investigation and 182 have been put at the disposal of the judicial authorities because they committed acts deemed to be crimes under Nicaragua’s Criminal Code and they are being tried in accordance with the respective law, No cases of political prisoners exist, contrary to what some news media and non governmental organizations have alleged.

TcS : And apart from those deceased people?

Procurator Corina Centeno : We have another large number of denunciations we have received. Not fewer than 200, above all from public sector workers who have been abused, persecuted, who have also been victims in this recent context. Mainly health workers who are going about their work of mosquito control and fumigation. A woman health worker, denounced to us that she had been locked up in a house and they told her they were going to kill her and dump her at the place on the outskirts of Managua called la Cuesta del Plomo. By good luck, the young woman was able to escape from the house. So those kinds of denunciations for example. Or denunciations like that of Jacaranda Fernández, Secretary General of the health workers union FETSALUD in Masaya, whose house was burned down there in Masaya.