The situation in Nicaragua remains troubled and closer to civil war than ever before, as we see increasing numbers of asylum seekers from the Central American country requesting certified translation services as part of their application to remain in the UK. Below you can read about some of the struggles and bravery of those standing up to the authorities in the troubled tropical nation.
They gave her no food or water. They stripped her naked and subjected her to extensive interrogations aimed at retracting the call for civil disobedience and the suspension of tax payments to the merchants of the Mercado Oriental, the 28-hectare monster where the inhabitants of Managua sell and buy just about anything. In cell 37 of El Chipote - a Nicaraguan pre-trial prison denounced as a torture centre - the merchant Irlanda Jerez awaited an uncertain fate.
Jerez had captured the attention of the press by appearing in the heart of the Oriental - where she had a business - calling for rebellion against Daniel Ortega's regime. She wandered through the capital of Nicaragua in a black t-shirt with the legend "I don't pay taxes to the State", participated, megaphone in hand, in the demonstrations demanding the end of the regime and giving incendiary interviews. The "dictatorship" - as she called it - did not forgive her for her audacity and ordered her arrest on 18 July 2018. She spent two days in the cells of El Chipote enduring naked interrogations, until she was transferred to the women's prison La Esperanza, where she spent 329 days in prison.
Ortega ordered her release on 11 June after enacting a questionable amnesty law.
Jerez recounts a list of horrors to which she was subjected. Her "kidnapping" - as she calls it - included the obligation to sit naked, beatings, threats with police dogs, sexual harassment by prison officials, only allowing her to go outside on three occasions for six months, theft of food and personal objects sent to her by her family, leaving her for four months with only one set of clothes, and with no possibility of visits. At the age of 38, Irlanda Jerez descended into hell. "The physical assaults were brutal. The prison authorities made it clear how much they hated me. They said: "Son of a whore, we're going to annihilate you, we're just waiting for the order".
In prison, she kept up the resistance. Imprisoned with 13 other women in the cell known as "Objectivo 5", she soon attracted the hatred of the guardians for her insolence. "We made incredible bonds of sistererhood, we helped each other as much as we could," she explained from Managua. She went on hunger strike, did not obey the orders of the guards, organised seizures of the cell gates. On October 26, the guards tried to isolate her and her comrades defended her, which led to a brutal beating for all of them. On February 7 European Union ambassadors arrived at the prison and Jerez showed her rebelliousness, for which she paid dearly. "That day we were beaten terribly, my left hand was injured and I had vaginal bleeding for 22 continuous days. We didn't get medical attention.”
Now freed from prison, Irlanda Jerez recounts those days without a grudge, despite the suffering. "Being in a cell meant surviving, resisting and getting stronger every day." In spite of the fact that the regime's hatred stripped her not only of her freedom, but also of business in the Oriental and in the city of Matagalpa (northern Nicaragua) and even of her home in Managua ("it continues to be occupied by paramilitaries"), Jerez says that she maintains her "principles and convictions" and that she will continue with the issues that dominate the struggle for freedom in this Central American country.
The protests began in April last year, when Ortega tried to impose a widely rejected social security reform. Ortega unleashed a brutal repression, which left at least 325 dead and imprisoned at least 600 people. Yubrank Suazo was arrested on 10 September in Chichigalpa, a city in western Nicaragua where he had taken refuge. He is originally from Masaya, the bastion of the opposition resistance that had declared itself independent of the regime. Suazo, 28, a psychology student, recounts the nightmare he suffered in La Modelo prison, located on the outskirts of Managua, where hundreds of political prisoners were transferred.
"On 9 March I was transferred to a maximum-security cell known as Infiernito, or “little Hell”. That night, the sector director, Rigoberto Guevara, entered the cell and ordered that I be shackled and handcuffed with my hands behind my back. I was transferred in my boxer shorts to a medical plant. Guevara kicked me in the chest. I didn't scream and that made him mad. Since I'm hypertensive, I was afraid he'd kick me into a heart attack. 'Thank God they didn't give us the order to kill you,' he said to me. He hit me for half an hour. He punched me in the face making me bleed from my nose. He sprayed pepper spray in my face; for me that was serious, because the gas got into my mouth and the pain, the suffocation, was unbearable. When I was returned to the cell there was no water. I spat out as much saliva as I could into the palm of my hand and with one finger I began to clean my eyes. Despite being in the regime's sights, Suazo also assures me that he will maintain the resistance. "It's a moral commitment I have to my people, to my people, for the blood of those who have been murdered."
The illegal detention and accusations against these prisoners are part of the human rights violations by the Ortega government, explains activist Gonzalo Carrión from Costa Rica, where he has gone into exile. Since the neighbouring Central American country is also a Spanish speaking one, no certified translation service was necessary in his case. With 27 years of experience in the defence of liberties in Nicaragua, Carrión assures me that these people "have the right to seek the truth and for people to be held accountable.” He refers to the case of Brandon Taylor (19) and Glen Slate (21), young people from the Caribbean region of Nicaragua, who were unjustly accused of the murder of journalist Ángel Gahona on 20 April 2018, when the reporter was covering the demonstrations in the city of Bluefields. The kids, who barely speak Spanish, don't understand how they ended up in La Modelo accused of a crime they didn't commit. This is the kind of situation in which our group can supply free and certified translation, which is absolutely necessary in cases of criminal proceedings where the accused do not understand the language being used in the case. "They locked me up and didn't tell me anything, just that it was a special case. I never thought I'd be blamed for that crime," says Glen, speaking from Bluefields. "I feel happy every day since I left, but sometimes we feel like we're going to get arrested again, because the old guy [Ortega] is still in power.”
It is the same fear that other released prisoners have, among them Amaya Coppens (24), Nahiroby Olivas (19) and Byron Estrada (25), students of Medicine, Law and Dentistry, who went from demanding reforms to demanding freedom, university autonomyand the end of the "dictatorship". All three became the visible faces of the student rebellion in the colonial city of León, Nicaragua's tourist enclave. Their activism was their crime. Byron and Nahiroby were arrested on 25 August, after a protest ended, and Amaya - who also has Belgian nationality - was arrested on 10 September, in the house where she was hiding. They were brutally beaten and after several interrogations they were taken to La Modelo, where they developed a camaraderie with the other inmates. Amaya, for her part, served 9 months in prison, locked up in cell 4 of La Esperanza, along with 16 other women, all imprisoned for protesting against Ortega. Because of the mistreatment she and eight other women decided to go on a hunger strike that lasted 14 days and whose aftermath they still suffer. "We were completely weak, spending days with headaches and kidney aches." The three say they will organise to protest again. "We have suffered many painful situations, but we are willing to sacrifice anything; we sacrifice our studies, family, freedom and we are willing to sacrifice our life if necessary. There's no fear anymore," said Nahiroby.
These young adults have shown immense bravery by standing up to the repressive and violent regime, but many Nicaraguans have preferred to go into exile and try to live in peace. In many cases this has involved moving to non-Spanish speaking countries and applying for leave to remain, often through asylum. It is in these cases that we have provided certified translations acceptable by the UK government and elsewhere. If this or any similar situation applies to you, just get in touch and we will do all we can to help.