Nicaragua: the New Chipote (El Nuevo Chipote)
The origins of a prison made to torture Nicaraguan dissidents
Frankfurt am Main/Managua, March 16th, 2022 – The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, started his fourth term in a row after being “elected” on November 7th, 2021. He was the only option in the elections, since he started a strong persecution against all other seven presidential candidates that launched their campaings legally on time. Cristiana Chamorro (arrested on June 2nd), Arturo Cruz (arrested on June 5th), Medardo Mairena (arrested on July 6th), Félix Maradiaga (arrested on June 8th), Juan Sebastián Chamorro (arrested on June 8th), Miguel Mora (arrested on June 20th) and Noel Vidaurre (arrested on July 24th) were all charged with mock crimes such as “treason” and “money laundering”. Five of them, except Cristiana Chamorro and Noel Vidaurre, were taken to the prison known as “el nuevo Chipote” (the New Chipote). The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) shares a study about the facility and the human rights violations that occur there.
Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, have been ruling Nicaragua since 2007. It is not Ortega’s first time: he ruled from 1979 to 1985 as the Coordinator of the Junta of National Reconstruction (after the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a left-wing guerrilla group he led, overthrew prior dictator Anastasio Somoza DeBayle) and later as president of Nicaragua for the first time from 1985 to 1990. He was democratically defeated by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro when he tried to run again in 1990. Almost twenty years later, in 2007, he ran again and won with 38% of the total votes.
It is important to at least gasp how dangerous the figure of Daniel Ortega has become for regional democracy to understand the current human rights situation of his critics and the Nicaraguan opposition, and specifically the imprisonment conditions that political prisoners must endure in the newest prison called “the new Chipote”. The name does not allude to the actual recent time of opening of the facility but rather an older, bigger prison that carries the original name.
Daniel Ortega hates his critics so much that one day after his criticized success in the elections where he was the only option, he used his acceptance speech on November 8, 2022 to remind everyone how much he despises them by calling them “sons of whores”.
The origins of the “New Chipote” prison
In the Directorate of Judicial Aid Complex “Evaristo Vásquez Sánchez”, originally a police town hall in Managua, was opened an improvised prison on February 7, 2019. It was built specifically to hold those who opposed the reelection of Daniel Ortega. It was named “the new Chipote” because it resembles the prison called El Chipote, which was also built in a former Directorate of Judicial Aid Complex during the Sandinista revolution and priorly was used as an illegal dungeon where political prisoners were sent during the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza García (the father of Somosa DeBayle). The Nicaraguan government invested five million dollars in its building, a scandalous amount for a country that suffers high rates of poverty.
As history clearly states, this place’s name and structure are built and work towards the repression of those who oppose the status quo, being it a right-wing dictatorship like Somoza’s or a left-wing regime like Ortega’s. Human rights violations do not distinguish between political ideals.
The current status of the New Chipote
A couple of months after the transference of three presidential candidates that attempted to challenge Ortega in the presidential elections of 2021 to the Nuevo Chipote, in September 2021, the detention center also became a place where political prisoners receive trials, are investigated, and condemned. This means that this former police station, effectively turned into a detention center, also acts as a judicial court. Something never seen before in Nicaragua, trials were never celebrated in prisons, not even in the most oppressive times of the dictatorship of Somoza.
The facility known as the New Chipote is characterized for holding mainly political prisoners and having very difficult access. There is only one road that takes visitors to the former police station and there is no public transport that connects the public to the New Chipote, therefore visitors must walk one kilometer if they’re not using a car.
The New Chipote prison is innovative in the sense that it has converted its prison cells into hearing rooms and judges are forced to process political prisoners and conduct trials in this facility. Multiple human rights organizations such as Nicaragua Nunca+ has noted that, according to the Nicaraguan Constitution, all of these procedures are null given the forceful circumstances but as long as Daniel Ortega rules the country, there is little that can be done to keep these violations from occurring.
These are some of the prisoners held currently in the New Chipote prison. Dozens were taken into custody from May to November 2021, when Daniel Ortega started a strong persecution against his opposition. Photo: Articulo66.
The fact that judicial trials are taken place in the Nuevo Chipote prison is a way of torturing the people that is held there, since hearings cannot be objective, and individuals are always subjected to intimidation and are under constant fear. This also interferes with the independence of the judges and the judicial system in Nicaragua, since the police has total control over the facilities and what occurs there, therefore the judicial operators can feel easily intimidated.
The prisoners in the Nuevo Chipote are constantly threatened and interrogated. Former presidential candidates Medardo Mairena, Juan Sebastián Chamorro and Felix Maradiaga reported to be kept in isolation and forced to sustain long interrogations. Their families were shocked when, after weeks, they were finally allowed to see them: the restriction of food and small portions make the prisoners in the new Chipote lose big amounts of weight. Prisoners report to have lost between 8 and 20 kilos in the span of some months.
The aunt of political prisoner Max Jérez denounced that his nephew was isolated for over two months, his legs got so swollen he couldn’t walk until he received medical attention. Max said to also be interrogated every night during late hours.
A former police member that was imprisoned in the new Chipote told the media in 2021 about the torture he had to endure while being detained in the facility. Carlos, who prefers to use a fake name for safety reasons, was sent to the new Chipote after defecting the police and refusing to hurt peaceful protesters in 2018. When he was released under threats, he was thrown into the Tiscapa lagoon and had to look for asylum in Costa Rica. Carlos tells he had teeth removed, prison authorities removed his nails in long torture sessions that included electric shocks too. He also tells to suffer from suicidal thoughts after seeing other two former police members who also defected dying in prison after being tortured.
Family members of the prisoners
The family members of the prisoners that try to visit their loved ones in the facility also face inhumane treatment. The mother of the student and political prisoner Lesther Aleman, Lesbia Alfaro, denounced to be taken into a bathroom and forced to remove her shirt, also to pull her pants down to her knees, she was then touched in her breast.
Given the deplorable conditions in which the prisoners are held in the new Chipote, their family members signed a public letter on 14 September 2021 requesting to be able to bring their loved ones clothing, covers, at least one proper meal a day, allowance of frequent visits, the ending of the interrogations and isolation, at least 20 minutes daily of sunlight and the publicity of trials.
This is the statement of petitions the family members of the prisoners held in the New Chipote wrote on September 14, 2021. Photo: Articulo66.
Aside from the shortages in food, the prisoners of el new Chipote are kept in dark and small rooms that allow very little light, the hygienic conditions are deplorable and they do not count with access to toilets, but holes on the ground.
The family members of the political prisoners held in the new Chipote denounce that those who must take medicine due to chronical illnesses spend weeks without their medication, worsening their conditions.
Due to the government orders of not allowing political prisoners visits, the political prisoners in the new Chipote must endure months without proper clothing or sleeping covers, enduring cold nights on top of cement beds with very thin matresses.
The New Chipote prison is used mainly to hold political prisoners and dissidents of the Ortega’s regime. There, the opposition members are kept for weeks without allowing them to see their family members or receive visits of their lawyers. Most of the political prisoners held in the new Chipote are accused of mock crimes such as “treason” and “money laundering”.
Dora María Téllez was a guerrilla member who fought with Daniel Ortega against the Somosa dictatorship and later, when Ortega took power, became part of the opposition, she was taken to the New Chipote prison because of her political opinions on 13 June, 2021. Daniel Ortega accuses her or “treason to land”. Téllez said that the changing of the location of the prison did not change the human rights violations that are committed in the cells every day, she points out the long interrogations and the constant threats of restrictions of visits and calls for the prisoners, which keeps them filled with stress and anguish.
Even though it has been known that several human rights violations are committed systematically in the New Chipote, the presidential elections of November 2021 scared Ortega enough to make him do irrational choices. Ortega went on a rampage that started in May 2021 that concluded with the imprisonment of all his contenders to the elections, making him the only possible candidate.
Daniel Ortega’s regime also imprisoned dozens of other citizens who showed discomfort with his ruling or criticized his decisions. Among them, are several elders who suffer from chronical diseases and conditions: the lawyer José Pallais (68), former chancellor Francisco Aguirre (77), former guerrilla member and retired military Hugo Torres (73), Dora María Tellez (66).
Prior to the November 7 elections, dozens of critics were taken to the new Chipote (over 39 still remain in the facility) and four women (Dora María Téllez, Tamara Dávila, Ana María Vijil and Suyén Barahona) that are members of the Democratic Union “Unámos” (Let’s unite) were kept in isolation since their arrest for over 159 days.
Dora María Tellez of 66-years-old is one of the eldest prisoners in the New Chipote prison. Photo: Twitter.