On the morning of June 2, a group of men in a Toyota Hilux pick-up intercepted Jose Luis Prado Cano. The armed and hooded figures detained him without a word in the Managua neighborhood known as Reparto Schick. They forced him into the vehicle and took him away. Twenty-four hours later, the young man reappeared in Managua’s IV precinct police station, where the officials presented him as the author of the crime of “robbery with intimidation”.
Three days before being abducted, Prado Cano participated in the Mass offered in homage to the victims of the massacre perpetrated by the government on May 30, 2018. This youth was a loyal member of the “blue and white” opposition protest activities. His mother, Maria Auxiliadora Cano, describes her son as an independent opponent of the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. The mother assures that the motive behind this new arrest “is political”.
Jose Luis had already been jailed by the police on several occasions. They’d detained him when he participated in a flash-mob protest against the Ortega-Murillo regime, but he was freed a short time later – with a few blows received in the interim. However, this time, when he was presented as a common criminal, his mother realized that the repressive methods had changed for the worse.
“The police say he stole, and that he had a citation out for contempt since 2017. I went to the courthouse to ask about the contempt citation, but my son has no open legal process pending,” his mother stated.
Attorneys and human rights advocates sustain that Prado Cano wasn’t detained for theft with intimidation. Rather, they maintain that he’s a “victim” of the new repressive modality of the Ortega-Murillo government: the criminalization of the self-organized citizens and released political prisoners, via baseless accusations of common crimes.
Not an isolated case
The case of Prado Cano isn’t an isolated one. The human rights collective known as “Nicaragua never again”, whose lawyers are exiled in Costa Rica, have counted at least 50 arrests and abductions of people in the last three months. Of these 50 cases, 30 involve released political prisoners who have been recaptured. And of those 30 former political prisoners, the collective is aware of six cases on trial for different common crimes.
One of the most recent cases of this new criminalization denounced by the human rights organizations is that of released prisoner Jaime Navarrete Blandon. The Attorney General’s office accuses him of “illegal carrying of restricted weapons and drug possession”. Navarrete Blandon was rearrested by the police on July 24.
“There’s a pattern of accusing the self-organized and released political prisoners of common crimes. Even though the government has released the majority of those detained as political prisoners, we now see a tendency of accusing them of anything they can,” states Leonardo Abarca of the collective of attorneys and human rights advocates. “We see that intention in the case of journalist Suyen Cortes and of released prisoner Ricardo Baltodano. In some cases, it’s clear they want to provoke them in order to generate a reaction and later attribute criminal behavior to them. Mrs. Cortes had gone to the police to file a denunciation,” added the human rights advocate.
Abarca cited another five former political prisoners accused of common crimes: Bryan Aleman, accused of attempted homicide against a presumed paramilitary named Julio Cesar Amador Garcia; Eduardo Espinoza, accused of disobeying or failing to comply with authority; Yamileth Gutierrez Moncada, detained but still not accused; Wilfredo Orozco, for supposed illegal possession of firearms; and Kevin Lopez Arostegui for supposed drug possession.
“Accusations with no substance”
For his part, lawyer Julio Montenegro of the organization Defensores del Pueblo [the People’s Defense] has documented proof of an additional seven former prisoners accused of common crimes, including Jose Leal Duran, Kevin Potosme and Bryan Silva, who are accused of illegal drug possession, attempted homicide and illegal arms carrying.
Adding to these files is the case of Edward Enrique Lacayo, known as “The Wolf” in the city of Masaya. The authorities accuse this self-organized resident of the indigenous suburb of Monimbo of drugtrafficking.
Montenegro names the most common crimes imputed by the prosecution as aggravated robbery, illegal arms possession and narcotics trafficking.
“One of my defendants is accused of possessing restricted weapons, and the restricted weapon is a Molotov cocktail, a cuajada [“cheeseball”] as they say in Masaya. Supposedly, he threw it into one of the wells at ENACAL, the state water company, but the D.A.’s accusation doesn’t speak of my defendant throwing it, but of a detonation being heard,” Montenegro explains. “There’s a series of inconsistencies and contradictions in the accusation,” notes Montenegro.
According to the defense lawyer, the stories of the prosecution “don’t hold together”. Another of Montenegro’s defendants is Ivan Mayorquin, who they accuse of robbery with intimidation against a money-changer. However, the lawyer declares that the prosecution has the crime taking place at a day and hour in which Mayorquin was at work.
“The position of the prosecution is completely closed. Although they are accusations with no substance, the judges play along,” Montenegro states with regret. “There’s a clear intent to accept accusations without proof or support,” the lawyer adds. All of his defendants have one thing in common: they rose up in 2018 against the government of Ortega and Murillo.