'They couldn't break our souls,' says released Nicaraguan political prisoner who's back in Miami
This month, under U.S. and international pressure, Nicaragua’s authoritarian regime released 222 political prisoners.
One of the most prominent — opposition presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga — told WLRN that while his year-and-a-half in a squalid Managua prison was "hell," it "did not break" him or his determination to see democracy restored in the impoverished Central American nation.
Maradiaga is one of Nicaragua’s leading human rights activists. In 2018, amid widespread anti-government protests in Nicaragua and a brutal crackdown by regime security forces, he left exilein Miami to return to his native country and challenge its dictatorial leader, Daniel Ortega. In the summer of 2021 — after Maradiaga announced his candidacy for the presidential election that year — Ortega threw him and every other opposition candidate behind bars.
Maradiaga spent 20 months in Nicaragua’s infamous El Chipote prison — losing 50 pounds in his first 90 days there. But he was reunited with his wife, Nicaraguan journalist Berta Valle and their 9-year-old daughter Alejandra, in Washington, D.C., on Feb 6.
“No one expected that it was going to reach such a level of inhumanity," Maradiaga said from his home in Miami, where he returned to after he and the other released prisoners were flown to Dulles International Airport.
"I was severely beaten when I was arrested ... I was in the dark 24/7. I was in solitary confinement for 77 days, forbidden to talk ... You can never be prepared for such a hell. But they were never able to break our souls.”
Nor, says Maradiaga, did they break his resolve to continue his opposition activism — if only from exile now, after Ortega had Nicaragua's Congress strip him and the other prisoners of their Nicaraguan citizenship upon their release.
“If anything, after going through this, I feel even more devoted to Nicaragua," Maradiaga said, "to the need for reconciliation in Nicaragua.”
Ortega is still keeping 35 political prisoners behind bars in Nicaragua, including Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who has said he will not leave his own cell until every Nicaraguan political prisoner is released.
Because Ortega didn't free Alvarez and so many other prisoners, Maradiaga said more U.S. and international pressure "needs to be on the table, indeed ... Ortega really isn't softening at all; if anything he's radicalizing his dictatorship."
You can read and hear more of WLRN's conversation with Félix Maradiaga later this week.