Elsa Valle Montenegro, 19, was inside a friend's home following an anti-government demonstration in Managua when police burst in. Members of Consejos del Poder Ciudadano, a system of neighborhood government informants, saw Valle enter the home after taking part in a march. Valle was one of six university students arrested near Universidad Politécnica de Nicaragua (Upoli) June 14, 2018, accused of illegal possession of weapons.
Valle said police officers threatened to kill her as they drove her to the infamous El Chipote prison. Human rights workers and former inmates allege that torture there is routine. Valle said she was brought into a room of machine-gun toting men. She said they ordered her to admit that students had received arms to fight the Ortega government.
"I couldn't say that because it's not true," she recounted to ReVista. Valle suffered three months of psychological terror in prison until she was released without explanation. Twelve days before her release on September 27, Valle's father, Carlos, was jailed. He had been campaigning for his daughter's freedom. Her family continues to face harassment by state agents.
Nicaragua today is under siege by its own government. Since April 2018, at least 318 people have been killed. Hundreds of young people have been jailed. They represent a new generation of political prisoners in Nicaragua.
Human rights workers in Managua said the chaos triggered at least 30,000 people to leave the country between April and November 2018. "Nicaragua's future is leaving," lamented Carlos Tünnermann Bernheim, a former ambassador to Washington. "To be young and a student is a crime in the eyes of the Ortega government," he said.
Student opposition to plans to reduce social security ignited simmering discontent with corruption and repression in April 2018. University students were branded as terroristas and golpistas, the same term used to vilify anyone who demonstrates or speaks out against the regime. On multiple occasions, unarmed protesters have been attacked by stun grenades, tear gas and bullets fired by Nicaraguan police and their paramilitary allies.
"It's state terrorism," said Braulio Abarca, a lawyer at the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, known as CENIDH, in Managua. Weeks after speaking with ReVista, CENIDH's legal status was revoked. Eight other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also stripped of their legal status. CENIDH had been chronicling alleged abuses by police and paramilitaries since violence began in April 2018, including the disappearances of 89 people. "We are living in fear," said Abarca. CENIDH is continuing its work at a clandestine location.
Former guerrilla Carlos Humberto Silva Grijalva was jailed by the Somoza dictatorship.
He said he remains a proud but jaded Sandinista. He said Sandinismo has been replaced by Orteguismo. "What we have today in Nicaragua has no relationship whatsoever to what we fought to create," Silva said.
Lorne Matalon is a contributor to Marketplace, NPR and CBC Radio. His series on energy development in Mexico received a national Edward R Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting in 2016. In 2017, Matalon was the Energy Journalism Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.