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‘I won’t stay silent’: Nicaragua’s ‘blond commander’ vows to fight on from exile

Anti-Ortega hero Nahmoy Urbina defiant after reforms to terrorism law spark witch hunt

Branded a terrorist by the government and a hero by her fellow protesters, Nahomy Urbina has become a leading figure in the uprising against Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua.

Known as comandante macha, or the blond commander, she earned widespread respect not only for her efforts in mobilising young people since protests began in April, but for doing so in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

Last week she sent a defiant message following death threats and a raid on her home in the capital, Managua, in which her mother and grandmother were seized by police. She addressed her followers in a video posted on Facebook on Friday from neighbouring Costa Rica, where she was forced to flee.

Campaigners say Urbina was targeted as part of a witch hunt using reforms made in July to the terrorism law that has led to protesters being accused of killings and other fabricated charges.

While she remains stranded, Urbina was fortunate to escape. Scores of other young female protesters have found themselves incarcerated in detention centres where they have suffered torture, rape and sexual violence.

Nicaragua has been in turmoil since April, when what started as protests by students against Ortegas social security reforms turned to mass violence.

An estimated 500 civilians have been killed since paramilitary forces began using weapons to control protests. The youngest victim was a one-year-old shot in the street as he held his fathers hand.

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A woman confronts riot police blocking a street during a protest against Daniel Ortegas government in Managua. Photograph: Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images

Within a month of the protests starting there were close to 300 people killed. They were executed by snipers during marches, shot in the head or gut it was incredibly brutal, said Lydia Alpzar, executive director of IM-Defensoras, a regional network supporting female activists.

In the past few weeks we have seen a new wave of oppression, a witch hunt, accusing people of terrorism. Every day there are detentions and disappearances.

Alpzars organisation has been assisting the UN now banned from the country in documenting the violations as well as helping women flee Nicaragua.

We are campaigning for the release of all 340 political prisoners, but we are raising awareness about around 40 women who are among the most vulnerable, she said.

Female prisoners as young as 16 are facing sexual violence, according to Alpzar. Many are single mothers with small children at home. Others have chronic health conditions and have been detained without medication.

The prisoners include three transgender women taken to male prisons where they have faced severe abuse from guards and inmates.

The LGBTI community has been a very vocal part of the resistance, said Alpzar. They are always mistreated and these women have been exposed to extremely degrading treatment, made to go nude except for their pants, humiliated.

A spokesman for the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights confirmed it had received allegations that detained women have been victims of ill-treatment, sexual violence, harassment, discriminatory treatment and denial of medical assistance, which in some cases may even amount to torture.

Ana Quirs, part of the Autonomous Womens Movement, who has been campaigning for the release of the political prisoners, was injured in the first demonstration on 18 April in Managua.

The 60-year-old was ambushed by a mob carrying sticks, metal pipes and chains. She sustained head wounds and now has metal pins in her hand after her fingers were broken. Despite the attack she continues to attend protests.

On Friday, the Nicaraguan police declared demonstrations illegal; the following day, more than 500 officers in riot gear were deployed to break up protesters gathering for a march.

Speaking on Sunday, Quirs described how, just minutes earlier, she had watched live images on television of an elderly woman being seized by police.

It was devastating to see. This was a poor woman who made a living selling water. Yet at the first demonstration, instead of selling the water she relies on to buy food, she gave it away for free.

While the arbitrary detentions continue, three women were released last week after law enforcers agreed there were no charges to bring.

They included Elsa Valle, who spent her 19th birthday in jail, and was absolved by Ortegas regime following 75 days of illegal detention.

While in prison she learned that her father, Carlos Valle, had also been detained. Up to that point he had attended every demonstration, carrying a huge photograph of his daughter.

Valle said she received constant threats from the authorities of the El Chipote jail and at the La Esperanza detention centre .

She told the news programme Esta Nochethat she had been interrogated and beaten by hooded men who accused her of belonging to a criminal gang and murdering young students.

Valle was released by the district attorneys office, which dropped all legal action against her and two other women accused of illegal arms possession. But legal paperwork stated the charges were suspended after the women collaborated with the institutions in charge of investigation Nicaragua.

Government forces have publicly accused Urbina of collaborating with the regime.

In a video posted on Facebook, Urbina, who was diagnosed with cancer in December and received chemotherapy during the uprising, revealed that she is pregnant.

She remains defiant. I am firm in my support for our struggle I will not remain silent. I will continue giving interviews and telling the world what is happening in Nicaragua, she said.

They want me killed or detained. It is hard for me to say how my heart feels at the moment with so many political prisoners, for so many young women who have been raped and are asking for emergency contraception so they dont have to carry forward a pregnancy that is the result of rape.

So many young people are losing their freedom but I want you to know that I will continue the struggle with you all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/03/nicaragua-blonde-commander-nahomy-urbina-exile-terrorism-law-costa-rica

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