MANAGUA – It was around 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night when journalist Verónica Chávez heard a loud noise as she put her son to bed. She looked out to see her husband Miguel Mora frantically trying to open the door to their home as members of Nicaragua’s police tried to kick it in.
Mora, a presidential hopeful and the former director of the news outlet 100% Noticias, shouted for the police to stop kicking so he could open the door for them.
“They were shouting, kicking and Miguel was trying to open the door and was saying ‘Here I am,’” Chávez said through tears. “They said ‘come out,’ but as he was going to open they didn’t stop kicking the door.”
Mora was arrested in 2018 as well, and jailed for nearly six months as Ortega’s government violently put down street protests that he says were an attempted coup.
During the past month, President Daniel Ortega’s police have rounded up some 20 opposition figures, including five presidential hopefuls like Mora, and raided the homes of others. Often the police would arrive at night with overwhelming force — in Mora’s case 7 to 10 patrol vehicles — insult their targets and their families, break windows and doors. They grab electronics: cell phones, computers, external memory drives, cameras.
Families are not told where the detainees are taken. They are not given access to lawyers. Most of the charges concern vague allegations of crimes against the state, usually involving the acceptance of foreign funding. In most cases, the police put out public statements about the latest arrest and the intimidation and fear spread.
A week before police grabbed Mora, Víctor Hugo Tinoco had gone out to dinner with two of his children at the Galerias mall in Managua. Around 9 p.m. he was getting into his car when police descended on them.
“Ten masked men grabbed him, put him in a truck and took him,” his daughter Arlen Tinoco said. Police snatched her cell phone away and threatened to hit her as she tried to film the arrest.
Three days later, police came to Tinoco’s home. “They wanted to jump the gates, they shouted and threatened to break them down,” said Deyanira Parrales, Tinoco’s wife. She asked them to be respectful and not be violent.
Two of their daughters received police in the house praying and holding up a crucifix. “San Miguel archangel, drive away evil demons,” Parrales said her daughters chanted. The police did not damage their home. Still, Parrales said, “Those were the worst hours of my life.”
When the police came for Dora María Téllez and Ana Margarita Vijil, two leaders of the opposition party, Unamos, there were more than 60 riot police securing the perimeter, according to a statement from relatives. Police broke down doors and roughly handled the women. Téllez had been a Sandinista guerrilla with Ortega before splitting with him years ago.
“The logic in democratic countries is that first they investigate and then they arrest, but we’re getting closer and closer to Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea,” said lawyer and opposition figure José Pallais, after the initial arrests early this month. On June 9, police arrested Pallais at his home in Leon.
The police did not find former Education Minister Humberto Belli when they broke through his home’s front gate and disabled the home’s security cameras, according to an account he published Monday in La Prensa. His wife told them he was out of the country and prayed while police searched the house for the next four hours.
The next day, Belli’s wife and daughter were sleeping when the dog barked. His daughter opened a door to let it out and at that moment at least six men dressed in black and wearing masks forced their way inside. One carried a rifle, the others knives, according to Belli.
Again, they asked for Belli. Then they asked where he had his guns. His wife told them the police had already searched the house and one of the men said this was a “second operation.”
The men forced the women to hand over all of their jewelry and cell phones. They ransacked the house. At one point, one man tried to rape Belli’s daughter, but was stopped by another.
After an hour and a half, as Belli’s wife began to tremble, the men left. Belli's sister, the writer Gioconda Belli said via Twitter: “I don't know how to describe this horror.”
“I am aware that what my family suffered pales beside what many others have suffered, but I think it is important to document the tribulations that so many families in today’s Nicaragua continue suffering,” Humberto Belli wrote. “To remain silent could be a way to lie and cover up the abuses.”