El Chipote: The torture prison where the Nicaraguan dictatorship is holding priests

prison Credit: Unsplash

El Nuevo Chipote, or simply El Chipote, opened in February 2019 to replace the old prison of the same name and was soon known as a torture prison, where the Nicaraguan dictatorship is now holding several Catholic priests who were abducted by the police and brought there.

The priests currently in this prison are Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna; and Father Ramiro Tijerino, Father José Luis Diaz, Father Sadiel Eugarrios, and Father Raúl González, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa. Also taken there were seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas.

With the exception of Benavidez, all the others were arrested in the early hours of Aug. 19 at the Matagalpa chancery, the same time the police working for the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega also abducted Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who is now under house arrest in Managua, the capital.

According to Nicaragua Investiga online news, the dictatorship of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, probably spent about 183 million córdobas on the construction of the new prison — approximately $5 million.

The website points out that although it was already known that torture was being carried out in El Chipote, this became more evident beginning in May 2021 when the dictatorship launched a new wave of arrests of opponents, including presidential candidates.

The Argentine newspaper La Nación notes that “El Chipote has become the darkest dungeon of the presidential couple, but also a cornerstone of repression” where the guards prevent the inmates from talking to one another.

Ana Chamorro de Holmann, a 94-year-old mother, said that when she went to visit her son Juan Lorenzo Holmann, general manager of the newspaper La Prensa, the guards practically undressed her before seeing him.

Juan Lorenzo was on the verge of blindness and had heart problems.

La Nación also says that for some prisoners, the lights are kept on 24 hours a day while others are always in the dark; they can’t see their relatives or their lawyers.

The Argentine newspaper reports that “the alleged crimes of which they are accused — treason against the country, money laundering, cybercrimes — are related to laws made to measure by the National Assembly, which backs Ortega in order to criminalize the opposition and are not yet reflected in the judicial system.”

After listening to some relatives of the political prisoners held there, the president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, Vilma Núñez, said that El Chipote should be called a “torture center.”

In her opinion, there is a macabre atmosphere inside El Chipote “so that the prisoners break down and those of us who are on the outside, companions and family members, break down.”

A survivor of the hell

A Nicaraguan police officer who deserted along with other fellow officers after the repression of the 2018 demonstrations by the dictatorship, told The Voice of America what his time in the torture prison was like.

The former officer said he brought many people to the prison there and he knew about it, “but I never thought of going through it personally, it’s a total hell because you know that you are meeting people transformed into monsters, people who have no heart and knowing that in that place you have no way to breathe, you lack air, you lack sun, you lack everything you need as a human being.”

From Costa Rica, the former police officer, using the pseudonym Carlos for security reasons, described some of the tortures he underwent.

“I couldn’t sleep with my body completely tortured: they knocked out teeth, ripped out parts of my toenails, electric shocks, taking away my life in a way I didn’t expect,” he recalled.

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In the midst of the suffering he also thought of committing suicide.

“In that prison they put three of our fellow officers, because they not only captured me, they captured nine fellow officers who deserted,” he said.

“I had the opportunity on the seventh day to take my own life, but I couldn’t find with what or how, because I was in an unsuitable place, I saw two of my co-workers die in my arms, bloodied, raped,” Carlos said, crying.

In the face of the torture and the pain, only God kept him going.

“Because of the torture I underwent, I felt that my body no longer had life in it. I simply thought of my family in those moments and giving my life to God, which was what I had to do. I had to tell God, here I am, give me the strength to the point I can endure it,” he related.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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