A former Sandinista fighter who once led a raid that helped free him Daniel Ortega From prison, eight months after he imprisoned the current president and dozens of Nicaraguan opposition leaders.
Government prosecutors said Hugo Torres, 73, died in a hospital in the capital, Managua, “due to an illness he was suffering from”. It was not clear whether his death was precipitated by conditions in prison, according to a statement issued by the Public Prosecution Office.
Torres, a commanding leader in the 1970s Sandinista RevolutionHe split from Ortega more than 20 years ago to found the Sandinista Renewal Movement and was one of 46 opposition figures and presidential candidates jailed by Ortega last year to pave the way for him. Re-elected almost unopposed in November.
Prosecutors justified Torres’ arrest by charging him, along with most other imprisoned opposition leaders, with “conspiracy to undermine the unity of the nation.”
The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that when it learned that Torres was seriously ill, it “asked the judicial authorities to suspend the start of his oral public trial on humanitarian grounds.”
Trials are in fact not public and take place in prison, and in many cases only the defendant’s lawyer is allowed to be present. Some trials only last a few hours.
After leading a revolutionary government in the wake of the rebel victory, Ortega served as president from 1985 to 1990 and was re-elected to power in 2007.
He has not relinquished power since then, and his rule has become more ruthless and crushing any demonstration or opposition by the police and soldiers.
Torres was a guerrilla leader who fought alongside Ortega during the Civil War, and later was a general in the Nicaraguan Army. It was part of efforts to transform the Sandinista People’s Army, created after the 1979 rebel victory, into a professional Nicaraguan army in the 1990s.
In a video he posted hours before his arrest in June, Torres said: “Forty-six years ago I risked my life to get Daniel Ortega and his fellow political prisoners out of prison. I am 73, and I never thought that at this point in my life I would fight against a dictatorship. Others, now more brutal, more unscrupulous, more irrational and more tyrannical than the Somoza dictatorship.”
Relatives of imprisoned opposition activists said that prisoners were subjected to isolation, constant interrogation, and insufficient food, which affected their health.
Families complained that they were not allowed to bring blankets to the prisoners, and said that some were kept in cells that were lit 24 hours a day, while others were kept in the dark. Most of the cells, they said, were small, with concrete slabs covered with worn mattresses.
A series of recent trials of opposition figures took place in the notorious Chiboti prison. The defendants were only allowed to have their lawyer present. All trials to date have resulted in convictions and sentences of between 13 and 15 years.
Thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently suppressed anti-government protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were a foreign-backed coup attempt, and many of those on trial have been accused of working with foreign powers to oust or encourage him. Foreign countries to apply sanctions to his family members and the government.
International organizations described the November 2021 elections as a farce.