The same day she was freed, Elsa Valle was mobbed for interviews. Reporters from the national and international media sought her out – and are still doing so – due to the relevance of her case.
The young girl with the mischievous smile became the first political prisoner to be absolved by the regime of President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, following 75 days of illegal detention. Elsa was freed last Thursday, September 27, by order of the District Attorney’s office.
On that day, the institution passed a resolution to end all penal actions against Elsa, Irma Centeno Rivera and Yuri Valerio Rivera, all accused of illegal arms possession. The document states that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has decided to suspend judicial proceedings “against the accused” due to their collaboration with “the institutions in charge of investigation in Nicaragua.”
While in prison, Elsa found out about the detention of her father, Carlos Valle. She also had a fractured ankle that went unattended. In addition, she faced constant threats from the authorities of the El Chipote jail, and later in the prison known as La Esperanza.
Elsa was interviewed on the nightly television news program Esta Noche one day after her liberation. She was accompanied by her mother, Rebeca Montenegro, and her two brothers. “The specialist told me that [my ankle] was sprained. They put it in a splint, and I need to rest for a month and keep my foot immobilized, because I didn’t receive the attention I needed in a timely manner,” stated the 19-year-old student.
Last April 19th, students from the Nicaraguan Polytechnic University occupied the campus to protest against the social security reforms that had been recently approved by the Ortega government. They were under constant attack by the police and the paramilitary. The university students asked for help via social media, requesting provisions, food and medical supplies.
Elsa studies journalism at the Hispano-American University. Although this is a private institution, she decided to join the protests, motivated by that call for help from the students, who were also her friends.
“The majority are friends of mine, and they asked me for support. I have a lot of friends, so that’s what inspired me. I backed them with my physical presence, and I also brought them medical supplies and food,” Valle related.
That solidarity was her crime. On July 14, the police conducted an unauthorized search of the home of Irma Centeno and Yuri Valerio, both friends of Elsa’s. The three young people were there at the house, preparing a barbecue. All were illegally taken prisoner.
“I’d never been in jail and I was very frightened, given everything they’ve said about the El Chipote jail and the torture there. More so, because my detention was unjust. They accused us with insults like: ‘you’re a good-for-nothing, you’re a prostitute, you were going around killing people, you killed those kids and you blamed us for the dead.’ I felt really bad,” Elsa affirmed.
The young student was taken to the cells of El Chipote. She remained there for six days. At the moment she entered, Elsa observed a number of hooded and ununiformed men who directed a lot of obscene comments at her. They then took her down from the truck, together with the others who’d been detained, and lined them all up. They accused all of them of belonging to a criminal band and of having murdered the young students.
“All of a sudden they brought in weapons and put them there. A whole bunch of weapons; I don’t know where they got them from. They turned me around and said, ‘Come on now, tell us which one is yours.’ I told them that none of them was mine. They pushed me, and they hit me in the head and continued: ‘Come on, say it! We’re not here to clown around, let’s go!’ I told them: ‘I’m not going to come out with anything.’ They then said that if I didn’t talk they were going to charge me with the crimes they put down for me, and so on with everyone,” she declared.
The suffering of a mother and a father
Since the crisis began in Nicaragua, Rebeca Montenegro began suffering from severe stomachaches and liver problems. “All my emotions were concentrated there,” she expressed. No one told Montenegro that the same day she left the hospital (July 14) her daughter had been taken prisoner. It wasn’t until the next day that her son, David Valle, informed her that Elsa was in El Chipote.
“And then my whole world came crashing down around me,” she said.
“Although I was already worried that I’d lost my daughter, because I knew that she was involved in the struggle and at any moment something catastrophic could happen, this was the confirmation of the worst. I knew from the news that there [El Chipote] they’d grab them, rape them, kill them, or leave them lying somewhere. I just fainted, I lost consciousness. Sincerely, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through what I went through. Just thinking back to that moment makes me feel terrible. Only those who have children can understand the moment I lived through. It was very hard,” Montenegro stated.
Elsa’s parents denounced the arbitrary detention of their daughter to the human rights organizations. Carlos Valle, her father, decided to conduct a type of “pilgrimage”: he would attend each march of the self-organized protestors holding a sign with a picture of the young girl of 19.
Meanwhile, inside El Chipote, the officials interrogated Elsa over and over. The young woman asked for a phone call to inform her family that she was being held. However, each time she asked, she was denied. They told her that as a “terrorist she didn’t even have the right to live.”
“When they finished, they led me to a cell and I walked down a dark hall. They told me that I was going to meet the other women, and they were going to rape me. When they opened the door, I was frightened and crying. They put me in cell 37. I heard the official say to a woman that they were bringing her a visit so she’d feel less stressed. He pushed me in, because I didn’t want to go. The woman came out. I thought she was going to rape me, but she told me to calm down, relax,” Elsa recalled.
During her time in El Chipote, Elsa had food, but there was no peace in the cell. The officials came at all hours of the day, especially in the early morning, to hold interrogations. At times they banged on the bars. Footsteps echoed loudly. She couldn’t sleep.
“First, they wanted me to admit to crimes I’d never committed. By force, they wanted me to agree I’d done these things, to affirm my guilt. They told me to rat on the girls that were with me. “They’re terrorists, they’ve sold you out.” So, when I told them that I didn’t know why I would want to rat on them when we hadn’t done anything, when they saw that I refused and cried, they told me to relax,” Elsa continued.
“I’ll get you out this very day if you help me,” said the agent.
“But, in what way do you want my help?”
“Do you want to be a witness, or an accused on the bench?”
“But what would I be a witness to?”
“You’re just going to accept what we’re going to tell you. You’re going to read it, you don’t have to learn it by heart. You’re going to accuse various people.”
“I told them no, I wouldn’t accept because I didn’t know those people. So then one of them said: ‘this bitch doesn’t want to cooperate.’ He grabbed me by the neck and threw me into the cell.”
Transfer to La Esperanza jail
On July 20, after the judge in charge of her case ordered her to be sent to the Institute for Legal Medicine for a general check-up, Elsa was transferred to the jail known as La Esperanza, located in the town of Tipitapa, near Managua.
At La Esperanza the interrogations and the mistreatment continued. An official from the Department of Defense Information posed as a psychologist there. During this interview he asked the same things that the officials at El Chipote had asked, only in a more diplomatic form. Elsa responded in the same way, with the truth.
During those first days in La Esperanza, Elsa and the other political prisoners developed relationships with the common prisoners. There was a group that rejected them, and another that supported them. This latter group gave them food, clean clothes and a decent place to sleep. They counseled them and defended them when the other prisoners were attacking them.
“Those people would put the radio on at full volume and would tell us that we were terrorists. When they found out that others were supporting us, they began to rat on us to the officials, until they separated us. That’s when they left us completely apart,” Elsa said. There was a total of 18 political prisoners in La Esperanza, divided into two groups of nine.
Carlos Valle, Elsa’s father, was jailed on September 14, accused of terrorism. At the moment of posting this article, he’s still in the El Chipote jail. Elsa found out about her father’s imprisonment via “an angel.” That day she became very upset, cried a lot and banged on the walls several times.
“But that person, my angel, told me that I had to demonstrate that this was making me stronger. The “angel” counseled me: ‘What they (the authorities) want is for you to become discouraged and keep quiet.’ But while I was behind bars, I never kept quiet,” the student recalled.
Carlos Valle has now been in jail for over 15 days. Although a habeus corpus appeal was filed and a presiding judge named, the petition has been ignored in El Chipote. His wife has gone to the offices of the Managua Justice Center every day, but there’s still no record of any accusation against her husband.
“I bring food. They tell me I can’t see him because the case is under investigation, and I won’t be able to see him until it’s taken before the courts. I respond to them that the established deadline for taking it to the courts has run out.” Montenegro explained.
Elsa affirms that she’s not afraid for her father’s safety. “And if they should harm him, the wrath of God will fall upon them,” she repeats with certainty. The young student plans to continue in the struggle, as her father did for her when she was in jail.
“I’m going to keep going until he’s freed, until all of the political prisoners are free and until Nicaragua is freed. I have a bad foot, but that’s not going to stop me from continuing in the marches and yelling the name of my father, like he did when I was locked up,” Elsa insisted.
Regarding the supposed collaboration with the police for which she was allegedly freed, Elsa declared that she didn’t know why the authorities would affirm such a thing. She also stated that she wasn’t forced to tape a video where she “confessed.” Nothing like that happened,” she asserted.