Her videos captured with a cellphone are the only images available of women political prisoners in the “La Esperanza” (Hope) prison, in Tipitapa, Managua. The European MP Ana Gomes filmed them singing the national anthem and talking about their situation and that of the country. They are “very strong, very brave” women, affirmed the former Portuguese diplomat, who was surprised by the “strong state of mind” of the women.
Gomes was on the delegation of the European Parliament, which was in Nicaragua between January 22 and the 26. The members of parliament ruled out that an attempted coup d’état took place in the country, and urged the regime to release the political prisoners, stop the repression and allow the re-entry of human right organizations.
The European MP had previously been part of a European mission in Nicaragua. It was for the general elections of 2011. On that occasion, European observers regretted the deterioration in “transparency matters” compared to the 2006 elections, and urged the Government to strengthen “the neutrality and independence” of the Electoral Branch.
In her recent visit, Gomes was impressed by the emptiness of the capital. “(In 2011) there were a lot of people in the main streets of Managua and now there were not any people.” This situation leads the MEP to reflect: “It isn’t possible to have a free country at the same time have all these police and military [in the streets], even with weapons that are not normal for the police, and in full view of everyone.”
Gomez spoke with the program” Esta Noche” (Tonight), via Skype. She spoke in favor of European sanctions that do not affect the country, but directly punish those “mainly responsible in the Government, the main torturers in the jails, and the top Police officials.”
What impressed you the most in your meeting with women political prisoners?
Ana Gomes: Their strong state of mind, because they are in a terrible situation, in the hands of a regime that you do not know how it will react, that could keep them in prison for years, and nonetheless they are very strong, very brave.
The way they spoke with us, clearly showed that they are very firm, that it is necessary for Nicaraguans to fight for their future. That is why they spoke with us and let themselves be filmed, knowing that their message will reach the people, that possibly they were risking a delay (in their trials), but they were not afraid to talk about their situation and of how they see the struggle of the people of Nicaragua, for a free and democratic future.
Your videos are the only images of women political prisoners. Did you know in advance the story of some of the ones you taped?
Ana Gomes: I only knew the story of Amaya Coppens, because her relatives in Belgium came to see me before I knew that I would come to Nicaragua on this mission. And, what I heard and learned from the story of Amaya, left me very upset and outraged, that is why I wanted to meet her and know her situation.
Right there in prison, because we had a briefing given by the Vice Minister of the Interior (“Gobernación”), where I heard for the first time about Irlanda (Jerez), because it was one of the cases that they showed us, as if trying to suggest that the accusations she makes of prison authorities are false. And that is why they explained her case to us, and I was particularly interested to meet her.
I discovered that she is a fantastic woman, with extraordinary strength, and she surprised me and all of us with her determination and leadership.
You belong to the Portuguese Socialist Party. Do you consider that the FSLN represents the values of socialism?
I am a Portuguese socialist and I am very proud to be a socialist. What I have seen in Nicaragua has nothing to do with socialism. What I have seen are violations of human rights, violations to the rule of law, violations of the most basic democratic procedures.
As a Portuguese, I lived in a dictatorship for 21 years, and when I see one I recognize it. Unfortunately, what I have seen in Nicaragua is closer to a dictatorship than to democracy, and as a socialist I can only denounce it. There is no socialism without freedom and without democracy.
I was in Nicaragua in 2011, in the European Parliament’s electoral observation mission, a mission that was led by my colleague Ines Ayala Sender, and what I have saw left me with a bad impression, not of Nicaragua and its people, but with this duo of the Ortegas.
Compared to Nicaragua in 2011, how did you see the country now?
Ana Gomes: Much worse because at that time I did not see police and soldiers in the streets, as we have seen this time (2019). For example, there were many people in the main streets of Managua, and now there were empty. I filmed parts of the streets, I filmed a small part of what I have seen; and that certainly says a lot about the repression. It is impossible to have a free country and at the same time have all these police and military [in the streets], even with weapons that are not normal for the police, in full view of everyone.
By the end of the meeting we had with President Daniel Ortega and VP Rosario Murillo I had the feeling that they are living in another galaxy; particularly him, in the past. When he started talking, he talked about the past.
Then my colleagues managed to get him (Ortega) to say he was willing to dialogue, but we told him clearly that for that to happen there had to be conditions. And, of course, keeping political prisoners and continuing to capture people and more repression, do not create conditions for a dialogue that could succeed.
In your meeting with the presidential couple, did you ask them to stop calling political prisoners “terrorists”? What was their response?
Ana Gomes: The question of the prisoners was clearly stated, and we even quoted what we heard from some of those we spoke with. It seems that [according to Ortega’s perspective] there are more terrorists in Nicaragua, than in Syria, or the other countries of the Islamic state.
By the way, this is without any credibility. It is absurd to accuse people like Amaya Coppens, Irlanda and the other women, and Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda of terrorism.
What was the president’s response on the issue of political prisoners?
Ana Gomes: He digressed. President Ortega spoke more about the past and the threats of the “gringos.” The usual. I want to emphasize that it is positive that he expressed his interest in a dialogue with a new format, and I hope that the international community, be it the OAS, the UN or the EU, can help this dialogue to resume.
In one of your Tweets you mentioned that the room of the meeting with President Ortega and the First Lady Rosario Murillo smelled like a “funeral home.” Is there another aspect that has impacted you more of your meeting with them?
Ana Gomes: Several colleagues mentioned it. The garden was fabulous, inside the room there was a profuse vegetation, but a part was real and other plastic. What marked us, several of my colleagues immediately commented, is that there was a smell like a funeral parlor
I think it gave me an advance of what is happening in Nicaragua. I believe this regime cannot remain much longer. Either a negotiated solution is found for them to leave and for the democratic transition to be peaceful with the organization of elections under international supervision, or else they will resist and continue with the repression. Sooner or later this will trigger more popular reactions in Nicaragua and more clashes such as those seen since April.
You said on Tweeter, that those responsible for the repression must be sanctioned. What kind of sanctions are you referring? Who are those responsible, who would they be?
Ana Gomes: This is a question that is on the table, if there is not a real dialogue. There are many in the European Union who think about directed sanctions, not sanctions that have more impact in the difficult conditions that the people of Nicaragua live.
That is sanctions directed to those mainly responsible of the Government, and the main torturers in the jails, or those responsible of the Police; they can be individualized and determine the freezing of assets that they have invested in countries of the European Union.
Usually in regimes with a lot of corruption, as is the case of Nicaragua, the money does not stay in the country, it goes to Miami, to the Cayman Islands, it goes to Spain or other places. It is possible to detect where those assets are and freeze them, not give them access. Also prevent them from traveling to Europe.
The type of sanctions that may be contemplated is the type sanctions directed at individuals responsible for what is happening, and for human rights violations in Nicaragua, and not a type of more general sanctions that aggravates the very difficult situation that the people of Nicaragua are facing, because of the repression and bad governance of the current government.
What have you told your colleagues in the European Union about what you saw in Nicaragua?
Ana Gomes: We will make a report of our mission that will be public and will be publicly discussed in the Foreign Relations Committee of the European Parliament. There those of us who participated [on the mission] must give our impressions, adding to the content of the report, and we will make recommendations. Very soon we will have to make decisions on what we recommend to the European Union.
For the sanctions to be reality, what is the process?
Ana Gomes: It is not only the Parliament who determines it. Parliament can make recommendations. The European Commission, the Council and the High Representative (of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policies), also have to be involved in this process.
I believe that some governments understand that something like this will be inevitable, unless repression stops. Until this moment I have not heard anything in that sense, on the contrary. But we will see what happens, I do not want to anticipate that, more than what I have said. All these possibilities are contemplated.
Parliament will make its recommendations to the Council and the European Commission, but let’s wait until the report is ready. It will be very soon, in the sense that this mandate of the Parliament is coming to an end, we will have two or three more plenary sessions. If the Parliament is going to adopt a resolution on Nicaragua we will take into account the advances, since we were there, and if we see that there are positive developments, in the sense of initiating a serious dialogue process, very well.
For that to occur, in my opinion, it is also necessary to there be more interlocutors, because it is evident that this great popular movement, which is on the streets, is not represented by the political parties that have a seat in the Parliament (Nicaragua’s National Assembly). It would be important, for example, for this Blue and White Movement to be recognized as a legal entity, so that it can also be an interlocutor in the framework of a serious dialogue.
Let’s see what progress there is. We will have three sessions precisely in February, March and April, during which we will adopt a resolution on Nicaragua. Not later because this mandate will not have more plenary meetings in which we can approve such resolutions, so we need to see progress very soon.