Former Nicaragua guerrilla who helped free Daniel Ortega dies in jail
Hugo Torres, 73, was among 46 opposition figures jailed by Ortega last year to clear way for his re-election
A former Sandinista guerrilla who once led a raid that helped free Daniel Ortega from prison has died, eight months after the now-president jailed him and dozens of other Nicaraguan opposition leaders.
Government prosecutors said Hugo Torres, 73, died at a hospital in Managua, the capital, “of illnesses he had”. It was unclear if his death was hastened by conditions in prison, according to a statement by government prosecutors.
Torres, a leading commander of the 1970s Sandinista revolution, had broken with Ortega more than 20 years ago to found the Sandinista Renovation Movement and was one of 46 opposition figures and presidential hopefuls jailed by Ortega last year to clear the way for his almost unopposed re-election in November.
Prosecutors had justified Torres’ arrest by charging him, along with most of the other imprisoned opposition leaders, with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity”.
The prosecutors office said in a statement that when it learned Torres was seriously ill, the office “asked judicial authorities to suspend the start of his oral public trial for humanitarian reasons”.
The trials in fact are not public and are held in prison, in many cases with only the defendant’s lawyer allowed to be present. Some trials last only a few hours.
After leading a revolutionary government following the guerrillas’ victory, Ortega served as president from 1985 to 1990 and was reelected to power in 2007.
He has not relinquished power since then, and his rule has become increasingly harsh, crushing any demonstration or opposition with police and soldiers.
Torres was a guerrilla commander who fought alongside Ortega during the civil war and later a general with the Nicaraguan army. He was part of the effort to transform the Sandinista Popular Army created after the rebels’ 1979 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 other political prisoner colleagues out of prison. I am 73, and I never thought that at this stage of my life I was going to be fighting against another dictatorship, now more brutal, more unscrupulous, more irrational and more autocratic than the Somoza dictatorship.”
Relatives of jailed opposition activists have said prisoners have been subjected to isolation, constant interrogations and insufficient food, affecting their health.
The families complained they were not allowed to bring the prisoners blankets and said some were kept in cells with lights on 24 hours a day, while others were kept in darkness. They said most of the cells were small, with concrete bed slabs covered by worn-out mattresses.
A string of recent trials of opposition figures has been carried out in the infamous Chipote prison. The defendants have been permitted to have only their lawyers present. All the trials so far have resulted in convictions and sentences of 13 to 15 years.
Thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down anti-government protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were an attempted coup with foreign backing, and many of those on trial have been accused of working with foreign powers for his overthrow or encouraging foreign nations to apply sanctions on members of his family and government.
International organisations have called the November 2021 elections a farce.