Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Nicaragua’s ‘blond commander’ vows to keep on fighting

By Hannah Summers  /  The Guardian

Branded a terrorist by the Nicaraguan government and a hero by her fellow protesters, Nahomy Urbina has become a leading figure in the uprising against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Known as “Comandante Macha,” or the Blonde Commander, she has earned widespread respect not only for her efforts in mobilizing young people since protests began in April, but for doing so in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

However, last week, following death threats and a raid on her home in the capital, Managua, in which her mother and grandmother were seized by police, she was forced to flee to neighboring Costa Rica.

Campaigners say Urbina was targeted as part of a “witch hunt” using a new terrorism law that has led to protesters being accused of killings and other fabricated charges.

While she remains stranded, Urbina was fortunate to escape. Scores of other young female protesters have found themselves incarcerated in detention centers, where they have tortured and raped.

Nicaragua has been in turmoil since April, when what started as protests by students against Ortega’s social security reforms turned to mass violence.

An estimated 500 civilians have been killed since paramilitary forces began using weapons to control protests. The youngest victim was a one-year-old shot in the street as he held his father’s hand.

“Within a month of the protests starting there were close to 300 people killed. They were executed by snipers during marches, shot in the head or gut — it was incredibly brutal,” said Lydia Alpizar, executive director of IM-Defonsoras, a regional network supporting female activists.

“In the past few weeks we have seen a new wave of oppression, a witch hunt, accusing people of terrorism. Every day there are detentions and disappearances,” Alpizar said.

Alpizar’s organization has been assisting the UN — now banned from the country — to document the violations, as well as helping women flee Nicaragua.

“We are campaigning for the release of all 340 political prisoners, but we are raising awareness about around 40 women who are among the most vulnerable,” she said.

Female prisoners as young as 16 are facing sexual violence, Alpizar said. Many are single mothers with small children at home. Others have chronic health conditions and have been detained without medication.

The prisoners include three transgender women taken to male prisons where they have faced severe abuse from guards and inmates.

“The LGBTI community has been a very vocal part of the resistance,” Alpizar said. “They are always mistreated and these women have been exposed to extremely degrading treatment, made to go nude except for their pants, humiliated.”

A spokesman for the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights confirmed it had received allegations that detained women have been “victims of ill-treatment, sexual violence, harassment, discriminatory treatment and denial of medical assistance, which in some cases may even amount to torture.”

Ana Quiros, part of the Autonomous Women’s Movement, who has been campaigning for the release of the political prisoners, was injured in the first demonstration on April 18 in Managua.

The 60-year-old was ambushed by a mob carrying sticks, metal pipes and chains. She sustained head wounds and now has metal pins in her hand after her fingers were broken. Despite the attack she continues to attend protests.

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