January 7, 2020 at 9:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Nicaragua LGBTQ activist tortured after arrest
Ulises Rivas (Photo courtesy of Ulises Rivas)

A well-known LGBTQ activist in Nicaragua who was arrested last September says he was tortured while in custody.

Ulises Rivas on Monday said members of Nicaragua’s National Police on Sept. 1, 2019, arrived at his niece’s volleyball game in Comalapa, a town in the country’s Chontales department that is roughly 75 miles east of the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, and arrested him because “they had an arrest warrant.”

A source with whom the Washington Blade spoke after Rivas’ arrest said he had been accused of robbing a woman. Rivas sent the Blade a screenshot of a message posted to a pro-government Facebook group that said he has also been accused of “inciting violence, destabilizing the peace” of his neighborhood and “hiding under the false flag of protectors of the environment.”

Rivas told the Blade during an emotional WhatsApp interview from his home in Santo Domingo, a town in Chontales department, the police brought him to the departmental capital of Juigalpa and placed him into a cell.

“I was not able to receive anything from my family, nor a visit or food,” said Rivas. “I was hungry all night.”

Rivas said officers the next morning took him to a local jail, and put him into what he described as a “punishment cell.” Rivas told the Blade he was forced to stand inside a cell for four hours with his hands in the air. He also said he suffered physical, “cultural and psychological torture.”

“I was bleeding and my entire body had been beaten and tortured,” said Rivas.

“I didn’t think that I would return to see my family,” he added. “I have tears in my eyes from everything they did to me.”

Rivas told the Blade he was forced to strip naked when his family arrived at the jail to visit him. Rivas also said authorities forced him to show his buttocks and made him do 10 squats.

Rivas said he spent 25 days in the cell before authorities transferred him to a prison within a larger penitentiary complex and placed him into another “punishment cell.”

“There was no bed, there were no mattresses, there were no hammocks,” said Rivas. “There was nothing on the floor.”

Rivas told the Blade there was a hole in the floor into which he and his other cellmate could defecate. Rivas also said they had access to water for only 20 minutes a day.

“You could hear cries, the cries of common prisoners when they were beaten,” said Rivas.

Rivas told the Blade there was also no access to medical care. He said the psychologists who worked at the prison were “from the government.”

“The first thing that they ask you is whether you want to kill yourself,” he said.

Rivas helped LGBTQ Nicaraguans in exile

Hundreds of people have been killed in Nicaragua since protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, began in April 2018 in response to proposed cuts to the country’s social security benefits and the response to a wildfire at the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

Rivas before he fled to Costa Rica protested against a gold mine in his hometown that B2Gold, a Canadian company, owns.

He helped create Asociación Hijos del Arco Iris LGBTI, a group in the Costa Rica that helps other LGBTQ Nicaraguans in exile. Rivas returned to Nicaragua in June 2019 in order to take care of his father who later died of cancer.

“I saw him die in the hospital,” Rivas told the Blade. “I was caring for him.”

Rivas said he then returned to his hometown for his father’s funeral.

“Afterwards they saw me and captured me because they had already seen that I was in Nicaragua,” he said.

A billboard in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 27, 2018, promotes Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rivas spoke with the Blade less than two weeks after the Nicaraguan government released him and 90 other political prisoners from prison.

Rivas noted Waldemar Sommertag, the papal nuncio in Nicaragua, and the International Committee of the Red Cross played a role in the prisoners’ release, along with pressure from the international community. Rivas said his neighbors continue to protect him, even though he remains under house arrest and government surveillance.

“My neighborhood loves me,” he told the Blade.

Rivas said he does not know what to expect during his next court appearance that is scheduled to take place on Jan. 15.

The screenshot of the Facebook page that Rivas sent to the Blade says he could be sent to El Chipote, a notorious Managua prison in which Ortega himself was once a prisoner, “for about 10 or 20 years without the right to freedom, under the accusation of terrorism and threats to people.” Rivas nevertheless remains defiant.

“Nicaragua is made of vigor and glory,” he said. “Nicaragua is made for freedom.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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