Every Sunday night, I would call my father, a horse farmer and part-time political pundit in Nicaragua, who would give me his analysis of the week’s events, followed by a simple question: “Have you voted yet?” Then, he would say, “This is probably the most important election of your lifetime.” And it was—at the time.
Now, an even more crucial election for me and my ancestral country is happening in Nicaragua this weekend—and most people in the US aren’t following it. The anxiety I experienced last year has given way to outright dread as my family’s homeland prepares to elect its next president. When it comes to the question of who will win, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
You may wonder why I, an American citizen who lives in Los Angeles, am afraid of what happens in Nicaragua on November 7. Well, the fate of my 77-year-old father, who was arrested over 100 days ago by the Nicaraguan military police hangs in the balance. He was accused of being an “enemy of the state.” My father’s “crime”? Speaking out against Ortega and Murillo.
In the last 100 days, my mom has gotten to see him twice, briefly. He is not doing well. Between her two visits, he’d lost 40 pounds. He described being subjected to daily, endless, pointless interrogations. He said he gets one meal a day—a plate of leftover rice and beans. His filthy, bug-infested cell is boiling hot during the day and freezing at night. He’s not receiving his medication. And, most recently, his request for a copy of the Bible was denied.
He’s my dad, so of course I’m deeply invested. But why should other Americans care as well?
Even more ironic: Ortega was once imprisoned and tortured in an earlier incarnation of the “El Chipote” jail, where his current political enemies languish. This truly is an instance of the bullied becoming a bully. Or, in Ortega’s case, the populist revolutionary becoming the ruthless oppressor. In 1984, he was elected president. In 1990, he lost his bid at reelection to Violeta Chamorro.
In 2006, he was elected again—and has been holding on tight to the presidency ever since. (After decades of living in the US, observing these political machinations from afar, my father and mother moved back to Nicaragua in 2000.)
As for my father and the other political prisoners, we—their families—are waiting for election day with a mix of dread and hope. It’s been rumored the regime’s paranoia will diminish after the election, and prisoners will be released or placed under house arrest—all better options. But it’s hard to believe this will happen.
More likely, without further actions by the US, nothing will change after the election. And our fight to free our homeland will continue under the radar, until the powers that be see fit to do something—really do something— to shake Ortega’s stranglehold on the country. The stakes of this weekend’s election for my family are clear. But everyone who believes in freedom, democracy, and the preservation of human rights should be watching for what happens this Sunday in Nicaragua—and the days and weeks after.