The author of the following article just won the Ibero-American Rey de España award for this article, originally published in Confidencial May 26, 2018. We provide the translation of that article here because of its international importance. See the version in Spanish for the photos of the MRIs mentioned in the article. An interesting recent analysis of the weapons used , which confirms what is reflected in this article, was published on Feb 12, 2019 by Bellingcat. The same author just did an update on the original article, and the English version was published by Confidencial on Feb 14th
They were shooting with precision: to kill!
A pattern of lethal wounds to the head, neck and thorax was verified in the people killed and wounded. MRIs of those who died in Lenin Fonseca Hospital reveal the use of high calibre and high impact weapons used by sharpshooters.
By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto
In Confidencial of May 26, 2018
The projectile hit Juan Bosco Rivas Martínez under the brow, between his two eyes, where his nasal septum begins. A precise shot. The young 23 year old man was bending down to get a rock when the bullet got to him. He fell on his back and his head hit the pavement. No one knows how long he was unconscious, but when he came to, he felt like he was drowning.
“In addition I had a big headache, as if my head was going to explode,” remembers Rivas Martínez a month and two days after he was wounded, on Saturday April 21 in the immediate vicinity of the San Miguel neighborhood of the city of Masaya.
The secondary student was taken by his fellow trench companions to the Humberto Alvarado public hospital, where the doctors did not want to treat him when he was admitted. The cries of the young man forced the doctors to act. They took an xray and determined that “he was wounded by a rock”. But an otolaryngologist- the only one who “treated my son properly”, denounced his mother, Ana María Martínez – was shocked when he saw the xray.
“The otolaryngologist told me that what he had was a bullet”, said Rivas Martínez in his small home in Masaya. A 23 millimeter AK bullet, that was left lodged a millimeter from the foramen magnum, the passage through which pass the ends of the central nervous system, and that connect the brain with the spinal cord. For the doctors who treated him it is a “miracle” that he is alive.
Rivas Martínez tells the story in a rocking chair; next to him he has a wastebasket full of toilet paper. He is constantly wiping the fluids that come from his nose. Even though he is recovering favorably, the damage is irreversible. The nasal septum and his right cheekbone were destroyed by the bullet.
“I am living proof of the repression. The sharpshooters who were in the Craft Market were shooting at us to kill”, stated the young craftsman who will no longer be able to practice boxing. Rivas Martínez is one of the few left alive after receiving well placed shots during the repression in April by the National Police and the paramilitary forces of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. His name nearly ended up on the list of 76 deaths that the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) said they were given by the Government.
The case of Rivas Martínez illustrates thoroughly the pattern of the shots against the demonstrators: lethal wounds to the head, neck and thorax. Those most seriously wounded from firearms have been taken to the Antonio Lenin Fonseca Hospital in Managua. The neurosurgery unit has been full. Patients who arrive with perforated, cracked craniums and some brain dead.
CONFIDENCIAL has in its possession 19 MRIs done in Lenin Fonseca Hospital, of which 15 are of patients wounded in the head with firearms. At least eight of them died, according to the doctors consulted. Their identities have been confirmed by this communications media and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH).
Impact on frontal, parietal occipital lobes
The MRIs show precise shots in the foreheads, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes of the victims. Others in the cervical and thorax regions. Craniums shattered, displacement of the middle cerebral line, inflammation, and serious hemorrhaging. It is very difficult to be saved from these wounds. The bullet impacts mostly show entry and exit wounds. Trajectories that leave a trail of destruction in the brain mass. In the MRIs a grey groove can be seen opened by the projectile that left, in some of them, scattered shards of lead or bone. Powerful bullets.
CONFIDENCIAL consulted with a medical specialist in ballistics to get his analysis on the MRIs from Lenin Fonseca. “According to what I am seeing, they were shot with `scientific precision´: directly to kill”, maintained the doctor, who requested to remain anonymous for reasons of security. This doctor saw many similar wounds when he did his military service during the war in the 80s.
“They are high power bullets. They are rifles, weapons of war. These are not pistols,” assured a ballistics expert.
“Jefferson Flores Medrano. 25 years of age. Bullet trajectory top down. It entered the frontal lobe and left the parietal occipital. Tangential wound from a high power bullet, because it fractured the cranium into multiple pieces through the trajectory. Cranial shattering”, detailed the doctor while he analyzed the MRIs. The bone damage can be observed better when the doctor ordered the software to show the MRI in 3D: Cranial splinters, cracked, cheeks shattered…
The doctor could not determine the bullet that killed Flores Medrano because it is not there. It passed through his head, but he does not doubt that it is a bullet from a rifle like in most of the victims. In the case of José Alfredo Leiva it was a bullet from a AK-47, and in the case of Nesker Velásquez, a shotgun. In the case of Kevin Dávila López it was a circular pellet 1.85 centimeters in diameter.
“It is a circular orifice. That munition is not found in any armory. It is a special shot exclusively used by the police forces. The metal sphere entered into the right frontal-temporal region and was left lodged in the left frontal-parietal region, ruled the expert. The pellet can be seen lodged in the brain. For being a lesser powerful projectile, the doctor believes that the shot was carried out from a distance not far away.
Shots from “privileged positions”
The MRI of Darwin Medrano, done on April 22 at 10:42 at night in the Lenin Fonseca Hospital, shows a top down trajectory. The bullet entered through the nose and ended up in the left base of the skull, very similar to the case of Rivas Martínez in Masaya.
The top down bullet trajectories lead the victims and their relatives to conjecture that the police used sharpshooters. In Estelí, the mothers of Orlando Pérez and Franco Valdivia maintain that the shooters were located in the mayor´s office of that city. Both university students were wounded mortally in the thorax and in the face, respectively.
Given the lack of autopsies of the victims of the repression on the part of the State, the MRIs from Lenin Fonseca contribute valuable information for the clarification of the crimes.
“The person who shot my brother was in a privileged position. He was located high up. The bullet trajectory is from the left to the right, entering through the left eye and was left lodged in the right side”, denounced Francis Valdivia, Franco´s sister, after the victim was exhumed in order to do the autopsy.
The citizen testimonies in Managua also coincide with the use of sharpshooters “in the National Baseball Stadium”, one of which, supposedly, took the life of Álvaro Conrado. The 15 year old boy was wounded in the neck.
CONFIDENCIAL in addition collected dozens of testimonies on sharpshooters in the city of Matagalpa on May 15th, when the police repressed with violence. The confrontations left three dead. Citizens and university students denounced the presence of sharpshooters on the hills of El Calvario, Apante and San Francisco that surround the city.
In that campaign José Alfredo Urroz Jirón was killed, a 28 yr old teacher. That death was attributed to “right wing groups of vandals” by the mayor Sadrach Zeledón. According to the Ortega-Murillo regime, the road blockages prevented the ambulance from arriving more quickly to the Lenin Fonseca hospital to prevent the death of the professor.
The MRI of Urroz Jirón in the hands of CONFIDENCIAL shows one of the most lethal shots fired among the victims. With precision the projectile entered the middle cranial line, through the parietal-occipital, and left through the forehead, shattering all the bone. “You will never survive that shot. That is a high power bullet because it did not stay in the head. Bullets of that calibre only the Police have”, insisted the ballistics expert.
The preliminary report of the IACHR gathered denouncements about the presence of sharpshooters in the Dennis Martínez National Stadium and in Matagalpa. The organization concluded that “these serious acts indicate the possibility that extrajudicial executions had taken place.”
“The IACHR considers that potentially lethal force cannot be used just to maintain or restore public order. Only the protection of life and physical integrity in the face of imminent threats can be a legitimate object for the use of such force. Nicaragua should implement immediately mechanisms to prohibit effectively the use of lethal force as a resource in public demonstrations”, exhorted the preliminary report.
The cases in Vivian Pellas [hospital]
After the otolaryngologist saw the bullet that Juan Bosco Rivas Martínez had in his head, other doctors did an anterior and posterior nasal packing to contain the profuse bleeding. The procedure was done without anesthesia, something considered “cruelty” by a doctor consulted by CONFIDENCIAL.
“Since the anatomy of his face was destroyed, with even greater reason the patient should have been sedated. Because without anesthesia it is doing a procedure in the dark and under the danger that the shards of the bone would affect the eye. Without a doubt it was cruel”, explained the doctor.
The cries of pain of the youth were heard by his mother Ana María Martínez at the entrance to the emergency room of the public hospital in Masaya. The mother stated that a policeman dressed in a black jacket was taking photos and wrote down in a notebook the names of the wounded who arrived at the hospital.
Martínez insisted with the gatekeeper to let her into the emergency room. There was her son writhing in the bed. “His face was monstrous, his eye was nearly out”, narrated his mother. The next day, after vomiting blood in the early morning, the doctors of the Humberto Alvarado Hospital did another packing in the operating room. This time he was sedated.
The young man spent a week on a stretcher in the hospital without more treatment and with the same nasal packing. His condition was getting worse. The family members were getting desperate. They heard that the Vivian Pellas Hospital was treating for free those wounded in the massacre of April. The step father of Rivas Martínez, Lester Ruíz, went to the hospital in the capital, where the doctors responded immediately. Rivas Martínez was transferred without medical opposition in Masaya. His epicrisis said “contusion from stones” and not by a bullet, his relatives complained.
Doctors who rent space in the Vivian Pellas hospital formed a group to treat the wounded. They received dozens of people, among them people with head wounds. Like those in the Lenin Fonseca Hospital. The independent doctors were surprised on seeing the status of Rivas Martínez. Immediately they did an endoscopic procedure to identify the wounds. They saw that it was impossible to operate on the young man. Extracting the AK 47 bullet so close to the vital structure of the foramen magnum could cause his death or leave him paraplegic. They had to leave it there.
The doctors of the Vivian Pellas hospital did a more sophisticated nasal packing on Rivas Martínez. “I was able to breathe again through the nose. It was a relief, as when you breathe for the first time when you are born,” said the young man.
The medical treatment in the Vivian Pellas hospital has continued for this victim who declares himself to be “living proof” of the repression. Rivas Martínez is improving in his home in Masaya. His psychological status is fragile. Even though he does not know what happened around him while he was lying on the pavement, he knows that he saw his pregnant girlfriend during the time he was unconscious.
“She took my hand. She said to me, “don´t leave me, remember that this baby is coming.” This made me hold on,” says Rivas Martínez with tearful eyes, yearning for his son who is about to be born. His nose bears the scar from the impact of the AK 47.