Who are the journalists being prosecuted? Hear their stories.

Violations of human rights continue to be reported daily: arresting a merchant for selling Nicaraguan flags, delaying medical treatment to an elderly political prisoner, threatening opposition business leaders with imprisonment if they do not immediately pay greatly increased municipal tax bills within days of notification- just to name those mentioned in today´s media. The journalists who report these anomalies are also the frequent target of prosecution by the state. This article tells the story of five such journalists from around the country.

Who are the journalists being prosecuted? Hear their stories.

By Julian Navarrete, August 20, 2020 in La Prensa

[original Spanish]

Five reporters are facing judicial processes simultaneously, in what seems to be a stronger strategy to silence critical journalism. Who are these journalists?

Blows, insults, arrests, confiscations, threats, shots, harassment. All this and more these five journalists have suffered who currently have cases in the courts of the country. Organizations of journalists warn that these processes reveal a new pattern of aggression against critical journalism in Nicaragua.

In this edition, we bring you the first-person stories of four of these reporters, and the story of a colleague of La Prensa, to get to know them beyond their work of reporting.

Jacksell Herrera: Living under siege

I am 21 years old, but since I was little my aspiration has been to be a professional journalist. I used to look at the reporting, the journalists on television, I liked what they were doing. Because I think that it is not just a matter of information flowing, but of helping other people. Citizens to some extent see us journalists as lawyers and counselors. I am clear that there are other important professions, but for me journalists are fundamental.

I was born here in Santa María de Pantasma. Currently I live alone because my family left the country, exiled since the crisis of 2018. This is something that works well for me, because in the current situation the Sandinista regime, what is does is take revenge on our families because we denounce their arbitrary acts.

My salary comes from the Municipal government of Pantasma where I work in the area of communications. Because I do journalism to be of service, I do it voluntarily. I pay for my transportation costs,  I buy my own equipment. Everything. The platform where I write is called Nicaraguan News NN. I not only do news about the municipality, but also about other provinces. I do not think that it is more dangerous to do journalism in Pantasma just because we are far from the capital. It seems to me that it is dangerous throughout the country. What is different is that here we only have two reporters, so any information that is published it is already known where it comes from. We carry the blame as if it were a crime.

That is why they accuse me of spreading false news. Starting with the provision of a school bonus that was being politicized. I published that, and the principal denounced me. But I am now used to this. For example, at night it is common for a Police truck to park in front of my house. They have taken pictures of me. You feel fear because you are human, but love for Nicaragua inspires us to continue this work.

Kalúa Salazar, reporter from Bluefields.

My three daughters can see how the Police truck passes in front of our house every day. The girls already know that is what is happening. That they talk about me on television, because their classmates in the school in Bluefields ask them about me, about the case that they are bringing against me. I am suffering these collateral damages, but you have to save your strength in the family nucleus.

I am 25 years old, an administrator by profession, and I never imagined that I was going to be the head of information of Radio La Costeñisima. I fell in love with journalism seeing how my boss worked, Sergio León, who was the director of the radio and recently died of COVID-19. I was his assistant in special tasks, and little by little I got involved in journalism. Because I was in charge of the sales area in the radio. It ends up that two years ago one of the reporters of the news program resigned, and we could not find a replacement. The days went by and I was desperate, so I told him that I would be the person responsible until they got someone. Since that day I have been in charge of it.

Once I was doing a report on extreme poverty, so we went to an area in a marginalized part of Bluefields. It took 20 minutes to get there by car, and then 20 minutes on foot, because vehicles cannot get in. I interviewed a woman who had six children, and to eat she chipped stone. That was her job. I sat down on the ground with her and had to stop the interview to cry with her. The poverty that I saw in her hit me hard, and how her children surely will continue the same cycle. Since that day I have tried to bring this type of issues to the news program. They are issues that the authorities do not like to see published. That is why they are prosecuting me, and why I am receiving threats. At times I have to be very strong to put up with the many offenses which I receive on air during the news program. You have to have a lot of patience to continue putting up with this.

David Quintana: from selling tortillas to director of media.

When I was seated there at INCAE[1], surrounded by people who were paying US$50,000 to take a postgraduate degree in journalism, I remembered that when I was a boy who sold tortillas in Ciudad Sandino, I never dreamed that I would be in that seat. Imagine that even though the rule is that post graduate students stay and sleep there, I never wanted to because it felt strange to me.

At the age of 45, I can say that my family suffered poverty, and that is why I did everything: I sold roasted corn on the cob, sawdust, vegetables in a pickup truck, I was a car washer and guard. That was the curriculum of my childhood and adolescence. Poverty took a bite out of me, and that is why I always have believed that, as John Paul II used to say, “you have to be at the service of justice.”

My last job in my adolescence was a bricklayer´s helper. I would go to work in the daytime and after I got home, I would bathe to get ready to go to the Batahola School to study at night. That is how I finished high school. Since that time, I have always carried a book. During recess I would read. I think that that phrase from the Little Prince marked me, “What is essential is not visible to the human eye.” For me what is essential is truth, ethics and what is behind people. I think that journalism seeks to uncover what is essential.

I studied a postgraduate in ecological journalism in Mexico. I founded the Boletín Ecológico, and prior to April 18, 2018 I had seven people under my responsibility. But that day I was coming down from my office and saw that there was a protest in Camino de Oriente. Since I saw that they had stolen the cameras of 100% Noticias and other media, I started to record it. I ended up having thousands connected to the transmission. Never had so many people been watching. Since that time the program underwent this change, it went from being just about environmental issues to focusing on the political and social problems of the country. Because in Nicaragua the environmental problem will not be solved, nor any other, as long as the authorities continue in power. This is the reason, and because of the images that I have recorded and disseminated in Nicaragua and the world,  that they are prosecuting me.

Elsa Espinoza, independent journalist.

I liked words since I was little. Writing, researching, editing the texts of some classmates. I got involved in creative writing at the age of 14 with poetry. I was the person in charge of the newspaper in high school. From there I got the love for journalism. With a camera with a roll of film I began to take photos, to later write my reports. In the last year of high school, they gave me a scholarship to study communications, in spite of the fact that I was an introvert.

I always took refuge in books and libraries. That is why I think that this profession has helped me in my professional development: I learned to speak freely and express myself, and above all to relate to others, which is what was difficult for me. Since the time I was in the university, I wanted to start my own media, and I did: I started radio programs and environmental and touristic bulletins.

I love to paint and write poetry. I have a book published and another in the process of being edited. At 30 years of age I have been in feminist and human rights organizations. Currently I do this from the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN). This has been the reason why they began to prosecute me. There is no other reason. I do not know the people who are accusing me, and in the Police station they branded me as “the coup supporting reporter.”

Currently I find myself living clandestinely with my two daughters. On April 17 this year they told me that they were going to kill me, and that is why I have changed the house I am in. That day they attacked me, and also in the first court hearing. The police did not do anything when they saw that. I am living displaced from my home in Managua, and I cannot leave the country because my children are still little, and my Mom lives in the same area. It is difficult, because it has caused me eating disorders, insomnia, anxiety, which affects me in my work performance. I has changed my moods, because at times I feel very depressed.

William Aragón, fearless journalist of La Prensa.

William Aragón, the La Prensa reporter in Madriz and northern Nicaragua for 15 years, has had his home machine gunned by even his own brother. They have arrested him with his two daughters while he was traveling in a bus.

Aragón is 53 years of age. On seven occasions since he has worked at La Prensa they have taken him to court, for supposed slander and calumny, just for reporting on the abuse of people who exercise power in Nicaragua. In all of them he came out clean.

In December 2019 Aragón told La Prensa that he has had three opportunities to go into exile, but he does not want to leave. In one of them he returned from the Honduran border. “I am not afraid, I want to see the regime fall”, he said.

In the 80s he belonged to the Sandinista Army. Nevertheless, on one occasion he was captured by the contras, but escaped during a firefight. When he returned to the Army, they treated him as a “deserter.” He was jailed for a month and got out through negotiations with the CPDH[2], at that time led by Lino Hernández. The UN High Commission for Refugees took Aragón to Germany, in exile, and for safety reasons even changed his name. William previously was known as Orlando Aragón.

Aragón returned to Nicaragua after the triumph of Doña Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990. He worked as an insurance salesman at INISER, then washed cars and, taking advantage of his military experience, was also a night watchman.

In Estelí he started to study Law, but since he came to Managua to work as a security guard in the Military Hospital, he decided to study journalism in the UCA.

[1] Central American Institute of Business Administration

[2] Permanent Commission for Human Rights

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