Remembering for History: Memories of “El Cap”
Hundreds of youths have been captured and tortured
for raising their voices against the Ortega government
and against the repression with which it responded
to those voices starting in April 2018.
“El Cap” was one of those young people.
While all information that could identify him
has been changed for his safety,
what he details here is true, painfully true.
He recalls those first steps on his way to hell,
and tells his story for history.
José Luis Rocha
“When I got to my house, I saw a large poster with my picture on the wall. I went in and gave my mom a hug. ‘The poster was the one we took to the marches to free you,’ she told me. ‘But I’m here now,’ I said. ‘Yes, my darling, come in and sit down. Take these clothes and go change. Do you want to eat something?’ I went into the patio and didn’t even look for the dog or the parrot. Everything I saw was white, very white. Then my mother came up to me with a plate of food. ‘This seems like a dream,’ I said. There was silence. I kept looking into her eyes. ‘I’m dreaming, aren’t I?’ ‘Yes, my child, you’re dreaming.’ And she started to cry. ‘Am I still in prison?’ I asked her. ‘Yes, my darling, you are still a prisoner.’ And she hugged me again.”
I’d only be a number in there
El Cap was awakened from his dream that night by the sound of the chain sliding down the gate. It was four in the morning, time for the first of the three prisoner counts of the day. It was August 13, his birthday. Thirty-one ears old. Yes, he was still in prison and would be for many more months. When he had that dream, he was in the dungeons of La Modelo, having just completed his first 16 days of a confinement that would continue 11 long months in that prison, the one that is both the heart and nerve center of Nicaragua’s prison system.
Shortly after waking, he heard the bitter sound of doors being bolted shut, the shifting around of pots and pans and the noise of other inmates. On the lice warehouse that was his mattress, thin as a tortilla, he turned over and began to put together the scraps of his life to try to recover his real self: he was El Cap, ex-engineer, ex-Evangelical, ex-builder, ex-structural designer and ex-worker in one of the companies run with FSLN capital. Now, with a present full of his past, he was just a political prisoner trapped in jail, dreaming of returning home to his mother. He was just one of the more than 700 others captured in 2018 after the April rebellion. He had a name, but in there he only had a number, both interchangeable in the prisoner counts: if the guards called out his number, he had to respond with his name, and vice versa.
“I still can’t get over it”
“After that dream, I went from a state of denial to one of absolute acceptance. I was in prison, totally in prison. I had been captured, tortured and subjected to a judicial process full of false testimonies and accusations. That was me.
“My life before had nothing to do with the world of violence in which they had thrust me. Never in my life had I ever even had a fist fight with anyone; I didn’t even watch boxing. I grew up with my mom, with my family. I was a functional member of society. I became an engineer. All my siblings are professionals. I wasn’t a criminal. I had a small construction company. That was my life.
“I have never felt blows like the ones they gave me after the capture. I still don’t understand what could have happened to them to be able to torture me like that. Now I have permanent injuries to my shoulder, ribs and shoulder blade. The torture left me with not only physical but also psychiatric consequences. Sometimes I have episodes of violence and I’ll fly into a rage of ten thousand devils, something I’ve never done in my life. Then I start to think about how I was before and I see what I am now, and I think about what they did to me and what I’ve become.
“Things happened to me in 2018 that I still can’t get over. Some things my mind has just blocked. I know they’re there because there are time gaps in the chronology I’ve been writing. There are times when I don’t know exactly what happened. And there are other moments when I don’t know if I was unconscious or my mind just blocked the memory.”
It was paradoxical that through that dream in which El Cap felt free and returned to his mother, the becamne so definitively grounded in his reality. He and I talked this November, over two years later. Although it pains him to do so, he dug into that past from his forgetfulness loaded with memory, remembering for history.
“One of our own betrayed us”
“When they captured us in July 2018, a group of us were going to Matagalpa to take medicines. Five of us were traveling in a vehicle owned by the driver. The first thing we heard was a burst of shots, and not from an AK-47, but from an M-16. I think that’s an important distinction because the police and paramilitaries use AKs, but in our case the weapons were M-16s, gringo guns that in Nicaragua are only used by private sellers and drug traffickers. Not even the Army uses M-16s.
“They were following us and shooting at us. They fired until they emptied the magazine. I don’t know how they missed us. Then they passed us and blocked the road in front of us. We almost ran into them and the driver had no choice but to slam on the brakes. They aimed at us: ‘If you move, you die,’ they told us. They were wearing black and were hooded; some wore camouflage.
“One of our own had betrayed us. He had been threatened and sold us out when they offered him a good position as a leader of the paramilitaries. They told him that organization would be around for a long time, that it wouldn’t end after the clean-up operation. The one who betrayed us had done military service in the 1980s. We, not knowing he had taken their side, had told him we were taking medicines to the medical posts that had a lot of wounded people.
“There was always this combination of randomness and blowing on the dice for luck, and that day the dice landed in the regime’s favor. I remembered the Argentine writer Ricardo Piglia, who declares that “paradoxically, luck is always on the side of the established order and is (along with betrayal and torture) the principle means that enquiries have to close the loop and catch those who try to become invisible in the urban jungle.”
“They shouted with glee because
they were going to torture us”
“The chief of those armed men was in his fifties, with a gigantic belly. I could recognize him today from that belly. He was a cop. One of his men put the gun to my head and knocked me down to the pavement.”
The five young men were lying helpless on the road, wet from the recent heavy rains. They were sure they would be dead soon. The driver said aloud what he thought would be his last prayers. The armed men issued an expedited extrajudicial sentence: “If you don’t have anything compromising, we’ll let you go, but if you have something bad, we’ll kill you.” Given that such men were operating beyond good and evil, in the schizophrenic space of total illegality with absolute endorsement by the regime, El Cap and his colleagues had no idea what they would judge as bad.
“They searched the trunk as if we were drug dealers. We had hidden the medicines. When they opened the trunk, they found nothing, but when they struck the hiding place, the medicinal alcohol spilled out. They found the medicines. ‘You fucking tranqueros! [the pejorative referring to those involved in the anti-government roadblocks],’ the fat man yelled. And they came down on us with rifle butts on the back and head. ‘Where were you taking that?’ they screamed. ‘We’re doctors,’ one of us answered. ‘Doctors of what, of the tranqueros?’ he yelled more. They kept beating us and took our phones away. After going through our phones, they said: ‘Ah, these are the bastards we were looking for!’”
Wasting no time, they handcuffed and tied up El Cap and his four friends with ropes and threw them into the back of the truck. The information from the five cell phones, full of groups labeled “April 19” and the like, entertained the hooded men for a while and they savored, in advance, the applause they were sure to get from their superiors. Euphoric and drunk with triumph, they resumed the beating. On the way the captured men heard that they were going to be taken to what El Cap already knew was a clandestine prison that functioned as a torture center.
“They cried out with glee because they were taking us there, because they were going to get to torture us. They were literally happy. I suppose that in a crazy situation like the one they live in, it made them happy to do whatever they wanted with us until they killed us.
“They were disappointed when shortly afterwards they got another message ordering them to take us to the police station. Arriving, we saw a double line of police and paramilitaries, all hooded, a tunnel of people through which we had to walk. They pushed us forward, while they kicked and hit us with motorcycle helmets and hard rubber clubs. The only thing we could do, unable to shield ourselves due to the handcuffs, was to walk as low to the ground as possible to avoid some of the blows.”
“Already only semi-conscious,
the blows no longer hurt me”
“On entering, they shoved us to our knees against a wall. When I turned and stared at one, he slammed my head into the wall, making me dizzy. Then they gave me the first blow to the back with steel knuckles. They did the same to my four friends. And they repeated the slamming against the wall. Others were more creative and hit us near our eardrums. Because that made us dizzy, they held us up by the hair so we wouldn’t fall. There were about 17 policemen. It felt like an eternity, although it lasted like 10 minutes.”
Then they put the handcuffs on them with their hands behind their backs, making sure to keep them as tight as possible, cutting off circulation and causing unspeakable pain. From that moment they were separated for the purpose of breaking their morale and making each one believe the other four had broken down and provided incriminating information. El Cap was taken to a hovel in what looked like a storage shed along with three paramilitaries. The policeman who was there said: “I’m going to leave because I don’t want to see this.” He knew they would beat El Cap with their expert fists. How sinister. He was a detective who took the statements from the five and later on would be a witness at their trial, where he declared that he had personally apprehended the five and had seized weapons from them. He had wanted to avoid seeing what happened to be able to lie better later.
“I didn’t know what had happened to the others. They were taken to separate rooms. They beat me and shouted insults at me: ‘God damn tranquero, criminal, son of a bitch, you’re not going to get out of here alive!’ one told me: ‘We have your ID, we know where you live and we’re going to kill your mother.’ It was a lie because that day I didn’t have my ID on me. And since I have a problem of being a big mouth, I told him: ‘My mother doesn’t live at the address on my ID and I didn’t have my ID in my wallet, so you don’t have it.’ Then they hit me harder. I took the blows in a kind of semi-conscious stupor. I just felt like my body was being pushed around, but the blows didn’t hurt anymore. Then they did, then they didn’t.”
“Are you going to rape me?
Better you just shoot me”
“I managed to see one of my friends in another room. They had him tied up with a rope around each ankle, and a paramilitary on top of him while another beat him. They told him to talk: Where were we going? Where in the car had we hidden the weapons? And they beat him. He would cry and tell them we didn’t have any weapons, that we only carried medicine. ‘Leave the guy alone!’ I told them; ‘he doesn’t know anything, he was only driving us because I paid him, he doesn’t even know where we were going. If you want to know something, ask me!”
For the investigators, the great unknown was where the US$200 found on them had come from. The money was to buy antibiotics to alleviate the ferocious infection of a wounded man hidden on a farm who had been shot with an AK-47 and was convalescing. To extract information, they forced El Cap to witness his friend’s torture session. The two had known each other since they were 16. They studied together at the university and had started a small construction company together. They also entered the civic rebellion of 2018 together, and of course fell into the hands of those people together. El Cap tells me that they love each other like brothers. Seeing how they beat him, El Cap burst into tears and pleaded with them.
“’Shut up!’ they yelled at me. ‘It’s your turn soon; for now just watch.’ When the boss arrived—the old fat cop, well, not fat but potbellied—he said to the paramilitaries: ‘Look what I found on the phone of this son of a bitch!’ They had entered my social networks and found a video we put out, summoning people to set up barricades, hold demonstrations and close the roads with traffic jams for 24 hours so the murderer, Daniel Ortega, would get the message that the people weren’t on his side. That is what we said, that was in the statement. The potbellied chief said to me: ‘Do you call the Comandante a murderer and dictator?’
“I kept looking toward the room where my friend was being beaten. The potbellied chief ordered the door closed. Six of these damned torturers were watching the video where I was offending their pseudo-god. They’re going to rip me apart, I thought. The chief ordered me to stand up. They dragged me by the handcuffs. You have no idea how much that hurt. The potbellied one ordered me to take off my shirt. But since I’m a big mouth, I said: ‘Idiot, how am I going to take off my shirt with the cuffs on?’ Then they hit me on the back of the neck with the butt of the M-16.
“‘Leave the shirt on him,’ said the boss, ‘just lower his pants.’ I told him: ‘If you’re going to do that to me, you’d better shoot me, because I’m going to put up a fight and I’m going to break something in more than one of you, I’m going to bite you, I’m going to destroy you.’ ‘What do you think we’re going to do to you?’ he asked. ‘Why are you afraid if you’ve got such tiny balls, if you’re such a little man? Aren’t you a big macho calling the Comandante a murderer?”
“What they did destroyed me;
I wanted them to kill me”
“They lowered my pants. The boss twisted my testicles. That pain, yeah, I felt it, not like with the blows from before. He knew where to hit. He had training. He didn’t hit you just for hitting; he knew how to torture. He knew how to demoralize and diminish you: by the places where he hit you, by the timing of each blow.
“He had me with my pants down so I would think they were going to rape me. That was so damaging, it kept me feeling like I didn’t know what was going to happen. And that uncertainty is the most horrible thing you could feel at that moment. All you want is to die fast, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted them to kill me now.
“Another hooded man held the phone with the video where we went out calling people to rise up against Ortega. When the potbellied guy let go of my testicles, he gave an order, and everyone started kicking my testicles with their boots. They also kicked my abdomen. I didn’t have the strength to scream. I was just crying. I thought they were going to rape me. But no, what they wanted was to torture me for the sheer pleasure of it, for no other purpose.”
In the novel Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea [by Sergio Ramírez], the testicles of Rigoberto López Pérez, the poet who executed Somoza, occupy a place of honor next to the brain of Rubén Darío as Nicaragua’s greatest treasures.
The paramilitaries and their boss became obsessed with the attributes of manhood of those who had the temerity to insult Ortega, the Comandante. Perhaps they overestimated their resistance, with fascination and shameful envy that swung between the symbolic connotation and the most immediate sexual significance.
The youngest of the paramilitaries there didn’t say anything, but his ski mask failed to cover his growing shock. He was a silent participant in this initiation rite endorsed here by the regime, as merciless as it is with the MS-13 and Barrio 18 Maras [criminal gangs].
“It was as if my soul had left my body”
“They spent about 30 minutes kicking my testicles and penis. Then someone said, ‘Pull up his pants, the commissioner is coming!’ They picked me up from the floor. Since my legs were numb from the blows, I couldn’t stand up. They held me up by my hair. When I was lifted up everything went black. It was as if my soul had detached from my body and it was gone; what was left was only a sack that had been on the ground and had been kicked around. It had nothing to do with me because I no longer felt like I was there in that place.
“Amid the black, I saw in front of me a man in a bulletproof vest, accompanied by two huge muscular bodyguards armed with AK-47s. He came over to me and lifted my chin. On his vest he carried a stun grenade and a fragmentation grenade.
“I recognized him immediately and my soul returned to my body because when I saw him, I panicked. The commissioner told the potbellied chief: ‘There is an order from above saying these are going to be processed.’ The chief hit me hard on the sternum. Being processed meant we were going to get out of there and be sent before a judge. The commissioner asked me: ‘Have they treated you well?’ I didn’t want to keep being mouthy. They had already completely diminished me and demoralized me and the only thing I said to him was: ‘They treated me like you ordered them to do.’ ‘I know your background,’ he told me.”
“I felt humiliated, diminished”
“From the commissioner’s mouth I learned that the regime’s intelligence system had been following us for two months. They had been on to us since we started in the struggle, but we had managed to camouflage ourselves, do everything to avoid them. And we had a lot of support. But the people who supported us reached a point where they collapsed under fear after they saw all the roadblocks coming down that July.
“Many people left the country then, so we no longer had as much support and we had to use the same car for everything. That’s why they were so quick to identify us. For two months they hadn’t been able to find us until they ambushed us. The commissioner told me: ‘They found your weapons.’ I replied: ‘You and I both know that’s a lie, but if you are going to accuse me of that, what can I do?’”
They carried medicines, but weapons were planted to frame them the same way this happened with many other captured people, without caring that the circumstances and the backgrounds of the people apprehended didn’t lend any credence to that version. El Cap and his friends had 60 rusty AK-47 shells and 4 burned magazines planted in their vehicle. Sufficient for an accusation of illegal possession of weapons, but well below the acceptable amount for the accusation of “illegal arms trafficking” made by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
“’We didn’t carry weapons,’ I told him, ‘but if you say so, who’s going to say no?’ I felt humiliated, demolished, diminished. ‘Who is the boss of you five?’ he asked me. ‘We don’t have a boss,’ I replied. He then said, ‘I was chatting with the short-haired guy and I saw that he was just a boy, and the other three are imploring God; that’s why I come to you. What are you going to tell me?’ ‘What do you want me to tell you?’ I wanted to know. ‘Do you have weapons buried?’ he asked. ‘I don’t have weapons,’ I told him. ‘I know that yesterday you bought two barrels,’ he said accusingly, ‘and you gave them to a man nicknamed Cachirulo.’ And he added: ‘He’s one of mine and he was the one who told me you were traveling here.’”
It’s rare for the police to provide information, true or not, to their enemy. Was that information one last push to finish trampling their morale, to make them feel betrayed? El Cap doesn’t know. He was just crossing the threshold from the illegal territory of the paramilitaries into the beginning of the judicial process.
“I already felt at a
point of no return”
They brought him to an office where a lieutenant would take his information, an act within which this legal metamorphosis was played out. At that point he entered the judicial processing and penalization machinery the regime had prepared for the hundreds of captured people it calls “coup-mongers” to this day. But this staging of the division of labor was only a show of legality, a sleight of hand: the system El Cap was in was always the same; it just had a public face and a shadowy private face.
“At the office, the policewoman told me the job of the other police were to apprehend us and her teams’ job was to process us. ‘Now you are in the hands of the institution,’ she told me. I clarified for her:’ I have spent the last four hours in the police institution, four hours of being kicked and beaten by paramilitaries and their job was not to capture us; it was to torture us.’ ‘Yes,’ she told me, ‘but here no one is going to do anything to you.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I don’t care.’ Literally, I didn’t care, I already felt I was at a point of no return”.
“And now, where
are they taking us?”
“They took the information from the five of us and also took a lot of photos. After a while, the paramilitaries began pounding on the door. The potbellied chief shouted: ‘What’s up with those bastards? Are they talking? Are they cooperating? Or are we going in to finish them off?’ ‘Calm down,’ the young woman told them, ‘we’re talking to them.’ Right as she left, the policewoman locked the door. I asked her: ‘Why are you afraid of them?’ ‘Shut up,’ she told me. And she began to write the record of the capture on the computer. It felt like the police were afraid of the paramilitaries. They were literally afraid of them. They were also afraid of us, of the people who rose up against Ortega.
“Another agent came in all agitated. ‘Look,’ he told the lieutenant, ‘we have to leave the station and transfer them to El Chipote now, because a shitload of tranqueros is coming and they want to get these ones out.’ When the people found out they had us as prisoners, they rose up and some began to shoot off homemade mortars at the station. Hurriedly, the police got us out of the station. Two beefy cops with ski masks threw me into the back of the police pickup truck like a pig. They must have fed those cops Purina because they were huge and fit, very fit. I’m tall and on one I only reached his shoulders. They must have been from the Tapirs or the Special Ops Division, real policemen. They put my friends in the front and hooded them. I had my head on the floor, wondering where are they taking us now...”
In the cells of El Chipote
They were taken to El Chipote, a detention and torture center that has been used by the Somoza dictatorship, the Revolution of the 1980s and now by the Ortega dictatorship. Since 2019, political prisoners have differentiated between Old El Chipote and New El Chipote, because in February of that year the government inaugurated these new facilities as the Judicial Assistance Division, the official name of this police institute.
El Cap and his friends, like most of the former political prisoners, were held at Old El Chipote. On arrival, they were put in holding cells, where they were forced to undress in front of all the police, both men and women. There was a cell for each of them, tiny and with a built-in small bench. While there, El Cap was given an old shirt, soaked with urine and feces, which had been worn by dozens of other temporary owners. In the cell he found some boxers on the floor and put them on. His trousers were returned to him and he was taken to the interrogation room.
“You really messed
up your life, dude!!”
“The first thing I heard as I entered the room was: ‘Look against the wall, don’t look at me!’ It was a woman. To avoid giving me physical punishments my mother would make me stand in front of the wall and leave me like that for half an hour. I said, ‘I don’t even know if you’re a cop.’ She replied: ‘Then turn around and you’ll find out.’ She was indeed a policewoman. She confirmed my first and second names and both surnames, my profession and listed out all my jobs. She knew everything about me. ‘You had a good career,’ she said; ‘you’re an engineer, you do designs, you know about irrigation systems, you have a company... what a pity that today you’re a common criminal. Look at yourself there,’ she told me, pointing to a mirror.’”
El Cap looked at himself. The mirror reflected the image of a dirty, ragged man with broken, bleeding gums, although still without bruises, because they hadn’t had time to surface. Barely a glimpse of his immense pain was reflected in the mirror and none of the stench that surely reached the nose of the policewoman in charge of interrogating him, a 30-year-old young woman, who in 24-hour shifts since April had been trained to recognize pain and live with the stench.
“’Look at your resumé,’ she told me; ‘look at everything you are: you even have a specialization.’ They had the list of all the studies the FSLN had paid for when I was with them. ‘Look at you,’ she repeated, ‘now you look like a bum, for being ungrateful, for being a deserter and for being a traitor. Do you see how you are?’ she insisted. ‘It’s true,’ I said; ‘I look horrible, but the good thing is that I can look you in the eye.’ That made her laugh.
“’What did you do?’ She brought the hostility down a notch; ‘you messed up your life, dude.’ I replied: ‘I didn’t screw it up, you did it for me, because even if I leave here tomorrow, I’m already ruined.’ She said: ‘But you’re not going to leave tomorrow; you’re going to face a judicial process and you’re going to spend years in prison, along with a lot of criminals. Do you know what that means?’ she asked me. ‘Prison is horrible, and you’re going there, and neither I nor the opposition nor all those groups that finance you are going to help you.’ I started to laugh. ‘What are you laughing at?’ She seemed surprised. ‘Nobody’s financing me,’ I told her. ‘The MRS pays you,’ she assured me.”
Why the obsession with the MRS?
The questions were invariably the same in all interrogations: What were you doing? Who finances you all? What are your links with the MRS? The Sandinista Renovation Movement split from the FSLN in 1995 and was now an anti-Ortega dissident organization. This last question was asked dozens of times to each of the detainees, without exception.
The reason for this obsession was shared with me by Tomás Maldonado, a former Sandinista Popular Army major and a former political prisoner: “When you have a fight with your mother, you go to your grandmother.” The FSLN was clear that many of the April rebels, such as El Cap, came from within its own ranks.
I couldn’t feel my hands”
The interrogation with El Cap took on overtones of a debate. It became a civilized exchange of views on the fortunes of the Ortegas, on false communists, and on political commitment. The dialogue escaped the established script. It was a small victory, a ray of light that crossed a stormy sky.
Peering into a favorable opening in that changing moment, El Cap asked her to loosen the handcuffs. “I said ‘Do it, please, you see you’re not as bad as those who are killing people, because you work in an office, you don’t even have the belt to carry a weapon. I ask you as a human being. You’ve already seen my resumé: I’m not a criminal.’ Then she got up and asked a policeman to remove the cuffs from my hands behind my back, and to cuff me with my hands in front. My hands were purple, almost black, the wrists open wounds, the fingernails white, and my arms sore and swollen. It took four months before I could hold anything with my hands.
“I tried to move my hands and couldn’t. ‘Help him gently,’ she told the policeman who had taken my cuffs off. My arms made a long cracking sound, and she closed her eyes and wrinkled up her face.
“Look what they did to him,” the woman said to the policeman, to which he answered: ‘You know how they are; always the ones they send from that delegation. And they’re crueler with the ones they get angry with.’ ‘They’re sons of bitches with a capital B,’ she replied.
“She kept looking at my bruised hands and began to touch them. ‘Do you feel anything?’ she wanted to know. ‘No,’ I told her. Because I didn’t really feel anything in my hands. I think she felt sorry for me or she liked me. I don’t know how to explain it. ‘How many hours were you like this?’ she asked. ‘Since four this afternoon.’ It was then half past one in the morning.
The interrogation went
on nearly all night
There were two other interrogations with the same investigators and others with different investigators. Sessions took place at any time of the day or night and each lasted about three hours.
At two in the morning of that first day, El Cap was sent to his cell in El Chipote. He walked down the dark corridor, listening to the murmurs of the other prisoners and the internal groaning of his own uncertainty.
El Chipote is a snail, all the prisoners who spent time in those cells say. It has galleries with the capacity to house around 40 people and between 40 and 50 cells to hold 1 to 4 prisoners.
According to former General Police Commissioner René Vivas, who assumed responsibility for these facilities in 1990, El Chipote had then—and probably continues to have—the best technical conditions to film and record interrogations. El Cap had just encountered them, although he never knew if videos of their sessions exist.
“You can take it, don’t give up”
El Cap shared a cell with one other inmate. He was also a political prisoner, but one with previous prison experience, clearly a common criminal. He was for El Cap what Abbé Faria, the priest who instructed Edmundo Dantès, the future Count of Monte Cristo, in science and languages was, in the novel by Alexander Dumas. The Nicaraguan version of Abbé Faria instructed El Cap in prison sciences, political-criminal sciences, and techniques: how to understand police logic and how—through manipulating the scare and simple materials allowed—to make essential tools that make life in prison more comfortable.
“’Why are you here, dude?’ my cellmate asked. ‘They’re calling me a terrorist,’ I responded. ‘You’re screwing with me,’ he said. ‘There’s water there,’ he added, then said: ‘They brought you in handcuffed. These motherfuckers are idiots!’ Seeing that I couldn’t pour water on myself, he told me: ‘I’m gonna pour water on you, dude, because you stink, and if you want to shit, there’s the hole. I can see they really messed you up; can I help you?’ The guy helped me take off my boxer shorts and undressed me, then poured water on me, stinking water from a stagnant basin.
“Then I defecated, and tons of blood came out. ‘They ruptured your insides! Tell them to get you help,’ he advised me. And he began pounding on the door with all his might: ‘Doctor, doctor, doctor!’ An officer came and opened a window: ‘What’s wrong?’ he yelled. ‘This kid is shitting blood,’ he told him. ‘Who?’ ‘This guy you just brought in here,’ said the prisoner. ‘Let that son of a bitch die!’ the officer replied and slammed the window. ‘What does it matter,’ I said; ‘if I die, all the better.’ ‘No man,’ he encouraged me; ‘you have to hang on.’
“That man was about 37 years old, but he looked younger, maybe about 28. He had already been imprisoned three times. ‘No, man,’ he told me, ‘you’re going to survive this jail. Don’t lose it, don’t get demoralized; these bastards are scary.’
“‘Did they kick your balls?’ he asked me. I kept looking at him and just said ‘Yes.’ ‘That’s what they do,’ he said; ‘so you feel like you’re not a man.’ He cleaned me up, helped me put on another pair of clean boxers he had managed to get into the cell with his cunning tricks. ‘Look,’ he told me, ‘I was using these briefs as a pillow, but they fit you.”
After looking so diminished in the mirror in the interrogation room, El Cap had seen himself in the eyes of this Nicaraguan “Faria.” He was beaten down, but not finished. From the lumpenproletariat world of that other prisoner came a rush of courage to survive the next nine days he was in El Chipote. He found in himself the seed of resistance that hadn’t completely abandoned him, a resistance that he would only fully experience after spending 11 months in La Modelo prison.
José Luis Rocha is an associate researcher at El Salvador’s “José Simeón Cañas” Central American University.