Mildred Rayo

Mildred Rayo, member of the Nicaraguan Alianza Universitaria who never contemplated exile

*The student leader was detained on November 1, 2022, prior to the municipal elections at an army checkpoint.

**She was confined to a police cell in Managua for several months, where there was no bathroom, the authorities left the lights on, and they interrogated her for days.

***Soldiers detained her, interrogated her, and turned her in to police officers who transferred her to Managua.

Expediente Público

Ten days before being exiled, in a trial that was carried out behind closed doors, the student leader Mildred Rayo was sentenced to ten years in jail by Jude Félix Salmerón, a judge who props up Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua.

In an interview with Expediente Público, the young activist, member of the Nicaraguan Alianza Universitaria (AUN in Spanish), affirmed that she never thought about the possibility of exile and reported the participation of the army in the hunt against political opponents, detailing the torture and mistreatment that she experienced in prison under the Nicaraguan regime.  

Rayo is now one of the 222 Nicaraguans who were stripped of their nationality and exiled from the Central American country by Ortega. 

“I never thought about the possibility of exile. Despite all the persecution and harassment that we experienced, I never thought about exile. I returned from prison with the desire to return to my country, to live my life there, trying in the least to maintain my position and continue to fight for a free Nicaragua despite not being able to get anything done in the country. Just being in the country was an act of resistance,” mentioned Rayo.

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She still has not gotten used to living in the United States and always talks about Nicaragua as if she was still in the Central American country.

“The habits, the traditions. The change was very abrupt, and it is still strange to say, ‘back in Nicaragua.’ Sometimes it is difficult to believe that I am in the United States,” admitted Rayo.

Rayo, together with student leader Miguel Flores, was detained on November 1, 2022, in the southern part of the country while members of the army were circling the Sapoá River in Cárdenas, Rivas. She was headed to Managua after spending some days in Costa Rica, where she had entered through an “irregular point” on the border due to the fear that immigration officials would confiscate her passport.

Subjected to interrogations

The Nicaraguan Army did not make a public statement about the detention or where she was taken.

Several soldiers “interrogated me and checked everything that we had. They were a little aggressive. They asked why I had left, if I had come with an order to do something against the government, which of my friends were imprisoned, how I knew them, and for the information of the organization of which I am part,” said Rayo.

Days later, it became known that Rayo was in one of the cells of Police District Three of Managua, where she was constantly interrogated without knowing the reason for her detention.

“They interrogated me there for three straight days and then I was in limbo. They did not tell us anything. No matter how much we asked, they did not give us any information. The officials, our custodians would say, ‘we do not know anything about your case. You have to speak with the official who interrogated you.’ However, whoever interrogated you obviously arrived whenever he or she wanted, and there was no opportunity to ask anyone about your case,” she remembered.

After 12 days she was taken to court for a preliminary hearing where she was charged with the alleged crimes of “conspiring against and undermining the State of Nicaragua.”

Precarious conditions in prison

During her first month in prison, Rayo was placed in a cell where there was not even a bathroom but a hole in the ground where she could relieve herself. She slept on a slab of concrete.

Eventually, she was taken to another cell, which did have a bathroom and mattress, but where she had to live with two common inmates who had been transferred for the crimes of robbery and murder,” she explained.

Read: Líder desterrada, Samantha Jirón: “me arrebataron mi sentido de pertenencia”

“In the cell where I was placed, I did not have access to sunlight or wind. Everything was closed off and hermetic. We had two lights by the cell bars: two lamps, which were on all the time. They never turned off the lights. Obviously, this made sleeping difficult, and psychological mistreatment was always present,” she said.

The young student leader shared a cell with other women who were detained and marked as opposers of the regime. They were “scared because many of them were not involved in anything related to 2018 or activism.”

“Obviously, the pain that these women experienced was greater than mine. We used to say that we were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” explained Rayo.

The excitement and the pain

The police also made the AUN member, the day that she was exiled, sign a document in which she accepted the condition of travel to the United States.

“When we got on the plane, I experienced excitement at seeing how all the prisoners who were in El Chipote, La Modelo, and La Esperanza boarded the plane. It was incredible to see them arrive, to know that we were headed for freedom,” she added.

Read: Expresa política Alejandra Pérez González, solo por opinar en redes sociales, fue sentenciada a 8 años de prisión en Nicaragua

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After arriving in the United States, she immediately got in touch with her family who is still in Nicaragua. “Obviously, since that plane took off, I have experienced incredible pain in knowing that have left everything behind, which I was unable to decide for myself. During the entire plane ride, I just thought about how I wanted to speak with my parents, how I wanted to know if they had received the news yet, and the first thing that I did when I arrived was speak to them,” said the young woman who, like many former prisoners, must start from scratch in a new country.