Nicaraguan refugee Auxiliadora Martinez (photo: WND / Chelsea Schilling)
(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted with assistance of a translator)
CAMARILLO, Calif. – She was terrified, clinging to God, when a brutal street gang spied her escaping down the streets of Nicaragua.
“Let’s kill her!” one shouted.
Two strange men suddenly clenched her arms and ripped her blouse as she struggled to free herself. They warned her not to scream while they prepared to rape her.
She spotted woods nearby – and had a vision of her lifeless body being dumped just yards away after enduring torment of a brutal sexual attack.
Auxiliadora Martinez, 23, a Nicaraguan political refugee, was beaten with sticks, shot at, nearly raped and almost murdered – all because she fought for free elections.
Now, the U.S. is prepared to deny her asylum in the land of the free.
Martinez, a campaign organizer for Eduardo Montealegre, former Constitutionalist Party candidate for Managua mayor, has been tortured by Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime and is pleading with the United States for asylum, but American immigration officials have shown her little sympathy.
Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega has employed neighborhood committees called Citizens Power Councils, or CPCs, used by his corrupt Sandinista party to spy on citizens, intimidate and torture them.
Martinez told WND the CPCs attacked her with large rocks, sticks, mortars and sprays of gunfire. A gang of Sandinista CPCs tried to rape and kill her because she was part of a group protesting the legitimacy of the 2008 municipal elections.
Sandinistas murdered her uncles in the 1980s when they were only 12 years old after they refused to join their forces.
“My mom said they hid her brothers under the bed so the Sandinistas wouldn’t take them away,” she said. “They came with their weapons and their guns and they began to rip the house apart to find the boys. The Sandinistas took them away by force and killed them.”
Over the years, the Martinez family became immersed in politics, determined to prevent Sandinistas from returning to power in Nicaragua.
In 2006, Martinez raised funds for Eduardo Montealegre’s presidential campaign while she worked at Managua International Airport.
“I would chat with people who would come through, and they would ask me how life is in my country,” she said. “They would help me with money, so I was able to get about $5,000.”
Ortega returns to power
Daniel Ortega, FSLN
But Martinez’ family’s worst nightmares came true as Ortega, a Marxist guerrilla leader who previously ruled Managua with a Soviet-backed iron fist, took office in 2006 – less than two decades after U.S.-backed freedom fighters ousted him from power.
Allied with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Ortega, of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN, is determined to overhaul Nicaragua into a quasi-parliamentary system so he may be re-elected indefinitely.
As Nicaragua prepared for its key mayoral elections in 2008, Ortega attempted to disqualify opposition parties from the ballot. For a small country such as Nicaragua, the 146 municipal races are significant, because mayors have the ability to act as a check on the government’s power.
Ortega selected Alexis Argüello as his FSLN candidate for the position of Managua mayor. Police, under Sandinista command, tore apart offices of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a prominent investigative journalist, while the CPCs terrorized anyone who opposed Ortega.
When Montealegre announced his candidacy for Managua mayor, Martinez began working for his campaign. She and hundreds of supporters marched in the streets, distributing T-shirts and campaign items.
Martinez told WND: “I said to my mom and my little sister, ‘We are going to work very hard so that we can live in freedom and in a democracy.'”
She said Montealegre never spoke about his opponent being Alexis Argüello, because Argüello was simply a “puppet” for Ortega. The T-shirts he gave away said, “Everyone against Ortega” – because even the mayoral elections were about defeating the Marxist leader.
During the campaign marches, Martinez said the CPCs always hurled insults, but they never physically attacked them.
But that would soon change.
Last September, the Sandinistas began attacking Martinez’ own home with mortars and rocks. They continued to do so until after the election.
From left to right: Managua candidate for vice mayor, Enrique Quiñónez; Martinez and Managua mayor candidate Eduardo Montealegre (photo: Martinez)
A grilling by customs
Meanwhile, Montealegre introduced Martinez to Enrique Quiñónez, his candidate for vice mayor. She dedicated long hours at campaign headquarters, participated in marches and attended political events in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. She would bring back items and donations for his campaign.
“On my second trip back to Nicaragua, customs officials detained me,” she recalled.”They are all Sandinistas. I know, because I work at the airport, and I know how the Sandinista government is. When I came back with the caps and T-shirts, they knew I was working with Montealegre.”
Customs officials asked for Martinez’ passport and confiscated her suitcases. They began searching through her luggage and found campaign items, so they interrogated Martinez in a small office.
“They started to ask me questions like, ‘Who are the people supporting Montealegre in the U.S.? Give us names,'” she said. “They asked me if there were people from the U.S. in Nicaragua with Eduardo.”
But Martinez refused to answer their questions.
The customs officials said they would return her items in a week – after the election was over – and threatened to arrest her.
However, Martinez attempted to reach Montealegre and arrange for the press to come to the airport.
After overhearing the phone call, a customs official shouted, “Get out of my face with those f—ing boxes!”
“I cried when I got outside. It was really quite frightening,” she said.
A CPC torture list
On the night of Nov. 4, the CPCs fired a homemade mortar into Martinez’ mother’s home.
“My family hid under their beds,” she said. “It was because we were helping Montealegre. I was very afraid that these people were not going to just throw rocks because they are murderers.”
A neighbor told her mother that the CPCs had Martinez and her little sister’s name on a list.
The neighbor said, “This is not a game. This is serious. You need to protect your daughters, and you need to stop being part of this party.”
“She didn’t know if they were going to rape us or beat us,” Martinez said. “Other liberals know these guys aren’t kidding with their threats.”
Sandinistas wield machetes and wear T-shirts stating, “Love is stronger than hate.” (photo: La Prensa, 11/12/08)
As the election neared, campaign volunteers drove in caravans through the streets of Managua, distributing materials in support of Montealegre.
“Wherever we went, the Sandinistas were there,” Martinez recalled. “They were on every street.”
The CPCs fired mortars and threw rocks. One hit Martinez with a stick while a female volunteer fell out of their campaign truck, striking her head on the pavement.
“The police did not protect us,” Martinez said. “They stopped us so the CPCs could throw rocks. This was on TV.”
The next day, Martinez helped enforce security measures, passing out IDs so the campaign would allow only authorized persons into its headquarters.
An election ‘fraud’
Ballots cast on behalf of “Vamos Con Eduardo” reported to be scattered in a dump and river following municipal elections (photo: La Prensa, 11/11/08)
Nov. 9 was Election Day. Martinez and her family went to vote at 7 a.m.
“We told everyone that they needed to vote very early, because in the afternoon the Sandinistas were going to come, and things were going to fall apart,” she said.
During Nicaragua’s elections, it was estimated that one-third of the voting stations experienced irregularities. Some polling locations closed early, and observers were evicted. Martinez said voters’ names were listed next to booth numbers where they were to cast their ballots.
“There were a lot of people whose names were omitted from the lists,” Martinez revealed. “This is just part of what they do so people cannot vote, because the surveys said Eduardo Monteleagre was going to win. This was one of Ortega’s traps.”
The president banned independent election observers from monitoring the polls for the first time since 1990. Many say Ortega and Hugo Chavez are determined to consolidate Marxist power in the region. Martinez said television news reports revealed that Chavez had provided pens to mark the ballots.
“After two hours, the ink would disappear,” Martinez said. “I bought a lot of pens to give to people, and many brought their own.”
She spent the rest of the day at campaign headquarters, waiting for the election results.
“At 7 p.m., I was in Montealegre’s office,” she said. “A man named Lola was carrying some sheets of paper that he was going to turn over to Montealegre. Those sheets had the percentages of the votes Montealegre received in each district, and he had a higher percentage.”
Around that time, the Sandinistas began running through the streets shouting, “We won!”
“The Supreme Electoral Council had not even given out the first returns so we would know who was winning,” Martinez said.
Nicaragua newspaper La Prensa runs photos of destroyed ballots (photo: La Prensa, 11/11/08)
The council revealed the first returns at 10:40 p.m. on a local television station – declaring that the Sandinistas were ahead. But Montealegre’s carbon copies revealed different results, so he shared his information from each of the polling places with local reporters. He also called the president of the council, Roberto Rivas, to contest the alleged results.
“He told Rivas that what he was saying was a lie, and that Rivas should tell the truth about the percentages because Lola was getting proof from some of the polling places that showed Montealegre was the one winning,” Martinez said. “Before 1 a.m., the council put out another announcement saying the Sandinistas were winning.”
She said the Supreme Electoral Council had inverted the percentages – showing that results belonging to Montealegre were given to Ortega’s candidate, Argüello. At the campaign headquarters, a crowd grew impatient. People were saying they wanted to go out on the streets to defend their votes and reveal that the council’s declaration was fraudulent.
“But Montealegre said no,” Martinez said. “He had the proof in his hands, and he said he would show that we had won. He knew that if we went into the streets, it would be a disaster. He didn’t want bloodshed.”
Managuans defend their votes
Three days after the election, the people were still outraged, saying they would protest – with or without Montealegre.
“Almost all of Managua was in our headquarters,” Martinez said. “People were saying that all of Managua wants to protest to defend their vote and that what the council had done was a fraud.”
Montealegre tried to calm them, but he finally relented when they wouldn’t listen.
“We were shouting, ‘We’re not afraid,’ Dictatorship, no! Democracy, yes!’ We were telling people to come out of their homes and waving them into our crowd,” Martinez said.
Eduardo Montealegre stands in front of his supporters (photo: “Vamos Con Eduardo”)
After only two blocks, the Sandinistas were already waiting for them. The group was met with a shower of rocks, mortars and bullets.
“When I ran, I heard a gunshot. People were looking at me. I thought I got shot,” Martinez recalled as tears welled in her eyes.
“But when I turned around, I saw that a young man next to me was shot. They shot him in the back.”
She returned to campaign headquarters and prepared to join a protest outside the offices of the Supreme Electoral Council.
“Eduardo got a call, and he told us all to go back to our homes because he didn’t want anyone to be killed,” she said. “But people insisted that we go to the electoral council. So Eduardo continued, and we tried to get to the council. But the CPCs blockaded the streets, and we couldn’t go.”
That night, Martinez said Monteleagre’s assistant, Guadalupe, called to tell her that 300 CPCs were coming to set their headquarters on fire because they believed the proof of election results from the canvassing board was inside.
“There were many people with gunshot wounds,” she said. “The people inside the headquarters were about to jump a fence because the CPCs were inside. Guadalupe told me she believed they were going to burn her alive.”
The following day after the violence subsided, Montealegre spoke in an interview on a television station, addressing Daniel Ortega. He said the copies were not at his campaign offices and that he was keeping them safe at a bank. He then ordered 150 men to guard his headquarters.
Sandinistas fire mortars (photo: Latin American Herald Tribune)
“He sent a message to Daniel Ortega that he would carry on, showing the world and Nicaragua that there had been a fraud,” Martinez said. “That day, he was kidnapped. He couldn’t get out because the highways were blocked by the CPCs.”
She began forming a search party, but she called Montealegre and he said he’d escaped. Rather than leave the offices unprotected, she told the men to remain at headquarters.
On Nov. 18, many Managua residents marched in the streets. But Sandinistas barricaded the roads again.
“We were shouting that we were not afraid and that we would continue, even if they blocked the streets,” Martinez said. “I was always with Eduardo’s wife on top of a truck, yelling, ‘Where’s my vote?'”
The CPCs were firing mortars, and the police pulled Montealegre from the crowd.
“Everyone around us was afraid because the CPCs said no one would come out of there alive,” Martinez said.
A narrow escape
Home displays red and black FSLN flag
Martinez removed her campaign hat, ID and camera and stuffed them into her backpack. She began walking to her friend’s house, because the Sandinista attacks on her own home became too dangerous to bear.
After two blocks, she spotted CPCs staring at her.
“I know who she is,” one said. “She’s one of his.”
She began to walk faster.
“I couldn’t feel my feet,” Martinez said. “I was waiting to be shot or to be hit by a mortar.”
She overheard one say, “Let’s kill her.”
“The first thing that came to my mind was my family. I felt that I was never going to see them again,” Martinez said, her voice quivering. “First, I asked God to forgive my sins and I kept walking. I asked God to protect me. They had photographs; they had names. They knew who I was. I was surrounded and in my mind, I was clinging to God.”
Just then, two older men grabbed her by the arms.
“They told me they were going to rape me,” she said, her voice trembling as her eyes filled with tears. “There were some woods nearby, and I thought they were going to put me in there and cover my body. They told me not to scream.”
One of the men let go of her arm to respond to orders issued on his walkie-talkie. She immediately pulled away and began running.
“I don’t know how, only God knows, how I got loose,” she said. “I ran, and they followed me, throwing rocks.”
Martinez saw a house with an open door and a man who appeared to be leaving for work. Without asking for permission, she ran into his house. The CPCs did not follow her inside.
Martinez begged a woman inside for a T-shirt. She gave her one and escorted her out another door in the house.
“I walked past other CPCs on my way to my friend’s house, and thank God they didn’t do anything to me,” she said. “I walked past them as they destroyed a vehicle from Channel 2.”
The following is a video of Sandinista attacks on Nov. 18 – just blocks from where she was captured.
Battling for U.S. asylum
Martinez came to the United States in December to seek asylum. She is terrified that if she returns to Nicaragua, the Sandinistas will recognize and harm her. Her mother and sisters fled to Guatemala.
Martinez was given a hearing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She waited three hours to tell her story. Martinez offered several original photographs, her testimony, media reports, film footage and her campaign ID, but she said officials failed to express interest in her evidence.
“Honestly, it was the first time in my life that I was in the judgment seat,” she said. “For me, it was very hard.”
On March 17, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent her a notice of intent to deny her request for asylum. The letter, signed by George S. Mihalko, director of the Los Angeles asylum office, stated that her testimony “was found not credible,” because it was “vague and incoherent” concerning her activities with “Vamos con Eduardo.”
The agency’s note included puzzling statements such as, “You were unable to provide any other reasons why Eduardo would want to harm you.”
Auxiliadora Martinez (photo: WND / Chelsea Schilling)
But Martinez said she never suggested that Montealegre would hurt her. She said she is concerned that Ortega and the Sandinistas would attack her.
The letter continues, “Your vague testimony is material to your claim because it casts doubt on whether you ever participated in this demonstration or that you were ever a leader in Eduardo’s campaign organization as claimed.”
Martinez said she was baffled at this comment, because she presented her campaign ID, numerous photos, campaign T-shirts and even offered film footage that shows her with Montealegre and Quiñónez.
The note also said she failed to establish that she had almost been raped or killed by the CPCs on Nov. 18.
“USCIS has found that you are not eligible for asylum status in the United States,” it said. The office has given her only 16 days to submit a rebuttal.
Martinez sent a letter March 21 with a Channel 2 video of the Nov. 18 protest. In the footage, she is shown standing with the Montealegre family. She presented two more videos – including one she recorded at the march where a CPC mob is shown surrounding them.
Montealegre and Quiñónez have spoken with Martinez in recent weeks and have offered to help document her case. As the men are under enormous pressure, Martinez said she is deeply concerned that she will not be given a fair chance for asylum in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the United States Agency for International Development has given Nicaragua $1.4 billion for health, education, infrastructure, environmental protection, small businesses and democracy building, the Miami Herald reported. The U.S. has also forgiven $500 million in Nicaraguan debts; however, it recently froze $175 million in foreign aid following reports of the municipal election fraud.
Asked what would happen if she ever returned to Nicaragua, Martinez wiped away tears now streaming down her face.
“If I go back to my country, first, I will be raped,” she said. “Secondly, they will throw me in jail and say I am bringing drugs – or they will kill me.”
Concerned individuals may contact George Mihalko, director of the Los Angeles Asylum Office at (714) 808-8000, fax (714)635-8707, attention: Duty Officer Charles Phillips and Director George Mihalko, or write to: 1585 South Manchester Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92802. Include case reference number A89898056