Nicaraguan opposition leader and former political prisoner, targeted by the government on false criminal charges, Félix Maradiaga, is presented with the 2023 Courage Award at the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for his remarks.
This is somewhat surreal. 90 days ago, I was in a very dark place. And if someone at that time – if I could have spoken to someone who mentioned that I was going to be here and see the gorgeous, beautiful smile of my wife, the love of my life Berta, and to see also the courageous presence of my friends from Cuba, from Russia, from Venezuela, from Zimbabwe, who are also my inspiration, it would be very hard for me to believe.
I express my deepest gratitude to the Geneva Summit and its partner organizations. I am honoured to accept this invaluable opportunity, not this award in particular, but the opportunity to have this global platform to continue to advocate for the freedom of the country I love, Nicaragua.
This is an award that belongs to those Nicaraguans who live in a huge prison. Those Nicaraguans without a voice. Those Nicaraguans who only are asking for the protection of basic human rights and human dignity. So this award not only recognizes the struggle for freedom in my own nation, but amplifies the voices of the silenced.
I see that empty chair over there. I invite you to see that chair for a second. And it reminds me that the most important person in this room is each and every one of the activists, of the human rights defenders, of my own Bishop for my Diocese Monseñor Rolando Álvarez. That empty chair reminds us the real reason why we’re here, why we speak, why we fight, and why we believe.
Also, this award sends a message of solidarity and hope to the families of political prisoners. It sends a message to people like Evgenia Kara-Murza that reminds me of my wife. I did not of course have any opportunity to see the relentless work of Berta for example. So when I see other wives, brothers, sons, advocating for the freedom of their family members, it gives me inspiration. This award also belongs to them. It belongs to the family members of those in prison in Nicaragua, who stood outside of the prisons every single day with a bottle of drinking water because we were not allowed to have drinking water inside our cells. So families were asked to be there every single day for that quart of water that we have for those 24 hours despite the humiliation of my sister, of the family members that went to El Chipote every single day. And this happens in many prisons in China. It happens in Cuba. It happens in Venezuela. So this award also belongs to them.
As someone who has experienced imprisonment firsthand, I can testify that even in darkness, a ray of light can be ignited. With the strength of love to enforce it with supported hands worldwide, this transformation becomes achievable. This moment is significant coming after my personal ordeal. I was arbitrarily arrested, confined in a dehumanizing prison under conditions I am not yet prepared to speak publicly. But one thing I would say, they tried to break our soul and they did not achieve that. I went back because that was the right thing to do. And I will go back to Nicaragua because that’s the right thing to do.
Since April 2018, Ortega and Murillo have dismantled all civic and political rights. They have shut down 20 universities, 3,150 nonprofit organizations, charity organizations, including the Red Cross of Nicaragua. They absorbed and confiscated their assets.
I was here in 2019 and I’d like to share the same message. We know better. We speak truth to power. They may have the weapons. They may have the mechanisms of torture. They may have their propaganda, but we have love. We have compassion. We have a deep commitment to human dignity and history shows that we know better and we will achieve our objectives.
Do not lose faith. Do not let anyone tell you that it is not possible to free Vladimir Kara-Murza. Do not let anyone know that it’s not possible to release our dear barefoot lawyer from China. Do not let anyone tell you that it’s not possible to walk in full freedom in Hong Kong, in Venezuela, in Cuba, in Afghanistan. All these girls in Afghanistan also need to know that there are other people talking about them over here and we will see these videos. And we will see freedom in Zimbabwe as well. We will see freedom in every corner of the world where basic human principles are almost a dream. But dreams are possible when we unite.
Resilience and unity of human spirit are possible. Together, we can triumph over repression and we can advocate for the freedom of those who are unjustly in prison. Because tyrants utilize arbitrary imprisonment as a weapon to divide and demoralize. By imprisoning opponents, they do something that is terrible. They deviate, they distract the political causes. Once someone is arbitrarily detained, the entire family goes through tremendous suffering. That’s what they want. They want to distract us. Because it is important to free those prisoners. But there are entire countries that function as a prison. So the greater objective is to free Cuba, is to free Nicaragua, is to free Venezuela, and to have also the despicable plans of Putin against Ukraine stopped. Because that’s also a struggle for all of us. When someone kills a man, he kills humanity, so we are all united in that same cause.
So I am proposing here an international convention that declares imprisonment of innocent people for expressing ideas, political opinions, faith, religions, or belonging to a group, for example, as a crime against humanity. I thank those organizations that have accepted this challenge. We need a new treaty, and we need to tell the United Nations that they are not doing their job. We need to tell them that. Tyrannies need to be treated as tyrannies. They are not democracies. The infrastructure of the international community is built to deal with democracies. Dictatorships have to be treated with whole new mechanisms.
Before I say goodbye, I need to also acknowledge people like Victoria Cárdenas, the wife of another political prisoner who was also with Berta. Once again, love of my life, amor de mi vida. Thank you for your love, for your compassion, for your faith. And let me tell you, to every single family member here, you will see your loved ones released with your support. Let us envision a future where fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld. Together, let us band and banish the darkness of injustice. We will see Monseñor Rolando Álvarez, nuestro pastor también libre.
Que Señor les bendiga. Thank you very much.
15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, U.N. Opening, Tuesday, May 16, 2023