Doing Wall Time
When Home Becomes Prison
It is a quiet, rainy day and I am counting the walls in my home. I’m up to 13. It’s an act of solidarity for an acquaintance of mine, Cristiana Chamorro, who was sentenced to eight years of strict home confinement earlier this year by Nicaragua’s authoritarian government.
Maybe you’ve heard of Cristiana? She is the 68-year-old daughter of the former Nicaraguan president, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Her father, Pedro Chamorro, was editor of Nicaragua’s leading independent newspaper La Prensa up until his assassination in 1978.
The mother of two and a grandmother, Cristiana is also an esteemed journalist, philanthropist, and free press advocate who was expected to challenge—and beat – Nicaragua’s autocratic leader, Daniel Ortega, in the country’s November ’21 presidential election. But then, with just five months to go, in June 2021 Cristiana was detained at home on trumped up charges that the nonprofit she headed—one that advanced free press—had laundered money etc., etc. etc.
At the show trial that followed months later, Cristiana and a handful of other opposition leaders, including her brother, Pedro Joaquín, were found guilty of similarly convenient crimes against the State of Nicaragua. Pedro went to prison and Cristiana was sent home, to serve her sentence of eight years in isolation, effectively banned from ever running or holding office.
I visited Cristiana’s home some six years ago with my family so it’s possible to picture her there now, maybe seated in her living room or standing outside on the veranda. Like Cristiana, the home is stately, without pretension. Passed down through generations, its interior spaces echo the heartbeat of generations.
Perched upon a forested hill above Managua, it overlooks massive tree canopies that dot the view like giant green umbrellas. Gaps in the foliage reveal the buildings and streets of the capital city visible but no longer accessible to Cristiana.
Like Tantalus, the mythical Greek hero whose punishment by the Gods was to stand all day in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree unable to enjoy either, I imagine Cristiana, standing on her veranda, made to long for what she cannot have.
Humankind doesn’t do well in prolonged isolation.
For Cristiana’s sake, I hope she is allowed visitors. Typically, in situations like hers, visitation rights are often strictly controlled and rarely guaranteed. A widow, Cristiana lost her husband and life-long partner, Antonio Lacayo in a helicopter crash in 2015.
I met Antonio at a luncheon he and Cristiana hosted for our family at their home in Managua six months prior to his death. An easy, vibrant conversationalist, Antonio served John and me iced cold rum drinks while he spoke to our kids hopefully of the future.
I want to believe that somewhere within the walls of Cristiana’s house is Antonio’s buoyant spirit, urging her, on behalf of all Nicaraguans, toward the New Year and a better future.