After 45 years of toiling as an entrepreneur to develop a successful chain of family-owned hardware stores in Estelí, Roberto Moncada, 69, watched in horror as all he has worked for his entire life seemed to come crashing down around him last Sunday morning.
For reasons still unknown to him, Moncada, the longtime president of Estelí’s Chamber of Commerce, was targeted by Nicaraguan Police as part of a series of weekend raids on more than 30 homes and businesses in Nicaragua’s “second city.” The raid on Moncada’s home, which he qualifies as “illegal, arrogant, and in complete violation of human rights,” was done without any judicial order or explanation by police.
“The police had no court order and did not explain what they were doing when they raided my house,” Moncada told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview this afternoon, a day after getting released from jail. “They took over my house and ordered my whole family to sit in the living room while they went from room to room; no one was allowed to use the bathroom and my daughter wasn’t even allowed to feed her baby, which made me really angry.”
Moncada, whose family owns and runs three “Moncada Nicaragua” hardware stores in Estelí, says he tried to explain to police that they had the wrong house and the wrong guy. But they wouldn’t listen to him. The officers then became surly when Moncada told them he knew his rights.
“They were totally arrogant,” Moncada says.
After boxing up all his paperwork and personal files from his home office, the police confiscated $6,500 in cash—the weekly profits from one of his hardware stores, which Moncada says his wife was keeping in the house to deposit in the bank on Monday.
“As the officers were leading me out of the house, one of them—in a mocking tone—gave my wife six cordobas ($.24)and told her to go get something to eat,” Moncada says.
Moncada was taken downtown to the police station and put in a holding cell, without charges or explanation. He was soon joined by other local businessmen who had also been swept up by police.
Moncada also learned that his farm had been raided as part of the operation.
“At my quinta in Santa Cruz, the officers held the wife of my caretaker up against the wall— and then they went into the kitchen and ate all the food that she had prepared for the day; it was totally undignified,” Moncada says.
By late Sunday night, the Sandinista mayor of Estelí intervened on behalf of Moncada and the other detainees and called President Daniel Ortega to tell him what was happening. Ortega reportedly called the chief of police and ordered Moncada and the others to be released immediately.
“I was let out of jail and given all my personal effects,” Moncada says. “The police hadn’t even opened any of the boxes or looked at any of the documents they had confiscated from my house.”
All 12 people who were arrested in Sunday’s police raids were freed late Sunday night and Monday morning. The spokesman for the National Police says all the suspects were picked up for routine questioning as part of the police’s ongoing efforts to provide citizen security.
Moncada, who has already received a personal phone call from Police Commissioner Aminta Granera asking for his forgiveness, says the Estelí Chamber of Commerce supports the police’s work to provide security and public safety in Nicaragua. But he says the police really botched this one.
“For a major operation like this, the police should first make sure they have some real information to act on,” Moncada says. “But this was done all wrong. It was an abuse of authority.”
The problem, the businessman says, is that the Managua police officers sent to Estelí to conduct the raids showed complete distain for everyone involved.
“They think we are so stupid that all our money must come from selling drugs,” Moncada says. “They think that if we have any money, or if we are seen driving a new car, it must mean that we are dealing in illegal drugs because we’re too stupid to make money legitimately through a successful business.”
“Well they were wrong about me,” Moncada said. “I have been working in business all my life, and I’ve never had a problem with the law before. I am very well known and respected here in town.”
Estelí, Moncada says, has worked hard to become known as “Nicaragua’s second city” for its rapid economic development in recent years. He says the city, considered the economic capital of the north, is full of honest, hard-working people who are trying to bring progress, development and investment to their city.
The businessman says the Estelí Chamber of Commerce met today to discuss the situation is going to demand a public apology from the National Police.
“The police are obligated to go after organized crime—that’s their job and we are totally supportive of that,” Moncada said. “But we are trying to create a business climate for investment and growth in Estelí, and they just threw our reputation on the ground.”