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Latin America

Two American cousins "kidnapped" for three days by paramilitaries in Nicaragua, relatives say

Kevin Zeledon, 25, and Lester Treminio, 27, were detained last Saturday in Matiguás. According to their family, they were snatched after masked paramilitaries broke down the door to their house. They were released Monday afternoon.
9 Jul 2018 – 7:11 PM EDT

Two American cousins of Nicaraguan origin, Kevin Zeledon, 25, and Lester Treminio, 27, spent three days in a Nicaraguan prison after being kidnapped by progovernment paramilitaries, according to their family.

The nightmare began last Saturday at 8am after paramilitaries entered the house of Zeledon's parents in the town of Matigúas, in the department of Matagalpa.

"They beat them, threw them to the floor, I didn't know what to do," says Zeledon's girlfriend Marlin Diaz, 22, who was also in the house. According to her story, about 20 hooded men armed to the teeth arrived in two vans and burst into the house, smashing the doors. Along with the two young people born in the United States, Diaz's brother was also taken away, although he was later released.

"They entered violently, breaking the security cameras and the doors, they left a mess and took the real ones," she said, noting that the paramilitaries also stole 100,000 córdobas (more than $3,000); proceeds of a family cheese business.

According to the family, after being arrested, they were taken to the Matiguás police station and then to a jail in Matagalpa, the capital of the department, though authorities have not informed them what they are accused of.

They were held naked, beaten and tortured, relatives say. "My brother watched Kevin get kicked in the stomach and they made him urinate on himself," said Díaz, who feared for her boyfriend's health after he had a bad motorcycle accident two years ago.

The arrest of the youths occured this weekend in an area of Matagalpa that has seen a heavy presence of paramilitaries and riot police, tasked with removing barricades and demonstrators.

After the 'clean up', a 'witch hunt'

Both Zeledon's girlfriend and Treminio's wife traveled to Matagalpa, worried by rumors the men would be charged with possession of weapons, an accusation they vehemently reject.

Omar Castellón, representative in Matagalpa of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), confirmed to Univision that the youths were among nine detainees over the weekend in Matiguás and blamed those arrests on a 'witch hunt' undertaken by pro-governmemnt groups.

On Friday, Sandinista loyalists cleared road blocks and begun hunting down anyone involved in erecting them. The government of Daniel Ortega has made a priority of removing the road blocks, one of the main weapons of the oppositon.

But Diaz says that neither her boyfriend nor his cousin participated in the road blocks or anti-government protests because they were afraid of possible repercussions that might hurt their cheese business.

Families in Austin, pending the outcome of the case

She contacted the Catholic Church and the United States embassy to seek help.

Univision News contacted the US embassy in Managua, which confirmed that it was aware of the reports of the detention of U.S citizens in Matagalpa and acknowledged its obligation to assist them, but did not give further details of the case due to "privacy considerations."

Born to Nicaraguan parents in Miami, Kevin Zeledon moved to Nicaragua three years ago to work on the family farm and there he met his girlfriend. Lester Treminio was born in Austin and went to live last year in the country of origin of his parents after meeting his wife. Once there, he started working with his cousin.

According to the story of Esther Judith Zeledon, Kevin's sister, his parents travel a lot to Nicaragua to visit his farm and in May, soon after the political crisis erupted, they visited the Central American country to try and persuade him to return.

But the young man did not want to do it because his girlfriend did not have the necessary documents to live in the United States. "This Friday we wanted to travel to Managua to get the papers to travel to the United States, but we didn't go because we were warned the situation (in Managua) wasn't good," says Díaz.

But the problems reached them anyway. "They supposedly they came looking for weapons because they believe my family are terrorists. If someone is not with them, they consider them terrorists," lamented Zeledon's sister. Meanwhile, his family is still awaiting the fate of his relatives thousands of miles away.