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Vigil honors American imprisoned in Nicaragua | Congressman Smith gets involved
Family and church members gathered Sunday for a candlelight vigil in support of Jason Puracal, who has spent 285 days in a Nicaraguan prison on drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering charges — all of which are believed to be false charges.
The Aug. 21 ceremony, held at the Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church in Des Moines, was marked by songs and remembrances of Puracal before his imprisonment.
Puracal, originally of Tacoma, was living in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, as owner of a RE/MAX franchise in the small coastal town. On Nov. 11, 2010, Nicaraguan police showed up at Puracal’s office wearing masks and carrying AK rifles, according to FreeJasonP.com. The police raided the office and seized all computers and files.
Following the raid of Puracal’s office, the Nicaraguan police then “went to Jason’s house, wearing the same masks and carrying the same AKs. The police forced their way into the house without a warrant while Jason’s 65-year-old mother and 4-year-old son were sleeping. The police searched Jason’s office, house and truck and found not evidence of any crime,” according to the website.
The flimsiness of the charges against Puracal has even drawn in U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-District 9), who released a statement in May regarding Puracal’s plight.
“I am very concerned about the son of one of my constituents, an American citizen, who is currently being held in a Nicaraguan prison... In the nearly six months Mr. Puracal has been behind bars, the Nicaraguan authorities have presented no evidence linking him to any crime. There are also disturbing reports of Mr. Puracal being mistreated and denied medical care while in jail.”
Smith’s statement touched on the troubled history between America and Nicaragua when it comes to Americans imprisoned in the Central American country, referring to a 2007 murder case involving an American. It took the intervention of then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to extricate the American out of Nicaragua, something Smith’s office hopes can help Puracal.
“More attention from the U.S. government may be the only way to prevent this continued injustice,” Smith said in his statement.
The outlook appears to be grim for Puracal, according to sister Janis.
“We are in our third week of trial now, and the judge has essentially struck the entire defense case before the trial has started,” she said in an interview before the Aug. 21 candlelight vigil. “We’ve worked very hard over the last nine months to put this defense together, and (the judge) summarily just said it was irrelevant and didn’t want to hear it. So that’s been a particularly harmful blow to the defense team.”
She said the case the defense put together against Puracal was a strong one, and indicative of the lack of a case for the prosecution, which made an odd request earlier in the trial.
“At one point the prosecution was actually so upset about the defense’s questions of prosecution’s witnesses, that the prosecution actually asked the judge to delete the records. They didn’t want that on the record,” she said.
The family has been in constant contact with Smith’s office, updating his staff once or twice a week about what’s going on in the case. The family is having a hard time understanding the reluctance of the State Department to intervene, especially since there is a precedent, such as the 2007 case Smith referenced.
Puracal’s sister Jamie Puracal just wants people to know that her brother is a good man, she said.
“Jason isn’t just some guy. He’s our brother. He’s a son and a father and a husband,” she said. “If it could happen to him, it could really happy to anyone.”
At the candlelight vigil, sister Jamie Puracal shared an illuminating story of the kind of spirit that characterizes her brother. She explained that her brother and his new family had come north to introduce his son, Jabu, to their parents.
“They decided to come up to introduce Jabu to Jabu’s grandmother and grandfather,” she said. “I believe they had told our mother, but hadn’t yet told our father they were coming to visit. Janis (Jason and Jamie’s sister) drove them to our father’s house where he was living at the time. They set the baby carriage on the doorstep, knocked on the door and then ran and hid around the corner.”
Her father looked out the window, and not seeing anyone at the door, went back to his business inside the house, Jamie said. But Jason was not to be deterred.
“So Jason comes back out, knocks on the door and runs away again. My dad’s door had a front door and a screen door...So he opens the front door, but leaves the screen door closed and sees a baby sitting on his doorstep. And he starts yelling, ‘This one’s not mine, this one’s not mine!’ And then Jason comes running up and surprises him with his grandson,” she said to a round of laughter.
“We’d just like to tell Jason we can’t wait for the next time until he comes out and surprises us again,” Jaime added.
Martin Turney also shared a story of Jason’s zest for surprising those he loved. Turney said he and his wife were taking a trip to visit Jason and his wife, Scarleth, in Nicaragua. They ended up having a layover in Texas, when Turney found himself being accosted.
“I’m walking through the airport and some guy jumps on me, and I’m freaking out, and it’s Jason and Scarleth,” he said. “I asked ‘What are you doing here?’ and he said, ‘It’s all right, I figured it out, we’re on the same plane.’ That’s Jason. He loves to do that stuff. I hope to see him soon.”
Jason’s mother, Daisy, attended the vigil. She spoke briefly about her hope on what the vigil could mean for Jason and her family.
“2,000 years ago, a man was executed for treason. It was 2,000 years ago, and today the same thing is happening. What does this say about mankind? We need to change our consciousness. This is what I’d like this candle to represent.”