In November 2006, a beautiful young Nicaraguan named Doris Jiménez was found raped and murdered inside a tiny clothing store she owned in the idyllic town of San Juan del Sur. Despite powerful evidence that several local men were involved, police focused on a much higher-profile suspect: Jiménez's ex-boyfriend, an American named Eric Volz.
Volz, who published and edited a successful bi-lingual magazine in Managua, had phone records, ATM receipts, and eyewitness accounts proving he was in the capital city at the time of Jiménez's murder.
Yet he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, based largely on the testimony of a local man whom police initially pegged as the murderer.
Volz's story isn't just a heart-breaking, pulse-pounding tale of murder and police corruption -- it gets to the heart of Nicaraguan life under strongman Daniel Ortega, who ascended back to power just weeks after Jiménez's death and saw Volz's case as a political asset.
Volz was released from prison in December 2007 after heavy lobbying from the United States, and now he has a new book about his case, called Gringo Nightmare.
He'll speak at Books & Books in Coral Gables tonight at 8. Click through for a Q&A with Volz about his book, his case, and Nicaragua's problems under Ortega.
New Times: Why did you write this book?
Volz: A lot of people have asked, "Why not walk away and just get along with your life?" I understand that question. I probably would have if not for some specific things. First, there are very good people [in Nicaragua] who helped me. People who just did their jobs, and they received death threats. These were people who didn't even side with me, they were just upholding the law. That's why I decided to go on the news when I was released, to spotlight corruption in Nicaragua and to help those who helped me.
There's also the matter of the government recently reopening your case.
The Nicaraguan government has brought back this case illegally. Again, some people say, "Who cares if you're wanted in Nicaragua?" But that's a really serious thing. I could never travel to Nicaraguan-friendly countries while the case is open. There's the risk of Interpol picking me up. What if I want to become a doctor and there's a conference in Cancun? Or if I want to become an attorney for human rights. Would you hire him? There are 10 others with my same credentials and I'm wanted for murder in Nicaragua.
In a way, you've also completely redone the detective work in your case in this book to show how flawed the process was.
Doris' murder is still unsolved. At the heart of the story is how violence against women goes uninvestigated in Nicaragua. This morning, me and my human rights attorneys took a letter to the Nicaraguan consulate and a copy of this book. My attorney in DC took one to the Nicaraguan general consulate. The letter essentially requests that they make use of the information in our book to reopen the investigation into Doris' murder. So in that sense, it really felt like in some ways I was obligated to write this. The majority opinion in the U.S. is that I am innocent man framed. The majority in Nicaragua is that I'm guilty and somehow escaped. There's only one truth. The book is designed to clarify that misunderstanding.
How much of a role did politics and Daniel Ortega's regime play in keeping you in prison?
At the heart of this crisis is Daniel Ortega's efforts to stay in power, even if that means sacrificing the principals his revolution helped plant 20 years ago. Ortega is a dictator. Radio stations have been burned. Opposition leaders have been jailed and threatened. Investors have had their property seized and stolen. He meets all the requirements of leading in an authoritarian way. Ultimately, people won't stand for it. The international community continues to not have any trust in him as a leader. That hurts the economy.
Why did Ortega feel keeping you in prison helped him politically?
Whenever you have something that's a symbolic case like this in the news, where an American supposedly murders a local Nicaraguan, a politician like Ortega says, "Can this be used advantageously some way?" He tirelessly campaigned for 16 years to be president again. Then two weeks before he takes over, my case happens. It immediately became the main bilateral case between the U.S. and Nicaragua. You have an American in jail becoming the first point of contention between Ortega and the U.S. in 16 years. There were a lot of circumstantial hints suggesting I was being used as a diplomatic piece to consolidate his power, to cement his reputation that he was the same man he was in the '80s, and to curry favor with other allies in the region.
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So why did he release me? It got too big for him. World news was covering this, my mother was down there, and his own courts declared me released. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on TV demanding my release. He wouldn't release me at first, and for a week I was a political hostage. But one of the things people don't realize is that when a government official like the secretary of state goes on TV to make an assertive demand like that, there are dozens of highly placed telephone calls going on behind the scenes.
Miami has a large Nicaraguan community. Did it play a role in helping win your release?
We received a lot of support from the Nicaraguan-Americans in Miami. The exile community in Miami mostly fled in the '80s, so they're not supporters of Ortega's decision-making.