Family Seeks Justice

// Congressman demands release of Tacoman imprisoned in Nicaragua

The family of a former Tacoma resident who is being held prisoner in Nicaragua is building political support in their efforts to help him.

Jason Puracal has lived in Nicaragua since 2002. Upon graduating from the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with majors in economics and zoology, Puracal considered going to veterinary school.

Instead he joined the Peace Corps, hoping it would offer opportunities to work in the field of animal husbandry. He ended up doing other work in a small town in the Central American nation that lacked electricity and running water. Despite the hardships, Puracal loved the people.

After serving two years in the Peace Corps, he decided to stay in Nicaragua. He met a Nicaraguan woman, Scarleth Flores Puracal. They married and have a 4-year-old son.

The couple settled down in San Juan del Sur, a beach town that served as the location for the CBS television show “Survivor Nicaragua.” He worked as a real estate broker for a Re/Max franchise. Eventually the owner sold the franchise to Puracal and two other Americans.

His happy life took an unexpected turn on Nov. 11, 2010. His mother, a doctor from Tacoma, was visiting him and was at the house with her grandson. Officers with Nicaragua’s national police entered the house wearing masks and brandishing AK/47 rifles.

The police held Puracal’s mother and son for six hours while they searched the house. According to his sister Janis Puracal, who lives in Seattle, they found nothing illegal. They then went to his office, where they arrested him and confiscated computers.

Puracal and 10 other men, none of whom he knew, were taken to a maximum-security prison outside the capital city of Managua.

Nicaraguan authorities claim Puracal was engaged in drug trafficking. Janis Puracal and her sister went to the American embassy in Nicaragua. They learned their brother and the other 10 men were being shifted around to various prisons on a regular basis.

Upon their return to the United States, they contacted members of our state’s congressional delegation. U.S. Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Tacoma, took a strong interest in the situation. He held a meeting with Janis Puracal and her mother.

“I have been in touch with his staff on a daily basis,” she said.

Janis Puracal said police did not find any drugs in her brother’s home or office.

“We have no idea why this is happening,” she remarked.

Family members say Puracal is being denied food, water and medical care. They communicate with him through his defense lawyer, and through relatives in Nicaragua who are allowed to visit him twice a month and bring him food and water.

On June 3 Smith spoke at a press conference in front of the federal courthouse, along with Puracal’s mother and sisters. About 50 supporters gathered to hear them. Smith said Nicaragua has a history of detaining foreigners without providing legitimate evidence they have committed a crime. Smith said his office has contacted the U.S. State Department seeking to improve Puracal’s treatment while incarcerated.

“Their system feels like they can use these people as pawns to get what they want,” Janis Puracal remarked.

She said Nicaragua benefits from a fund that receives foreign aid from the United States.

“We are certainly hoping the U.S. officials will withdraw that support.”

She would also like our government to refuse to issue visas to Nicaraguan government officials.

Puracal’s trial was supposed to have begun on June 15. That morning his relatives were informed it was postponed. This is the fourth time this has occurred.

Janis Puracal said family and friends have been very supportive. Complete strangers from around the nation have heard of her brother’s plight.

“They have sent their prayers, support and love. It has been amazing,” she said.

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