Jason Puracal is in a rough spot.
The Tacoma native, who was recently convicted in a Nicaraguan court of drug trafficking and money laundering, is either the fall-guy for the U.S. and its decades of intrigue against the Sandinistas, or else he is a very lousy and unlucky criminal.
At the moment, given the desperate nature of his situation, the reason hardly seems to matter.
Currently, Puracal is living in a tiny cell inhabited by other poor unfortunate souls, scores of rats, and what has been described as some very aggressive sex offenders. Few crimes, if indeed he committed any, warrant this type of inhumane circumstances. And if the reports of such conditions are true then the Nicaraguans are miles away from declaring their country the socialist paradise the Sandinistas claim it to be.
Previous reports detail Puracal’s arrival in Nicaragua as a young Peace Corps worker, his decision to stay and marry, and his subsequent arrest. The Trib story (8/30) details his conviction and the discussion of a possible appeal.
It’s extremely difficult to judge the nature of the charges against Puracal, mostly because the criminal justice system in Nicaragua has been hostile towards foreign (i.e. American) press. From the outside looking in, the system itself seems to be little more than a political tool the current ruling party.
If we are to believe Puracal’s mother, a distinguished physician with extensive roots in the Tacoma community, then Puracal’s trial was adjudicated by a 29-year-old judge with no legal training, a prosecution that offered no evidence, amidst an anti-American sentiment propelled by a Sandinista government with a vendetta against the U.S. dating back to 1984.
Most of us over forty would have a dim recollection of that period, including the Iran-Contra affair. The details, of course, are fuzzy for most of us (including President Reagan just a short time later). But a young man, who was five when such events first unfolded, appears to be paying the price for American intervention.
Whether or not Josh Puracal is truly guilty of the crimes of which he’s been convicted–and I truly want to believe that he is not–his treatment and his future are both inhumane and bleak. This was far from the life he thought awaited him in the lush Central American country, and recognizing the disparity in justice between our two countries has been a punishing lesson to learn.
But it is a lesson other Americans, such as Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal who were arrested while hiking on the Iranian border, have learned.
At certain times and in certain places, it’s a crime to be an American.