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110 Women Freed in Nicaragua

May 31, 2000

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ A third of Nicaragua’s female prisoners walked free Tuesday in a bizarre amnesty enacted by Congress in honor of Mother’s Day _ celebrated here on May 30.

The amnesty covered about 110 of the 300 women in Nicaraguan prisons, including many convicted of murder, peddling drugs and theft.

During their last night at a women’s prison outside Managua, a mariachi band serenaded the jubilant prisoners from outside their cells. On Tuesday, the somber prison turned into a festive dance hall as the prisoners celebrated their new-found freedom with live music.

First lady Maria Fernanda de Aleman bid them farewell, passing out clothes and other household items to help them start their lives again.

``I’m going straight home to see my kids,″ said Sheila Marquez, a mother of four who served one year of a five-year sentence for allowing drugs to be sold out of her home. ``One of them has been acting up and becoming more rebellious since this happened.″

Others headed straight to the Metropolitan Cathedral to thank God.

``We are sure that they will never commit crime again,″ said congressman Nelson Artola, president of the congressional human rights commission.

Artola said most of the women were ``victims of a society that gave them no options.″

``We gave them their freedom because most were pushed toward crime by poverty and unemployment,″ Artola said.

Of the country’s 6,000 prisoners, about 300 were women, the majority single mothers, Artola said.

The Congress denied the amnesty to the remaining women based on the seriousness of their crimes and their behavior.

Maria Eugenia Espinoza, 33, has served seven years for murder, but was told she must complete her 12-year sentence. Cruz Angelina Gamez Hernandez, a 36-year-old mother of five, will remain in prison awaiting trial on charges of stealing a pig.

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