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Family asks UN to help free former Peace Corps volunteer jailed in Nicaragua

Of the 725 US citizens in jail abroad, more than half are behind bars in Latin America. Jason Puracal was imprisoned in November 2010, and his family says the US hasn't done enough in his case.

By Tim RogersCorrespondent / April 20, 2012



Managua, Nicaragua

After 18 months of watching her brother languish in a Nicaraguan prison cell on what many say are questionable drug charges, Janis Puracal, the younger sister and legal representative of Jason Puracal, is pulling out all the stops for his release.

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Last week, Mr. Puracal’s legal team alleged Jason is being “slowly starved to death by the Government of Nicaragua” and subject to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, if not torture,” in a petition filed with the United Nations’s Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The family's petition to the UN is the latest move in a case that is quickly turning into an international offensive against Nicaragua’s judicial and penitentiary systems.

The defense claims that Puracal – who stayed in Nicaragua after his 2-years of Peace Corps service to sell beach real estate for Remax, get married, and start a family – was wrongfully convicted of international money laundering, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Puracal, who was convicted last August along with 10 Nicaraguans, was allegedly involved in “national and international transactions using a great amount of money without justification to buy and sell property, especially in the departments of Rivas and Granada,” according to state prosecutors. The defense claims there’s nothing illegal about that – it’s just what realtors do.

The combination of charges landed the 35-year-old Seattle native behind bars for 22 years, with no set date for an appeal hearing.

“This has been a railroad job,” says Janis Puracal, who was in Nicaragua this week to visit her brother in jail and try to push his case forward. “This is so clear to everyone, and still Jason is dying in prison. That is the frustrating part to me; I don’t know how much more I need to do to convince people that Jason needs to go home.”

Mr. Puracal is not the only American to get into trouble in the tropics. Of the 725 US citizens in jail overseas, more than half, 393, are behind bars in Latin America, according to the State Department’s most recent statistics. That number could be much higher, since not everyone informs the US consulate when they’ve been arrested abroad.

Some believe “Uncle Sam” can swoop in and save them when they’re caught up in foreign mischief, but the US consulate’s role is decidedly less Hollywood.

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