MANAGUA – Nicaraguan police have arrested 10 suspects in connection with the deaths of 44 people who drank sugarcane liquor containing methanol, according to National Police Public Affairs Chief Alonso Sevilla.
The suspected head of the operation, identified as José Angel Rodríguez, was arrested along with nine other suspects.
The men have been charged by prosecutors in León, west of Managua, with robbery and illegal distribution and sale of the poisonous liquor.
Police believe four other people connected to the poisonings have fled to Honduras, and international police agency Interpol has been asked to help capture them.
Civil Defense Chief Gilberto Narvaez told the press that 40 people have died at OscarDaniloRosalesHospital in León, and four others have died in Chinandega, also in western Nicaragua. A total of 742 people became sick after consuming the homemade brew (NT, Sept. 14).
Some 500 police officers were assigned to the case, and investigators have determined that the methanol came from the United States and entered Nicaragua through Corinto, the Central American nation’s main Pacific port.
The methanol was destined for a company that makes resins near Tipitapa, north of Managua, but the gang members stole part of the shipment on two occasions between Aug. 26 and Aug. 30, hauling the chemical to a ranch in Chinandega.
The chemical was then mixed with water and sold to liquor vendors in the León province, eventually reaching consumers and causing the first deaths on Sept. 2.
The victims drank homemade liquor distilled from unfiltered sugarcane mixed with methanol, or wood alcohol – which can be a deadly poison when consumed in even small quantities – in the resort town of Poneloya in western Nicaragua.
The patients all experienced the same symptoms, including strong headaches, blurred vision, intestinal discomfort and temporary paralysis from consuming the adulterated alcohol.
The people who got sick from the tainted beverage, known as lijón, were mostly from the western province of León.
The Health Ministry declared a “health emergency” in the province of León.
Authorities have prohibited the sale, distribution and consumption of homemade liquor in León until the investigation by police and Health Ministry officials into the poisonings is completed.
The emergency decree also includes a prohibition on shipping homemade liquors into the province.