The Inmunity Of Five Council Members Revoked
On October 21st the State Council of the Republic of Nicaragua revoked the legal immunity of five of its members. The procedures against these persons are explained in the following.
On October 21, the Nicaraguan Council of State revoked the immunity of five of its members: Jaime Bengochea and Reynaldo Hernandez of COSEP, Allan Zambrana and Roberto Moreno of CAUS, and Omar Halum of the MDN. The COSEP and CAUS members are facing charges for violating the Maintenance of Order and Public Security Law and the Social and Economic Emergency Law. These two particular COSEP members have not been tried yet; the CAUS members have been sentenced to 29 months in prison. (See Article, “The Case Regarding the COSEP and CAUS Members”). What follows is an explanation by Alvaro Arguello representative of the clergy in the Council of State, concerning the law of immunity, the debate that took place in the Council and the significance of the Council’s decision.
“The law of immunity is a revolutionary law approved during the first legislative session in 1980. Immunity before the law is a privilege belonging to those that hold public office. It is granted so that they may better exercise public duties. Those enjoying immunity cannot be put on trial without first undergoing a legal process which decides whether or not their immunity should be revoked. The process is the following: any Nicaraguan may make a complaint about the behavior of a government official. These charges have to be presented to the Government Junta. They then decide if the charges merit further consideration. If the Government Junta decides affirmatively, they then submit all evidence to the Council of State which weighs the evidence and debates the case. If the Council decides to revoke the immunity the courts can then proceed to judge the innocence or cult of the officials with respect to the charges they are facing.
In the case of the COSEP and CAUS members, the Attorney General presented the complaints to the Junta who then passed on the complaints and evidence to the Council of State. The Council then began to consider each case separately, arriving at a decision by ballot. Many council members spoke, offering various opinions. The debate had two basic threads running through it: that of the legal arguments and that of the political arguments. The legal arguments pertained to a series of activities by these groups that violated the law. The political arguments varied somewhat depending on whether one was referring to the COSEP or CAUS members. Some of the political arguments were as follows: that CAUS was attempting to destroy the unity of the working people and was trying to separate the people from their historical vanguard, the Frente Sandinista; that both groups were attempting to undermine the stability of the government and the State of Economic Emergency and were taking advantage of national difficulties in an attempt to take power. Added to this was the non-participation of these groups in the Council of State during the last year.
This year, members of the political opposition parties and groups led by these parties have boycotted the Council of State. The position of the government has been that those groups who have formed part of the Council of State have the right to remain in the Council, even though they are not presently occupying their seats. While they belong to the Council, they still enjoy the privilege of immunity. Council members argued that if these persons are not serving the Nicaraguan people in the Council, why should they enjoy immunity? Thus, the non-participation of the COSEP members constituted one of the main arguments presented by the Junta and weighed by the Council. The Council decided unanimously to revoke the immunity. COSEP and CAUS remain members of the Council and now may elect new Council representatives.
The behavior of the COSEP and CAUS members was such that it was necessary to call attention to this behavior and make it a matter of reflection. Officials cannot be allowed to use their immunity to act as counter-revolutionaries. The revoking of immunity is a call to reflection that officials act in a serious and responsible manner in their exercise of public office. The Revolution will not permit that immunity be used as a privilege to benefit individuals personally over the well-being of the Nicaragua people.
In the words of Comandante Dora María Téllez in the Council of State: “The revolutionary authority has the right to exercise its power and to defend the revolution from provocations. In the face of these attempts to take power and to divide the working class, the revolution is responding by insuring that the laws of the Republic are followed”. It is not going to permit the violation of those laws which serve to defend the revolution, which is to say, the project of and for the poor.
All the laws of the revolution are within this framework of service to the Nicaraguan people. The Nicaraguan process is trying to ensure that all act within this framework, that there is unity around this purpose of serving one’s people.
An Interview with Alvaro Argüello, S. J.