Resisting the strategy of terror
The enormous national effort
to achieve a change in Nicaragua
needs an equivalent international effort.
In June we saw the first signs that the world
is beginning to grasp what’s happening here:
that Ortega is determined to hold on to power
and has opted for a strategy of terrorist crimes
to impose fear in the people, and those crimes
have multiplied all over the country.
On May 30, when the regime’s police and parapolice—a.k.a. irregular paramilitary groups, thugs, mobs, shock troops—fired on the mammoth Mothers’ Day march in Managua and other parts of the country, killing 14 youths and wounding over 100, the activists in the civic struggle realized without further doubt that Ortega had opted to quell the rebellion through a strategy of terror that includes criminalizing protestors.
The forces implementing it, most often now hooded irregulars armed with weapons of war and supported by the police, have unleashed that terror throughout the country, sowing fear in the population clearly aimed at dissuading anyone from supporting the unarmed insurrection. But no matter how many people Ortega arms to enforce his determination that the country return to the “normality, peace and harmony” he and his wife claim existed before April 18, that country no longer exists.
Roadblocks and barricades
Ever since the rebellion began in late April, roadblocks on the highways and barricades in the inner cities have been one of the resources increasingly employed by the civic resistance. Unlike the mobilizations, marches and massive rallies held in April and May, these roadblocks and barricades were the only permanent instrument of civic pressure on the regime. The roadblocks were conceived of as economic pressure while the barricades, erected of concrete paving stones just as they were in 1979, defended neighborhoods against police and parapolice invasions. Local residents rotated to guard them day and night, while others donated food, water and medicines to them.
By the beginning of June, more than 100 roadblocks were halting traffic throughout the country and dozens of truck-trailers carrying inter-regional merchandise were backed up at the borders. Dismantling these structures became the regime’s priority later in the month, although the strategy of terror did not let up. Often arriving in caravans of police pick-up trucks, accompanied by a bulldozer to sweep away the barricades, they have killed, wounded, captured and illegally detained people protecting the roadblocks and even those who supported them or merely participated in one of the protests. Military-style operations with this objective were conducted all over the country.
Is the Army officially
involved in in the terror?
After the regime’s first confused and improvised response to the April uprising, it decided to retake the offensive by organizing a systematic policy of terror, one security experts haven’t hesitated to call “state terrorism.” The government has conducted it in a clearly coordinated manner, obeying a single command and following the same patterns wherever applied.
While the National Police is openly involved in the strategy, it is still a subject of debate whether or not the Army is implicated. Those who believe the Army has refused to collaborate in the repression are pressuring it to fulfill its constitutional role and disarm the irregular forces Ortega has organized precisely because he lacks the Army’s open cooperation.
Others, including retired Army Major Roberto Samcam, believe the parapolice are using military weapons from Army arsenals, and that hooded former Army officers are directing them, given the military characteristics they see in the ”clean-up operations” to destroy the roadblocks and barricades and in other incursions. They thus assume there’s close collaboration between Ortega and the Army, with the Police presumably subordinated to that strategy.
In the article in this same issue titled “The government’s policy of terror creates a dilemma for the Army,” Nicaraguan national security expert Roberto Cajina details how the parapolice are recruited and how they act, pondering which interests will prevail in the Army: those loyal to Ortega’s designs or those defending the institutionality of the armed forces. Given the volume of irregular forces that have taken on this policy of terror and the levels of criminality it has reached, Cajina believes the only way to guarantee their disarmament is with the intervention of a UN peacekeeping forcs.
“Difficult to dismantle”
An analysis of Nicaragua’s parapolice groups in the June 14 issue of the investigative digital magazine InSight Crime” says that “the use of these groups makes it harder to attribute human rights abuses to state security forces, and also allows Ortega to distance himself in order to evade sanctions for human rights abuses.”
The investigators see the possibility “that the current unrest could allow [the parapolice] to hone their criminal skills and delve further into other illicit activities like extortion and kidnapping. The parapolice are already engaged in theft and kidnapping for political purposes, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for them to consider exploiting their experience with these activities for personal profit.”
Roberto Orozco, another Nicaraguan security expert, told InSight Crime that these groups “will be difficult to dismantle” because they are self-sufficient and “armed to the teeth with weapons provided to them by the state.” He logically adds that “these weapons will not be returned after the repression is over, and the increase in the number of these individuals with weapons in their possession could create a situation of greater insecurity with high levels of extortion, homicide and other crimes.”
A de facto state of siege
These heavily armed forces are drive around in caravans of both police and other government Hilux pick-ups as well as in vehicles without plates or other identification. They are almost always accompanied and protected by regular uniformed police and anti-riot police. The regime calls their operations to dismantle the roadblocks and barricades “miraculous events.”
The hooded paramilitaries are also assigned to do the dirty work: searching houses—looting them on occasion—and forcibly capturing residents on lists from informers living in the neighborhood. These informers belong to the para-party Cabinets of the Family, Community and Life originally known as Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs) and still called that by the general population. The lists include the names and addresses of people they know or suspect are participating in protests or the roadblocks and barricades, even though such participation is perfectly legal.
This criminal activity has imposed a de facto state of siege on the entire population. By dusk people all over the country are locked in their houses; but even then they don’t feel safe because nighttime is when the torching and looting of houses take place.
In a general pattern applied all over the country, the hooded paramilitaries take those they detained to local police stations. From there they are generally taken to the Judicial Auxiliary prison known as El Chipote in Managua, where Somoza used to torture his opponents.
They are held an unspecified number of days, without any information provided to their families, much less any access to defense. The detainees are threatened and beaten and more recently those considered to have played a leadership role are tried, accused of offenses they never committed, including pillaging, arson and even murders for which the parapolice are responsible.
In June the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received an average five denunciations a day of illegal detentions executed as described. At the end of the month the Police began to move those held in El Chipote to La Modelo prison in Tipitapa. The Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH) has indicated that the regime has also set up clandestine prisons in different parts of Managua and its outskirts.
Outside the gates of El Chipote, mothers, fathers, siblings and other relatives gather every day, asking for information on and the release of those held there. Carrying improvised cardboard placards with the photo and name of their loved ones, they cry and beg to be let into the prison. Behind each photo is a tragedy. One 96-year-old woman spent a full week, day and night, in the rain, waiting for her grandson to be released. The government is clearly trying to punish and dissuade the youths and frighten their families. Undeterred, the university youths who belong to the Civic Alliance insist they are “political prisoners.”
¡Comandante Daniel, ordene!
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Ortega’s party, is also busy trying to regroup its base politically so it can celebrate July 19 with a massive demonstration of sympathizers in a country “free” of roadblocks and rebels.
On June 20, with the slogans “Comandante Daniel, give us your orders!” and “The defense of peace is the defense of Sandinismo,” National Assembly President Gustavo Porras promoted a meeting of the unions in the pro-FSLN National Federation of Workers, which he controls, to launch an initiative called Peace Commissions. According to the document released that day, the commissions “will organize teams in each territory, barrio, district, village and work center to permanently denounce the criminal actions of the enemies of peace.” The idea is to complement the denunciation work the CPCs are developing in the barrios by promoting something similar in workplaces.
Another task for these commissions will be “the publicizing of the victories for peace we are having and for this purpose we are forming a greater number of production, reproduction and dissemination teams in the social networks.” Many interpret that as meaning an escalation of false profiles, fake news and trolls who invent what doesn’t happen, convoke what doesn’t take place and generally threaten, defame, harass and confuse.
The Church challenges the terror
In the absence of credible political parties, Nicaragua’s bishops have earned enormous recognition in this crisis. Despite their fragilities, the role they are playing is indispensable and irreplaceable.
Today’s reality has turned Catholic Church bishops, priests, nuns and religious workers into the most credible actors in the country. No other political or social institution with a national presence was capable of assuming this role in April when the citizenry rebelled against the regime. From those first moments, Catholic Church representatives have been responding to the growing challenges with increasing valor, responsibility and spirit of service.
There are those who question the bishops’ lack of neutrality in the conflict given that they have accepted the role of “mediators” in the national dialogue. In such an extreme situation, following the basic commandment “thou shalt not kill,” the Catholic leaders have clearly taken the side of the people whose life and that of their loved ones is in danger. Nonetheless, the bishops have chaired the dialogue sessions with all due objectivity.
“God is with us”
Ortega and Murillo, who were mistakenly under the impression they had the Catholic Church leaders under control, today consider them enemies. This is one of the governing couple’s major weaknesses in the current context of struggle, particularly as this is such a religious population.
Many expressions of grassroots religiosity are present in this civic effort. Images of the Virgin are seen at the highway roadblocks and among the paving stones of the barricades. The “self-organized” wear rosaries around their neck or carry placards in the mobilizations saying “If God is with us, who is against us?” during mobilizations. And those who call in to warn about imminent paramilitary attacks on radio talk shows often ask for time to share improvised prayers or quote biblical texts.
Meanwhile, local Evangelical pastors and their followers, who currently make up 40% of the country’s population, are also supporting and protecting people. But the most prominent Evangelical leaders, the ones who get the most media attention, either remain silent or defend the government openly or implicitly when they insist that “there is violence on all sides,” without mentioning who started it or how unequal the forces are in this struggle.
The bishops and the Civic Alliance
The national dialogue is another arena of resistance. It has legitimized both the bishops and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy opposing the regime’s delegation at the table.
The Civic Alliance is made up of youths from different university campuses who initiated the insurrection, representatives of the peasant movement, the Caribbean Coast and various other civil society representatives, as well as business leaders of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce. While both the bishops and the Alliance are interlocutors any international actor interested in or able to influence the national crisis needs to listen to, the urgency of the crisis and the drawn-out nature of the dialogue format is making many people question the efficacy of the dialogue as a mechanism to pressure Ortega.
Ortega doesn’t want this dialogue
It’s hard for people to understand that Ortega has no interest in dialoguing and even less in negotiating. Only the grassroots pressure in the streets, with ever more massive marches in late April and early May, forced him to accept the national dialogue and its current format, with the bishops as mediators and the array of representatives in the Civic Alliance as interlocutors.
Ortega would like nothing more than for the bishops and the Civic Alliance members to despair and throw in the towel. This was the government’s clear goal when it put removal of the roadblocks as a precondition to even beginning to discuss the agenda. Ortega apparently only favors preconditions only when he is the one who sets them, as he insisted he would accept none from the business sector back when he thought he would only be negotiating with them. Part of the more recent strategy of ramping up the attacks on neighborhoods and communities seems to be to make a mockery of the mere idea of dialoguing.
In a political scenario without this national dialogue, Ortega and Murillo would invent a different format, selecting submissive mediators and different counterparts to create the appearance of a negotiation to achieve “peace” and return to the pre-April “normality.”
The terror in numbers
On June 26, the Nicaraguan pro-Human Rights Association (ANPDH) published figures based on the denunciations it received between April 18 and June 25.
It reported 285 people killed in the context of the protests, 262 of them fully identified and 23 still being investigated at the time, with 96.2% of them civilians and the other 3.8% police officers and one journalist.
Of the 127 killed whose ages had been determined, 21 were children and teenagers and all the rest were under 30 years old.
The majority (145) were killed in Managua, followed by the municipality of Masaya with 30.
Firearms caused the deaths of 82.2% (235 people), with 32% of those shot in the head.
The ANPDH reported that 1,500 wounded people had been treated in hospitals, 46 of whom were left with permanent disabilities.
It also counted 72 people still detained illegally and another 201 released with signs of torture and degrading treatment.
It had reports of 156 disappeared people. At the end of June a young man reported disappeared at the beginning of the disturbances appeared in Managua two months later disoriented and with scars all over his body. That case plus information provided to the CPDH suggests the existence of clandestine prisons where some of those considered to have “disappeared” are perhaps being held.
According to those figures, a Nicaraguan was being killed every six hours. A week later, as of July 2, the ANPDH increased its figures to 309 dead, 297 of them civilians and 253 killed by firearms. It put the number of disappeared at 158 and those illegally detained at over 200. At the close of this issue, four days later, the figures were still climbing.
nosedive in figures
The national economy has also taken a beating between the governing couple’s obstinate clinging to power and the people’s determination to resist that power and the terror it is wielding.
The grassroots economy is the most damaged: hundreds of small and medium businesses, mainly in the tourism, commerce and service sectors, have had to close or at least cut their hours, leaving thousands definitively unemployed or laid off “until further notice.” It is a tragedy in a country in which 80% of businesses are small and medium and the people’s main problems have traditionally been unemployment or informal underemployment.
This sudden massive unemployment and fear of the violence unleashed by the regime have led hundreds of people, especially young ones, to stand in endless lines every day at the migration offices seeking passports or visas to leave the country. Thousands have already requested refuge in Costa Rica, followed by Panama and Spain. The United States isn’t an option, among other reasons because the US government has ordered the departure of all non-emergency personnel, and visa applicants are told to pursue their requests in other countries.
At the end of June, the president of Nicaragua’s Central Bank had to recognize that the growth rate for 2018, which the Bank had calculated at between 4.5% and 5%, will be no more than 1.5% and could end up as low as 0.5%. With the increased emigration, the only source of income expected to grow is family remittances.
“It’s the oligarchy’s fault”
Hours after the Central Bank issued this new calculation, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) released an even more negative report. It projects that “after 72 days of crisis and the government’s unwillingness to seek a negotiated solution,” the economy has already lost more than US$600 million in value added and some 215,000 jobs around the country.” The think tank calculated that the year will close with negative growth, contracting to between –0.03% and –5.6% relative to last year, depending on whether “the government accepts an early exit, negotiated and implemented no later than the end of July, consequently achieving a framework of understanding focused on issues of justice and democratization, ending the repression, violence and citizen insecurity” or shows no political willingness, “thus leading to a prolonged and intensified crisis for the rest of the year.” In the latter case the economy could lose as much as US$1.4 billion.
FUNIDES’ executive director Juan Sebastián Chamorro, a member of the Civic Alliance, called it a “historic” economic crisis, “the most significant since 1978,” when the insurrection against Somoza entered its final stage. While the country recovered economically between 1980 and 1983, then fell into a much more serious economic crisis largely as a result of the US-financed contra war and the US economic embargo, the comparison between this year and 1978 refers specifically to the contraction following a year of significant positive growth. Chamorro said it’s very difficult to predict how much time recovery will take. Some analysts calculate that the economic consequences of this political crisis already exceed the damage that approval of the Nica Act by the US Congress would have caused.
FUNIDES’ calculations were followed several days later by new official figures, accompanied by an “interpretation” of the crisis by Nicaraguan Treasury Minister Iván Acosta. He put the job losses at 250,000 and blamed them on “a coup d’état against the country’s stability and the economy,” provoked by “the oligarchy in the name of institutionality.”
The regime’s strategy has included going after the business elite with a well-organized campaign of invasions of private farms and farmland.
The Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua, one of COSEP’s business chambers, charged in a June 20 communique that there has been an “unconscionable increase in illegal invasions of farms belonging to our associates, violating the right to private property, that began to be recorded from the first week of June in León and Chinandega and has extended to areas of Managua, Rivas and Estelí.” The invaded properties range between 35 and 500 hectares. By the end of June, 2,800 hectares of agricultural land had been invaded.
The “invaders” are poor families willing to collaborate in these maneuvers. They are driven to the lands to be taken in full daylight in vehicles belonging to either municipal authorities or the FSLN without the police or any other authority intervening. Once there, the land is divvied up into lots, then they erect plastic tents, sometimes cutting down trees, and set up house. The regime promises them titles to the land. Some, either more interested in a quick buck than land or sensing that this might not turn out to be quite kosher, have wasted no time in selling out to new invaders…
and a policy of revenge
With this “irresponsible populism,” Ortega is seeking to create a new base of sympathizers, much as he did when the FSLN lost the elections in 1990. Before handing the government over to his successor, he guaranteed a social base with which to “govern from below” by passing laws that legalized in masse the occupation of abandoned or confiscated rural lands and urban lots or homes over the revolutionary decade that had never been legalized through land titles. This time, however, there’s an additional motivating force: reprisal against his former business allies who, much to his surprise, have dared to criticize him and pull out of the “dialogue and consensus model” they had maintained with him for the past ten years. Those once privileged partners who enjoyed massive and frequently untaxed profits are now seated opposite the government delegation on the side of the Civic Alliance.
In this new twist of national history, Ortega has lost not only the Catholic hierarchy, if he ever really had it, but also the business hierarchy. To get even with them both, he has ordered the sacking of churches and the invasion of properties, trying to intimidate them while he’s at it.
reaches the OAS
The determination of those rebelling against the regime requires decided international support. June brought not only state terrorism, but also new international pressures on Ortega, who is increasingly isolated and with ever fewer friends.
Already in May, the national dialogue had borne fruit by forcing the government to invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), to Nicaragua. The IACHR’s preliminary report, based on over a thousand testimonies the team heard from the relatives of victims of the April massacres in Managua, Masaya, León and Matagalpa, was only the first step of the international pressure.
On June 5, Nicaragua’s crisis unexpectedly found its way onto the day’s agenda of the OAS General Assembly held in Washington, which was supposed to be dedicated to the issue of Venezuela. Breaking into that continental space was an enormous achievement for the Civic Alliance delegation, which had traveled up to get Nicaragua’s voice heard, attracting greater continent-wide attention to what’s happening in Nicaragua.
The regime signs
A “Declaration in support of the people of Nicaragua” approved by the OAS General Assembly that day was jointly presented by the US and Nicaraguan governments, with the signature of Ortega’s representative causing surprise and suspicion. US Ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo said afterward that, in line with OAS procedures, the only way to get a declaration of this type was with the Nicaraguan government’s backing.
Its contents were very generic considering the levels of violence being suffered in Nicaragua. Moreover, the text didn’t identify the Ortega government as the promoter of that violence. But that wasn’t the end of the matter.
for the violence?
Trujllo was more explicit speaking to the Assembly plenary: the joint declaration only marks the beginning of the OAS member states’ involvement “in Nicaragua’s grave situation,” which is aimed at stopping “the violence perpetrated against the population by the government and its supporters and eliminating the anti-democratic practices the government has instituted in the past decade.”
To dissipate any suspicion about why the Ortega government representative’s signature appeared on the declaration, Trujillo said, “Let’s be clear: the Nicaraguan government has the main responsibility for complying with the call made in the declaration for the ‘immediate cessation of acts of violence, intimidation and threats against the general public’ as it is the Nicaraguan government that has committed grave crimes against peaceful demonstrators and against property.”
“No negotiation as long
as there’s violence”
Two weeks later Trujillo came to Nicaragua for a two-day visit during which he spoke with the bishops, members of the Civic Alliance and Ortega. Although both Trujillo and his interlocutors were restrained in their declarations, the visit’s specific objective had become clear by the time they left: to get Ortega to finally invite the European Union and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Nicaragua and allow the IACHR to return. Ortega did so, but again because of pressure, not by choice.
Days later, in an interview by La Prensa, Trujillo commented very briefly on the content of his meeting with Ortega: “We spoke about the violence. We told him the United States is very concerned about it and we are keeping ourselves informed about the people responsible for it because one day they will be judged for those crimes. As long as there is violence there’ll be no negotiation.”
Three more tagged
by the Magnitsky Act
Two weeks after that Trujillo’s words came true. On July 5, the US Treasury Department applied the Global Magnitsky Act to three Nicaraguans in Ortega’s closest circle: Francisco Díaz, de facto police chief and an in-law of Ortega and Murillo; Fidel Moreno, the FSLN’s political secretary in Managua; and Francisco López, FSLN treasurer, minister of mines, president of the state-owned oil company Petronic and vice president of Albanisa, a joint venture with Venezuela that imported and sold Venezuelan petroleum products and invested the profits.
A US State Department communique explained that Díaz “has taken part in serious human rights violations against the Nicaraguan people,” while a State Department spokesperson said “Moreno is the link between Managua City Hall, the Sandinista Front and the Sandinista Youth” in repressing civilians. For his part, López was accused by the State Department of acts of corruption in the discretionary management of the over US$4 billion in Venezuelan cooperation funds. He was also accused of “leveraging his position to his and his family’s benefit by using companies they own to win government contracts.”
“As a result of today’s actions,” the State Department explained, “all assets belonging to those named, or any assets they form a part of, will be blocked within US jurisdiction. Plus, US citizens are banned from carrying out transactions with those being sanctioned, including bodies they belong to or are controlled by them.”
The sanctions, Trujillo’s trip and a visit 10 days earlier by Caleb McCarry, an expert on regime transition who is on the team of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, set the country abuzz with rumors and speculations about a supposed negotiation between Ortega and the US officials for his “departure” and early elections. While it’s possible, even probable, that Ortega told McCarry what he wanted to hear, the regime has given no sign of change since that time. Ortega has not even agreed to bring the elections forward to March 2019, the date proposed by the bishops and the Civic Alliance in the dialogue on May 23.
After fruitless attempts by the bishops to get Ortega to address the issue, all he said in a brief message was that he was “willing to listen to all proposals within a constitutional framework.” In so doing he essentially shrugged off the crisis, irresponsibly letting still more time pass as the death toll mounted, banking on his strategy of terror to wear people down and buy himself more time in power.
“Almagro is evolving”
Before April, Ortega was sure he would finish his term in 2021 and be able to cut a deal with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to implement only a few reforms to the profoundly tainted electoral system.
But that ship appears to have sailed because Almagro has begun to change the language he was using to interpret the crisis. When parapolice forces set fire to a house in an eastern Managua barrio on June 16, burning six people to death, including two children, that criminal act aroused greater international reaction than previous ones committed by the regime. For the first time, Almagro referred to it on Twitter as an act of “repression” in Nicaragua and categorized it as a “crime against humanity” that “cannot go unpunished.”
A few days later, when what Ortega has defined as a “clean-up operation” was being prepared for Monimbó, Masaya’s combative and formerly pro-FSLN indigenous barrio, Almagro tweeted again: “The people of Masaya have demonstrated their heroism in the darkest pages of Nicaragua’s history. We condemn any kind of attack on the life and security of the residents of Ticuantepe, Nindirí, Masaya and the Pueblos Blancos.”
Ex-Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa told La Prensa he believes “Almagro is modulating his rhetoric toward Nicaragua to begin to win over the confidence of the Nicaraguan people and thus open the field for the OAS to play a role in the re-democratization of our country. Although the secretary general has not recognized the culpability of El Carmen [the residence and seat of operations of the governing couple] in the violence battering Nicaragua, his position is evolving.”
“Time is against Nicaragua”
The greatest change in Almagro’s language so far came on June 22 in the OAS headquarters in Washington. That was the day the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented its final report on Nicaragua to the OAS Permanent Council, and the first time in 15 years that the Council had met to hear a report by the IACHR.
The presentation was preceded by a few words from Almagro, who continued “modulating” his discourse, referring to “the repression,” although still without holding the Ortega regime responsible for it. But he “erased” 2021 from the electoral calendar, proposing other earlier dates, ranging between March and August 2019.
“A political response from power is needed,” he added. “It makes no sense in politics to prevail over the people’s will. People’s will is what must prevail. It has to be done with elections, counting votes. And the elections must be soon because time is against Nicaragua. The passage of time means more repression, more violence and more death.”
“This report does not fully express Nicaragua’s drama”
Almagro’s words were followed by the reading of the IACHR’s final report. Commission executive secretary Paulo Abrao prefaced the presentation saying that “this document is incapable of fully expressing the drama people in Nicaragua are experiencing today.” Before reading it, IACHR rapporteur for Nicaragua Antonia Urrejola asked the Permanent Council members to stand for a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the violence.
The final report repeated information already contained in the preliminary report presented in Managua on May 21, ratified the identified patterns of state violence and adjusted the figures. In the two months between April 19 and June 19, 212 people were confirmed to have been killed, among them 16 children, 5 police officers and 1 journalist; while between April 19 and June 6, 1,337 people were wounded (including 65 police officers), and 507 were reported illegally detained (421 of them teenagers and young adults).
An attachment to the report listed the names of all those who died in the first two months of the insurrection. And the report added 9 more recommendations to the 15 the preliminary report had made to the government—most of which it has still not complied with despite having agreeing to them. (See the June issue of envío for the preliminary document and its 15 recommendations, and “Nicaragua Briefs” in this issue for the additional 9).
“It is notably one-sided”
Denis Moncada, Nicaragua’s foreign minister, rejected the report out of hand, calling it “subjective, skewed and notably one-sided.” Not stopping there, he attributed everything happening in the country to “the destabilizing of a legitimate government” that started, according to him, with the “fake news” of a death in the Central American University on April 18. Although he offered no details about this allegation, he claimed it triggered all the deaths, detentions, disappearances, injuries, lootings, fires and other destruction that have happened since, implicitly few if any of them by the government.
Several independent national media quickly picked up on the fact that Moncada’s extensive allegations in defense of the Ortega regime repeated almost verbatim some of the paragraphs Julio Quintana, Anastasio Somoza’s foreign minister, wrote to the IACHR in defense of his boss’ regime in February 1978.
Eleven countries speak on
behalf of a democratic solution
After Antonia Urrejola read the IACHR report with a firm voice, 13 countries spoke for the record. Eleven of them (Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Canada and the United States) praised the report, called for an end to the violence in Nicaragua and spoke in favor of a democratic, constitutional and peaceful solution in the framework of the national dialogue.
Only Bolivia and Venezuela openly supported the Ortega government, the former very cautiously. Venezuela, in contrast, claimed the Nicaraguan crisis evidenced “the same media, narratives and spokespeople” employed against the Venezuelan government. Venezuelan President Maduro’s representative rejected the “malicious IACHR report” and the “precipitated way” the OAS session had been organized.
None of Central America’s three Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) spoke, nor did any of the small Caribbean countries. At the end, the OAS Permanent Council president mentioned an upcoming session “to follow up on what is happening in Nicaragua.”
The rest of the world
begins to take interest
International human rights monitoring teams began arriving in Nicaragua in June to observe events and investigate the crimes committed. Having them here is an achievement of the national dialogue.
The Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), made up of three people from the IACHR technical team, came on Sunday June 24, and will work under the supervision of the IACHR’s Paulo Abrao and Antonia Urrejola. With some suggestions and actions by the State, MESENI will coordinate actions with representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Hunan Rights, whose delegation arrived the following day, to assure respect for human rights in the country. MESENI will receive and document denunciations about the victims of the repression and has no defined time limit in the country.
In just its first week (June 25 to July 1), MESENI’s team confirmed 18 violent deaths and “multiple people wounded in the context of the protests.” It also verified one of the most common actions of the policy of terror: “selective acts of repression manifested in arbitrary detentions and breaking into houses in search of people who participated in protests and roadblocks.” In addition, the team received “abundant information from people forced to flee their homes to hide in safe houses in other parts of the country and from those who fled the country seeking international protection and requesting asylum.”
The four members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which is related to compliance with the IACHR’s first 15 recommendations, arrived on July 3. They will investigate specifically what happened between April 18 and May 30. They are scheduled to be here for six months, at which time they will issue their report, but their stay could be extended for another six months if need be.
The four GIEI investigators include Claudia Paz y Paz, a Guatemalan who was the prosecuting attorney in the trial that convicted Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide and investigated the case of the murdered students of the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in Mexico. Paulo Abrao said the GIEI’s mission is to “classify conducts, identify those responsible and come up with a comprehensive plan of attention to the victims.”
The limits of the
The desperation, impatience and impotence felt by victims and their families, in fact the entire population, in the face of the terror promoted by the regime exceeds the influence and power these international institutions have to halt the repression and punish those responsible. The mandate of these agencies isn’t to either judge or sanction; it is merely to document events, recommend guidelines for improving respect for human rights and conduct independent investigations. Judging and punishing are tasks for the national justice system (the public prosecutor general’s office and the judicial branch of government in general). The dilemma is that these institutions are headed by officials who have loyally obeyed Ortega’s will for 11 years.
The popular clamor
The desire of the majority of the population ever since April, not only those who have shouted it in demonstrations but also those hunkered down in their homes trying to avoid stray bullets, has consisted of two words: “Justice!” and “Go!” Both demands, first the assigning of concrete responsibility for the crimes, punishment of the perpetrators and reparations for the victims, and second the resignation of Ortega and his wife, are also expressed repeatedly by the Civic Alliance. The demand that the governing couple immediately resign has even taken precedence over the original first point of the dialogue agenda: democracy, understood as negotiating the cleaning up of the electoral system in order to achieve the departure of the governing couple through early elections.
Even though June ended in a bloodbath, the country has largely resisted the fear imposed by the strategy of terror. On June 30, a month after the massacre during the Mothers’ Day march in Managua, the capital’s streets filled with an estimated 100,000 people voicing the same demands heard since April: justice for the victims and Ortega’s resignation so the country can get on “the path to democracy,” to quote Pope Francis’ desire for us in the first Angelus prayer for the month of July.
With the Nicas abroad
The June 30 demonstration was called the “march of the flowers” in memory of the children and adolescents killed since April. The first of them, 15-year-old Álvaro Conrado, was shot dead by snipers on April 20 while taking water to National Engineering University students. The last as of the date of the march was 14-month-old Teyler Lorío, killed by a paramilitary bullet while being carried in his father’s arms.
Other “marches of the flowers” demonstrating the grassroots resistance to the terror were held that same day in Matagalpa, Somoto, Ocotal, León and other places. They were matched by vigils with flowers, lights, flags and songs in 90 cities of 30 countries around the world that same day, where local citizens joined in solidarity with Nicaraguans living and working in their countries on behalf of justice and democracy in Nicaragua, the only things that can guarantee an end to the violence.
A clear grassroots message
Nicaragua’s population is admittedly suffering massive and unjustifiable emotional stress imposed by a regime that pretends not to understand the message from the grassroots rebellion. While there are people of all political stripes in that rebellion, including recognized Sandinistas, the nature of their opposition to the Ortega regime is amazingly not about a different political option. The only message from the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the massive marches since late April is that they want nothing more to do with the governing couple and no longer fear it, or at least are not ruled by their fear.
That message, carried by the rivers of people whose only defining colors are those of the blue and white national flag, is lost only on those with no ears to hear. It is lost on people so determined to believe this is all an imperialist plot implemented through the country’s rightwing parties that they don’t think twice about dismissing a huge part of the grassroots population as if they were ignorant, deceived and without merit. It is lost on people too insensitive or too loyal to a long-since abandoned ideology to understand how much the population is suffering.
Such insensitivity is a profound insult to people who have lost family members or loved ones or are at risk of doing so, have lost or fear losing their job, dread what the night and next day might bring, much less what the future holds but are nonetheless clear about one thing: they want no more of this government, whatever the future may bring…
The spiral of violence unleashed by the Ortega-Murillo regime in an attempt to crush the civic insurrection has turned the daily life of the majority of Nicaraguans into something not only unacceptable but also incomprehensible in a civilized country and has made the future profoundly uncertain.
The state terrorism chosen by Ortega and Murillo has already sown the seeds of an alarming future. Even after those two power-hungry rulers are forced out, the heavily armed paramilitary forces terrorizing us will remain, surely with ties to drug traffickers and organized crime. Given the Army’s unwillingness to assume its constitutional role to protect the country from this irregular army, which is growing by the day, it may very likely take an international peacekeeping force to do so. And even if from the wreckage of political parties destroyed by both Ortega and their own self-interest new governors emerge who can cleanse the vices of the country’s political culture, which is a big if, we’ll still need extraordinary strength to morally and spiritually reconstruct our country.
The world needs to know…
The world needs to know what’s happening in Nicaragua. It needs to understand that we are not in the midst of a civil war initiated by rightwingers determined to remove a legitimate government by a coup, as Ortega and Murillo insist. We are suffering disproportionate and ongoing criminal violence perpetrated by the government, while the civic resistance makes a mammoth effort to remain nonviolent. It is a superhuman challenge to frayed emotions as the government’s anti-riot police and paramilitaries continue gunning down unarmed people daily for merely protesting or engaging in totally legitimate acts of civil disobedience such as the roadblocks, or even for being relatives of such activists.
The world needs to know what’s happening in Nicaragua… We need the support of people in other countries who value this national civic insurrection against a regime that has not been willing to step down, as most governments would do in the face of such widespread opposition. Instead, this regime has decided to punish the rebellion of those it considers subjects, not citizens. Any solution to Nicaragua’s current nightmare requires an immediate cessation of the policy of terror being executed by the Ortega regime. And it urgently requires the resignation of Ortega and Murillo, who have demonstrated their political and moral inability to govern the country in a way the Nicaraguan people deserve.