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  Number 448 | Noviembre 2018
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua briefs

IACHR IN COSTA RICA

A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Follow-up Mechanism in Nicaragua (MESENI) visited Costa Rica October 14-18 to learn more about the situation of Nicaraguans who have fled there to escape the Ortega-Murillo government’s state terrorism. In addition to meeting with numerous government officials, the delegation heard the testimonies of 259 Nicaraguan asylum-seekers, which permitted it to “identify the causes that forced them to flee Nicaragua, the risks and obstacles they faced when leaving the country, and their current situation in Costa Rica.” Based on these testimonies, the IACHR concluded that “from mid-April to mid-October 2018, the people forced to migrate from Nicaragua to seek international protection in Costa Rica are mostly students who participated in the demonstrations and protests; human rights defenders and leaders of social movements; peasants; people who have contributed to and supported demonstrators through the provision of food, safe houses and medical assistance; as well as doctors, journalists, and former military and police officers who have refused to participate in repressive acts ordered by the government.”The Costa Rican government reported that as of mid-October, 40,386 Nicaraguans had sought international protection in that country.

INSTILLING TERROR
WITH WEAPONS OF WAR

Amnesty International presented its second report on Nicaragua’s crisis on October 18 in Madrid. Titled “Instilling Terror: From lethal force to persecution in Nicaragua,” the report details executions, tortures, rapes and other atrocities that can be considered crimes against humanity. It presents information from two visits to Nicaragua and Costa Rica in July and September in which the mission interviewed 115 people and documents 25 specific cases of grave human rights violations. After studying graphic documents (photos and videos) and listening to the testimony of witnesses, Brian Castner, a weapons expert on AI’s crisis team, wrote a report detailing the weapons of war used by the police and para-police forces during the governmental repression that began in April. He identified seven types of military weapons: AK-47 automatic rifles, Belgian made FN-SPR bolt action sniper rifles (SPR stands for Special Police Rifle), US-made M24 SWS Remington bolt-action rifles (SWS stands for Sniper Weapon System), Soviet-designed PKM machine guns, Soviet-made RPG-7 shoulder-launched anti-tank grenade launchers, and semi-automatic Draganov sniper rifles developed in the Soviet Union. He noted that the majority of those weapons used against civilian demonstrators have “no legitimate police function.”

INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS

The four members of IACHR’s International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) working in Nicaragua presented their second report related to the specific task that brought them to the country: investigate the crimes that occurred between April 18 and May 30, the day of the infamous Mothers’ Day march massacre. The experts reiterated that they have received no cooperation from the state institutions and to the contrary have only encountered obstacles. They said they have not been given a single dossier on the deaths in those months, or even been permitted to meet with the relatives of the police officers who lost their life at that time. Nor have the government authorities been willing to talk to them about a comprehensive reparation plan for victims drafted by the GIEI following consultations in more than 20 meetings with sectors of civil society. Given the lack of official information about the crimes to be investigated, the GIEI has filled the void with information gathered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, the United States, Mexico and Spain through interviews with victims, relatives and eyewitnesses.

BISHOP SILVIO BÁEZ

On October 22, a group from Managua’s San Pablo community, headed up by known governing party activist Rafael Valdés, who has no ties to Nicaragua’s Christiaan Base Communities, called a press conference in which they presented a recording of the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Báez, supposedly speaking very critically of both Ortega and some of his government officials in a private meeting with peasants. An analysis of the audio, done later by a sound engineer in Spain whose conclusions were published in the daily newspaper El Español, revealed that it was a cut-and-paste job of various different recordings. The regime’s publication of the manipulated audio unleashed an intense campaign by Ortega supporters to discredit Báez. Laureano Ortega, one of the ruling couple’s sons, called for “prison or exile” for Báez. The regime completed its campaign by gathering thousands of signatures from government sympathizers and public employees (who had no choice but to sign) and sending them along with a letter—which bore all the signs of the Vice President’s unique writing style—asking Pope Francis to act against the bishop. Various national sectors publicly supported Báez from the very start of the government’s smear campaign. The Society of Jesus in Central America expressed “total solidarity” with him in a communique that also said “it seems pertinent to us to recall that expressing opinions is a civic right, whereas spying on private conversations is a crime, and even more so if the objective of that espionage is to do harm.” Monsignor Báez himself said he will remain in the country, stressing that “My conscience does not reproach me for anything before God.” In a sermon days later, Pope Francis simply said that “dictatorships always defame those they consider a danger,” which was interpreted in Nicaragua as an indirect “response” to the missive he received from the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship. It did not go unnoticed that after a three-day “spiritual retreat” following these events, the bishops of the Episcopal Conference offered no pronouncement about the threats against Bishop Báez. Nor have they issued an expected pastoral text about the critical situation the regime has dragged the country into. Their deafening silence has disappointed many Nicaraguans.

MEDIA ATTACKS

The latest stage of the regime’s repressive policy has included increased threats and attacks against independent media and journalists, a reality the IACHR alerted the Organization of American States’ Permanent Council to in September. According to monitoring by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, which is dedicated to democratic journalism, there have been 77 cases of aggression, 70 attacks, 62 threats, 33 acts of defamation, 64 of censorship, 71 of intimidation, 26 of verbal harassment and 5 of judicial harassment as well as 1 fatality (Bluefields journalist Ángel Gahona, shot to death on April 21). FSLN militants were responsible for 162 of the cases, the Police for 78 and the paramilitaries for 76.

NEW US AMBASSADOR

US Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu returned home on October 30 after occupying that post since September 2015. She was replaced by 54-year-old Kevin K. Sullivan, previously the deputy permanent representative of the US Mission to the OAS in Washington, D.C. In his confirmation hearings in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sullivan said he would urge the Ortega regime to cease all violence and intimidation and release all arbitrarily detained protestors. Before coming to Managua he introduced himself in a minute-long biographical video in which he said he was raised in the Jesuit tradition in St. Ignatius high school and in Washington’s Georgetown University, where he learned the importance of academic rigor and service to others. Sullivan arrived in Nicaragua on November 14 and presented his credentials to the government that same day in an unusually brief protocol event.

PETRONIC CHANGES ITS NAME

A boycott launched on the social networks urging drivers not to use gas stations owned by Petronic, the Nicaraguan state oil distribution company whose profits line the pockets of the governing family, plus expected sanctions against the company from Washington given its relations with PDVSA, Venezuela’s already sanctioned state oil company, led Petronic to change its commercial name and its image. It is now Central American Oil Products (Petrocen) and sports a new logo, new colors and new uniforms for its gas station attendants, all with the objective of dodging both the negative campaign and any eventual sanctions.

MOTHERS OF APRIL
On September 29, 70 mothers and other family members of those who died in the civic rebellion that erupted in late April formalized their organization, the Association of Mothers of April (AMA). Its slogans include “Love (ama in Spanish) the truth, love justice, love and don’t forget.” AMA is firmly opposed to the regime’s “reconciliation” and any plans for an amnesty.

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