|Central American University - UCA
Number 449 | Diciembre 2018
Blue and white resistance v. the state of exception
Six months into the April insurrection, Nicaragua entered an undeclared state of exception, the economy was poised for a nosedive and Washington’s sanctions were ready for approval. Uncertainty was increasing in response to the dictatorial couple’s stubborn insistence on clinging to power, immune to both limits and scruples.
The NICA Act marries
the Magnitsky Act
On September 26, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a “managers’ amendment” to a bipartisan bill, similar to the Nica Act already approved by the House, that Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-NJ) had pesented to the Senate in mid-July. The bill was given a new title: S.3233 - Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018, now commonly referred to as the Nica Magnitsky Act because the amendment fuses the original Nica Act with a Nicaraguan version of the Global Magnitsky Act.
The fused bills are complementary in that one sanctions the government and the other sanctions individuals.
The NICA (Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act) part establishes that US government representatives to any international financing institutions must vote against new loans for Nicaragua other than those related to funding for projects that advance democracy and the Nicaraguan people’s basic needs.
The Magnitsky part imposes the kind of personalized economic and political sanctions established by the existing Global Magnitsky Act, in this case on Ortega, officials of all branches of the Nicaraguan government, the regime’s financial and material accomplices and collaborators as well as any of their respective family members who participate in human rights violations, acts of corruption, money laundering and other related crimes.
Key new elements in the fused bills
A Foreign Relations Committee press release the day of the bill’s approval defined five key new elements in it: 1) support for a negotiated solution to Nicaragua’s crisis that includes a commitment to early elections that meet democratic standards and to a cessation of violence, 2) the addition of the undermining of democratic processes as a third cause of targeted sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials (the original two are human rights violations and corruption); 3) the addition of an exception to restrictions on lending to the Ortega government by international financial institutions that ensures continued funding for projects that advance democracy and the Nicaraguan people’s basic needs; 4) an annual waiver to lift the requirement to impose sanctions if the State Department certifies that the government is taking steps to hold democratic elections, improve human rights conditions, combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law; and 5) increased intelligence reporting on the role of Nicaraguan officials in corruption, human rights violations and the transfer of arms to Nicaraguan security forces.
The sanctions are the most
upsetting to the regime
While the Ortega–Murillo regime has been the subject of many declarations, resolutions and messages by international governments calling attention to the repression, the US government’s Magnitsky sanctions are what has most upset and demoralized not only the presidential couple but also those orbiting around it. They threaten not only the individual members of the governing family’s closest circle of power, but also the ruling party’s internal cohesion.
The four Nicaraguans already penalized by Magnitsky sanctions have been denied the right to a visa to travel to or reside in the United States and access to tany US accounts or properties has been blocked. Their names have also been added to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control list, which puts them under the scrutiny of US intelligence agencies, making them people with whom no one should get involved in any business or make transactions. In short, they become international financial “pariahs.”
Longtime Nicaraguan diplomat Bosco Matamoros said of the sanctions that “those sanctioned know where the sanctions begin, but not where they will end, because that is up to the State Department fiscal prosecutors working with the Treasury Department, some 6,000 professionals with the capacity to investigate everything.”
Is Nicaragua strategic for the US?
The Nica Act enjoyed bipartisan support from the beginning, as did the marriage of the two bills. The cosponsors in both the House and Senate range from a majority of rightwing, particularly Cuban-American Republicans to a smattering of liberal Democrats. Matamoros insists that the “varied” profile of the cosponsors is proof that Nicaragua “has become an issue of strategic order for the United States.” Others say this bipartisan support has been forged largely by Ortega’s own erratic and criminal actions.
The tighter language of the fused version reflects the ideology of the Democrats, historically more concerned about liberal principles such as democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, while the bill also retains the Republicans’ pragmatic ideology, which is more interested in national security (Ortega’s relationship with Russia).
On September 22, four days before the merged bill was due to be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, understood to be the toughest step in the Senate’s approval process, Ortega called on Congress to “reflect” and not approve the law.
“From the rule of law
to a state of exception”
The last large blue and white marches in Managua that weren’t blocked or threatened from the beginning were those on August 15 and 18. During a September 23 march to protest the holding of hundreds of political prisoners, a 16-year-old boy named Matt Romero was killed by a bullet to the thorax. Five days later, Ortega’s police force, claiming powers beyond its scope and violating both civil and political rights guaranteed under the Constitution, labeled all marches “illegal” and threatened to bring legal charges against any person or group calling for them. In so doing, it argued that the marches were “not peaceful,” backing that up with the claim that Romero had been caught in “crossfire.” Matt’s family and classmates, however, believe the version of his 14-year-old cousin, one of several eye-witnesses including news reporters: “First the paramilitaries attacked with rocks and then came the AK 47 gunfire…. They got Matt while he was shielding a woman from the bullets.”
The forbidding of marches, only days after the Nica-Magnitsky bill’s approval in committee, led IACHR executive director Paulo Abrão, who two months earlier had already identified three stages of the regime’s violent repression of protests since April, spoke out again: “Nicaragua is being transformed from the rule of law to a state of exception.”
The prohibition sent several messages. It told Washington that the governing couple doesn’t give a fig about its sanctions, similar to the message relayed by Ortega when he replaced Police chief Aminta Granera with Francisco Díaz, one of four Nicaraguans sanctioned by Global Magnitsky.
It also sent both an explicit and an implicit message to Nicaraguans. The explicit one was that the Ortega and Murillo equal power, and that without them there will be neither stability nor order, but rather a power vacuum that will throw Nicaragua into the lawless chaos plaguing our neighbors to the north. The implicit one was a reminder of the ability Ortega commands to govern “from below” as he vowed to do after losing the elections in 1990. It was a vow he fulfilled very effectively using means ranging from uprisings that looked a lot like those this year—with the difference that they were not spontaneous but organized for his own purposes—to back-room deals negotiated with whoever held the presidency at the moment.
After steadily ratcheting up the abuse of their monopoly of both military and institutional force since April, Ortega and Murillo had apparently decided to pull out all stops. The degree of arrogance and complete disregard for the effect the barring of protests would have on the population Ortega was elected to serve is comparable to the notorious declarations of the pre-revolutionary French monarchy: “I am the State” (Louis XIV) and “after me the deluge” (Louis XV).
Pax Romana to quell the
blue and white resistance
The governing couple has steadfastly refused to call early elections, negotiate anything or even dialogue with the opposition alliance, thus displaying only contempt for the nearly 70% of those polled who have dared admit that they’re fed up with them. They have most recently transmitted their intent to remain in power at all cost via even more control and repression, in the form of intimidation, threats, harassment, firings, detentions, imprisonment on indictments of terrorism, tortures... and a few more deaths.
They seem to want to impose what one independent national journalist dubbed a “reign of silence,” forcing the population’s submission and capitulation through military power. This pax Romana based on armed force closes the door to any possibility of development given that the economy, already teetering at the edge of the abyss, is now in a critical stage.
Civic opposition finds
creative new expressions
The government activities that seek to project an image of “victory” and calm are belied by the fact that the regime has not eased its repression for a single day. Ortega’s “pax” has no other underpinning than extreme violence and iron-handed control with a legalistic veneer exercised from the State.
Nonetheless, once demonstrations were declared illegal, other creative and theoretically less risky initiatives quickly sprang up among the civic opposition. As the active movement steadfastly eschewed any political identifiers, choosing instead to limit its colors to those of the national flag, it was increasingly referred to by the population as the “blue and white.” One of its first alternative forms of protest thus involved filling the streets with balloons of those colors. More than a few people were arrested for doing so.
What the polls say
Although masses no longer fill the streets, rejection of the regime and condemnation of its acts have remained an active, if latent, majority sentiment. On September 1, Nicaragua’s Ethics and Transparency Civic Group (EyT) conducted a cell phone poll of 1,200 randomly selected individuals. Its questions were similar to those asked in a first poll done the same way in July.
Asked whether it would be “appropriate” (conveniente) to hold elections early, 81% said yes in the new poll, 2 percentage points more than in July, while 68% said it would not be “illegal or unconstitutional” to shorten the presidential period, 15 points more than in July. Asked to appraise Ortega’s actions, 62% defined them as negative.
Then from September 6 to 18, CID-Gallup conducted a face-to-face poll of the same random number of households around the country in which 60% responded that the election should be moved up while 34% stated the contrary. Asked with a less juridical-institutional nuance, 61% said Ortega should “resign” while only 28% said he should “stay.” That answer offers strong evidence of the government’s propaganda failure, as the slogan “My comandante is staying” is the chorus of a song played incessantly on pro-government media and sung constantly by both sympathizers and paramilitaries.
The CID-Gallup poll gave Ortega a lower evaluation than any other Nicaraguan Presidents since 1990, with 24% rating his performance in the crisis as “bad” and 33% as “very bad” for a total 57% rejection, only 5 points below the rating given in a similar question on the EyT phone poll. Just 25% evaluated it as “good” or “very good,” with 18% not answering. It should be noted that trust in the secrecy of polls is typically low in Nicaragua, so given the reign of terror these days, the amazing thing is not so much that 18% chose not to answer that question, but that so many dared to do so. A mere 13% saw the course the country is on as “favorable,” while 54% viewed it as such in January.
Those surveyed were also given four statements, the first two representing government statements, in which they were asked whether they agreed, and the last two actions the government has taken or ordered, in which they were asked whether they were in favor: 1) The police is offering measures to defend the people (66% disagreed); 2) Those who participated in marches and roadblocks are terrorists (71% disagreed)t, 3) The government is persecuting journalists for making criticisms (79% were not in favor), and 4) Armed people are taking properties that already have owners (93% were not in favor). Asked their opinion of the Catholic bishops’ role in the conflict, 64% said it has been good while 27% considered it mediocre or bad.
Those surveyed recognize
the problem as political
The impact of the crisis on the economy—which as of October 1 completed two consecutive quarters with negative growth, officially making it a “recession”—has continued to affect more and more individuals and families. Who does the government think it’s talking to with its insistent propaganda since August that everything is now “back to normal?”
Tourism has plummeted and recovering visitors’ confidence in the country’s safety won’t be easy. The Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) reports that 347,000 jobs have been lost (the government only admits to 100,000, a downward revision from statistics published just a few months ago). All those workers are no longer paying into social security or receiving health benefits, not to mention not receiving unemployment insurance, which doesn’t exist in Nicaragua.
Then there’s the drastic fall in consumption, with 1.2 million people likely to sink into poverty if the crisis drags on much longer, and the more than 30,000 Nicaraguans who have now fled to Costa Rica. At least US$1 billion in deposits have been withdrawn from private banks in recent months out of fear of an economic collapse, thus in turn threatening bank collapses. All evidence as the year ends points to the economic abnormality abounding in all spheres.
Despite all these alarming figures, however, for the first time in memory the population didn’t list unemployment as the main problem in the September CID-Gallup poll. The highest individual percentage (35%) put the political crisis first. Adding to it the 12% who put fear for their children and official repression first, these political answers exceeded by 7 points the combined concerns about the economic fallout of the crisis.
Amazingly, unemployment appeared in fourth place (13%), with “the cost of covering basic necessities” beating it out for third (27%). These answers reflect an understanding that the economic disaster is spurred by the political problem, and that Ortega shows no signs of wanting to fix it.
Ortega is losing all but
his most ardent supporters
In addition to being responsible for the spilling of a great deal of blood, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have generated significant opposition by their vindictive intransigence on all issues, particularly early elections, which everything indicates they would lose. In 1990, Ortega had agreed to move them up eight months in hopes of ending the contra war, but it was an easier decision then because the possibility of losing didn’t even occur to him or anyone else in the FSLN.
Imagining a future with early elections and the ensuing electoral results, the new CID-Gallup poll asked about party sympathies: 67% defined themselves as “independent” and only 23% as favoring the FSLN. That is a meaningful drop from the previous vote of at least 30% Ortega knew he had in the bag going into any election.
The survey didn’t disaggregate the results by either sex or age. It would have been an interesting exercise, because the issue of age is a defining feature of the April rebellion and its aftermath, manifested in the rejection of Ortega by what writer and Ortega’s former Vice President Sergio Ramírez called “the grandchildren of the revolution.” Sandinista leader Víctor Hugo Tinoco, who left the FSLN to support Herty Lewites’ presidential campaign in 2006, agrees: “A whole generation rebelled. Even high school kids identified with the university students.” What recent writings have shown is that many of those student activists are from Sandinista family backgrounds, not from Liberal or other currents.
Several questions and answers in the CID-Gallup poll permit clearer tracking of the militancy or the sympathy Ortega still enjoys on some issues. It ranges between a high of 34% (registered by those who don’t want the elections moved forward) and a low of 20% (those who agree with Ortega’s official version that those participating in marches and roadblocks are terrorists).
These percentages indicate that Ortega still has an important “floor,” but his base has indeed eroded. Thanks to the constitutional reform he negotiated with President Alemán to lower from 45% to 35% the minimum required to win elections on the first round, he won the presidency in 2006 with 38% (if you don’t believe the allegation that 8% of Managua ballots were never counted because they would have put him below that minimum). He was reelected in 2011 with an official 62.3%, but given all the irregularities—a euphemism for fraud—included in the reports by the OAS and European Union election observers, we’ll never know the real percentage. The 2016 results that again reelected him are even less verifiable as any real competition had been eliminated and the majority of voters abstained.
Who’s to blame for the
economy’s race to the abyss?
EyT included a direct question in its poll about the economic crisis. Given the rate at which the national economy is rushing toward the precipice, the population’s perception of who has caused this debacle—Ortega or the blue and white faction—is an important data point that could become decisive in future elections.
Many in the opposition are banking on the plummeting economy to fuel further protests and force Ortega to the negotiation table. Others believe Ortega plans to stand firm. They think he would be willing to let the crisis worsen, prolonging the repression and terror, to snuff out the protests and propel more people into exile, leaving mainly the poorest and most economically vulnerable in the country. Waning protests would leave the business class with no choice but to adapt to the imposed “peace” and the United States would have to accept the “stability” that only the regime could guarantee. The undeclared state of exception suggests that cynical scenario.
In EyT’s question about who was responsible for the economic crisis: 33% blamed “the government and its allies” and 20% “the opposition and its allies,” while 38% blamed both. This information seems to confirm the regime’s gamble, although it also suggests people recognized that the roadblocks also had a negative effect on the economic activity in that period.
Otega bets on the
There is evidence that Ortega is willing to “impoverish” the country. Speaking to his followers and obligatory state employees at a counter-march on September 22, Ortega had said that Nicaragua can’t expect its own capitalist class, which has definitively abandoned its participation in Ortega’s corporative scheme, to reactivate the economy. The reactivating “solution,” he assured them, would come from the “grassroots economy.”
He urged his listeners to resist, promising they would at least have enough to eat. One by one, he named all the products we produce and don’t have to import: beans, maize, plantains, oranges, lemons, milk, chicken, beef, pork… He neglected to mention the lack of credit to produce all this, the drop in consumption, the reduction of córdobas circulating in the economy and the massive unemployment...
“Nicaragua is a country that has a basic wealth,” he told his audience. “And based on that wealth, and the security the country has had and now has again, because Nicaragua has recovered its security,” the grassroots economy and that supposed security will “attract investments.” In laying out this implausible conclusion, did he really think people would be unaware that the grassroots economy has been hit hardest of all by the crisis? Somebody must have straightened him out on that issue, as he more recently tried to prepare people for what he called a “gallopinto” (rice and beans) economy.
Is Nicaragua really
Some compare the economic crisis Nicaragua is suffering to that of Venezuela. In an interview on the Al Jazeera news chain, Sergio Ramírez commented that the two situations are incomparable, as the differences between Venezuelan President Maduro’s economic power and Ortega’s are vast, even though the former is very eroded.
“Venezuela produces a million barrels of oil a day, bringing US$70 million into the country daily,” explained Ramírez, “whereas Ortega is buying the oil we need on the international market because Maduro no longer supplies us. Nicaragua’s economy is half the size of Costa Rica’s and only a bit larger than Haiti’s. We export only just over US$2 billion and the gross international reserves in our Central Bank are only twice that. It’s a very small, very fragile economy undergoing a tremendous deterioration that Ortega’s not attending to.”
But perversely our economy’s small size makes Ortega less vulnerable. Dinosaurs died out quickly, while the small mammals saved themselves. Ortega seems to be counting on our insignificance in world geopolitics to stay in power.
A rock and a hard place
Arturo Cruz, Ortega’s first ambassador to the US on his return to the presidency in 2007, participated in a virtual conference at the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE) on September 12. “The US and the rest of the international community are still amenable to a peaceful constitutional solution,” he argued. “But such a solution isn’t easy, especially as there’s a lot of pain in Nicaraguan society and a political solution that would include Ortega suggests a lack of justice. That route puts society in a great debate….” He then alluded to a possible drastic outcome for both Ortega and Nicaragua as a country if a peaceful solution is not found: “I’m not saying Daniel Ortega is going to hold early elections. I’m only saying that a catastrophic economic situation could force that option. And if he doesn’t take it, the US will take strong tangible measures…. No one in Congress, the executive branch, the press or society will object to passing the Nica Act… The US plea up to now has been ‘Rider, get off your high horse; otherwise I’ll have to take you down.’”
Ortega refused to dismount. On September 22 he reiterated his intention to remain in government until at least 2021, again refused to take up the dialogue, and furiously issued a threat to the business elite opposing him. The day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote he ordered his paramilitaries to shoot at the blue and white marc that resulted in the death of 16-year-old Matt Romero. The day of the vote itself was also the day he failed to appear at the UN where he had planned to repeat his victim’s tale of coup-mongering terrorism organized and financed by the US.
For a few months now there has been widespread and insistent national and international consensus that the crisis must be resolved in a negotiation via a national dialogue with international guarantors that will have to include creating conditions for transparent, competitive and observed elections to be held early. Short of that there’s no way the economy or the country in general will normalize.
But even that unlikely scenario would only put an end to the political crisis. The most authoritative economic voices have made clear that this path would barely rein in the economic crisis, just enough to keep it from getting worse. Any honest analysis must recognize that it will take years for the economy to reactivate fully.
In its late August report, The Economist Intelligence Unit stated that Nicaragua’s economic panorama will be seriously hampered by the political crisis in both the short and medium run. It explained that even if the crisis is resolved by the end of this year or early next year, the previous growth of 4.2% will not be achieved again before 2022. The publication refers to the events surrounding the April uprising as the “most serious episode of social unrest in Nicaragua in nearly four decades.”
Economist Néstor Avendaño’s prognosis is more conservative. He told envío that “the problem is one of trust and trust isn’t regained easily or quickly. It isn’t enough just to reestablish the economic numbers that appeared before April 18 to say we’re now back to normal. Better economic numbers don’t mean the economy has recovered. It will basically recover only with the reestablishment of trust between the government and all the country’s economic agents: consumers, producers, investors and the international community…. That’s only possible in the long term, when several years have passed. That’s how I see recovery from the damage that’s been done to our economy.”
The business class is
irreconciliably divorced from Ortega
Beyond the propaganda proclaiming “normalcy,” the unhidable economic disaster is affecting not only old big business and the grassroots economy, but also Sandinista businesspeople and even the presidential family’s considerable companies and economic concerns. Ortega recently sent out feelers to see if the economic elite in the various business chambers had softened up enough to accept his obsession with remaining in government.
Back in May, just before the infamous Mothers’ Day march massacre, the heads of the country’s three largest financial groups (Carlos Pellas, Roberto Zamora and Ramiro Ortiz) had made separate calls for Ortega to halt the violence and move the elections up. They were preceded by COSEP President José Adán Aguerri, who had stated in the national dialogue that “the country cannot hang on for a medium-term solution. It needs an answer now and the government has to provide convincing political responses.”
What they got instead was the regime’s counteroffensive. By the next month, Ortega had girded his loins and opted for state terrorism. That was the last time the three leaders of big capital publicly addressed Ortega.
They did, however, continue lobbying some US congress people not to approve the Nica Act. At least they did so until Ortega’s determination to stay in power, his crimes and his reiterated declarations that he has no intention of moving up the elections or engaging in a national dialogue pulled the rug out from any lobbying argument. There was no longer any way to defend what Ortega is doing.
Moreover, his former business allies have a personal reason to give him a wide berth. The severe individual sanctions in S.3233 are aimed not only at the presidential family, its close circle and government officials, but also “accomplices” and “collaborators.” Any rapprochement with Ortega would be suicidal. As the year ends, the corporative marriage that functioned well for the business class and the government for a decade seems to have ended in irreconcilable divorce.
The rebuff by big capital explains Ortega’s aggressive speech on September 22 to public employees and party sympathizers who had marched “for peace” for the nth time that Saturday.
He accused the business class of “economic terrorism” and “playing with fire.” He warned that if they backed another national business strike—both businesses and private banks closed their doors during three 24-hour stoppages in June, July and September—he would order the police to open them by force. His furious attack that afternoon seemed specifically aimed at banks run by those same three powerful financial groups that had spoken out against him in May.
In response, COSEP’s business chambers, the US companies that belong to the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) made it clear yet again that the solution to the economic crisis has to be political.
In a message titled “Nicaragua is everyone’s homeland,” COSEP recalled that the crisis triggered in April was the product of “irrational intolerance of political dissent,” an elegant definition of the politics of terror unleashed against the rebelling population.
AMCHAM reiterated that the crisis originated with “massive human rights violations.” For its part, FUNIDES said the threats launched by Ortega “are exacerbating and deepening the social fracture currently affecting the country.” The country’s entire business class pushed once again for the national dialogue and for the elections to be moved forward.
Nicaragua’s crisis in the
UN Security Council forum
While numerous historical Sandinistas, likely voters and occasional sympathizers inside the country have abandoned Ortega, he has also painted himself into a lonely corner internationally. And the international arena is one he has no possibility of intimidating much less repressing. The crimes he and Murillo committed in such a brief time in such a small country are now repudiated around the world.
The international correlation of forces became even more negative for the presidential couple in September, as that repudiation was repeated again and again in different forums. On September 5, Nicaragua’s crisis became the subject of debate in the UN Security Council, unprecedented given Nicaragua’s scant weight in world geopolitics. It reflected the speed with which Nicaragua’s tragedy escalated to the world stage.
Of the 15 countries that make up the UN Security Council, 9 expressed concern about the governmental repression and impunity in the use of state force, and favored dialogue as a solution to the crisis. It was the first time in a world forum that Ortega was referred to as a “dictator.” The other 6 countries—all of which themselves have authoritarian governments—argued that Nicaragua’s crisis shouldn’t be a topic for Council consideration as it doesn’t represent a danger to world peace and security. Two of them, Russia and China, are among the 5 permanent Council members with veto power. Russia opted for a full-blown rhetorical speech, while China limited itself to four terse words.
“A country without hope”
Nicaragua, Venezuela and Costa Rica participated in the UN debate as invited guests. As expected, Nicaragua criticized the interference in its internal affairs, Venezuela railed at the instrumentalizing of the Security Council by the United States to attack a sovereign country, and Costa Rica warned that Nicaragua’s crisis has the potential to affect all of Central America.
Gonzalo Koncke, cabinet chief of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, speaking at the opening of the debate, described Nicaragua as “a country without hope that finds itself at a crossroads on which its peace, democracy and future depends.” Félix Maradiaga, director of Nicaragua’s Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP), created “to raise awareness of citizen security in Nicaragua by encouraging debate and generating information on security and violence,” spoke in representation of the Nicaraguan citizenry. He presented a personal testimony of his own participation in the civic rebellion and of having taken exile in the United States after the regime issued an arrest warrant accusing him of financing terrorism. On September 23, the police searched the IEEPP offices, requisitioning documents to “prove” that charge, but it has so far not offered any evidency publicly.
The OAS balance of power
The OAS Permanent Council held its sixth meeting on Nicaragua’s crisis a week later, on September 12. With the support of 19 countries, 2 fewer than on similar previous votes, it approved yet another resolution on Nicaragua with 4 countries voting against, 9 abstaining and 2 absent.
Yet again, the resolution insisted on restoration of the national dialogue. It also insisted that the regime facilitate the work of the international human rights bodies present in Nicaragua. A new point called on the member States to take unilateral “measures,” to be decided by each country, to “contribute” to the reestablishment of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua.
The OAS has also moved in other directions. After being refused entry into Nicaragua, a working group of 12 member countries created to try to have an impact on the crisis, met in September with World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) directors to learn the status of the various loans on which Nicaragua’s economy depends.
More international media forums
After these new diplomatic reverses and the imminent approval of more US government sanctions, Ortega took another shot at defending himself and drumming up support in new interviews with three more European news agencies: Spain’s EFE, France’s 24 and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
He repeated the same message in all: he had been the victim of a coup d’état thought up in Washington and had now successfully quashed it. He told Deutsche Welle that Germany should help by telling the United States not to meddle in Nicaragua’s affairs and that a dialogue at a table with international mediators was unnecessary, as the government “is now negotiating with the base, in a dialogue at the community and neighborhood level.”
He told France 24 that no police officer and no paramilitary had committed any crime and that none was being investigated, offering as proof that “the United Nations wasn’t here then and didn’t see them.” For that reason, Ortega considers the OHCHR its report “false, an infamy.” Ortega also told France 24 that he was considering speaking at the 73rd UN General Assembly, adding that it was “imperative” that he have an “exchange and dialogue” with President Trump, “not only in Nicaragua’s name but also in that of Latin America.”
Days later, US representative to the OAS Carlos Trujillo, a diplomat very close to Trump, put that idea to rest. “There is nothing to talk about as long as the paramilitaries continue violating human rights in Nicaragua,” he said. He also reminded Ortega that sanctions are in the pipeline: “The generals, paramilitaries and police officers who are torturing and oppressing the people, violating Nicaraguans’ rights, are going to face justice.”
It didn’t go well in the
UN General Assembly
Daniel Ortega was put on the list of UN General Assembly speakers for the afternoon of Wednesday, September 26, the same day the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved S.3233. Not only did he not appear in New York, government spokesperson Rosario Murillo didn’t even communicate his excuses.
The speakers from Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica were the only ones who mentioned concern about the Nicaraguan crisis at the General Assembly. Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell chastised those who said nothing, commenting that “silence makes us all accomplices when the life and dignity of individuals is at stake.” Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera was more explicit in mentioning the grave human rights violations committed by the Ortega government.
It was assumed that Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, to whom Ortega had ceded his space on September 26, would defend Nicaragua, but he didn’t even mention it in his hour-long speech. He did, however, launch his expected diatribe against imperialism and flexed his negotiating muscle by reminding the US of his country’s immense resources. Not only does Venezuela have the world’s largest oil reserves, it also has what Maduro called “the largest gold reserves in the world under international standards” and enormous reserves of gas and other treasures in the Orinoco Mining Arc. Russian and Chinese operations are now extracting gold, diamonds, iron, bauxite, coltan, niobium, tantalum and other valuable minerals from that area.
Almagro calls to asphyxiate
the Ortega dictatorship
Maduro’s silence about the problems afflicting his associate was a pathetic sign of how alone the Ortega regime now finds itself. More painful still was the silence following Rosario Murillo’s call several days earlier for Luis Almagro’s resignation as OAS secretary general for having said that no option should be discarded to overthrow Maduro, including a military intervention. In Maduro’s defense, Murillo said these declarations “constitute a great threat to international peace and security.” Her call signaled the regime’s closure of the “understanding” reached with Almagro in 2017 to reform Nicaragua’s electoral system.
Murillo wasn’t criticizing Almagro just for his attack on Venezuela. He had reiterated his concern about the direction of both Venezuela and Nicaragua on September 8 in a speech at the 15th Latin American Summit held in Miami. “It is inadmissible,” he had said with respect to Nicaragua, “that another country of the continent follow [Venezuela] over the cliff of a dictatorship.” He exhorted the international community to fulfill its duty of providing responses “to asphyxiate the dictatorship that is also being installed in Nicaragua.”
Crimes against humanity
It was the first time he had personally called the Nicaraguan regime a “dictatorship.” He may have been moved to do so by the testimony he had just heard from Dr. Jiosmar Briones, a Nicaraguan neurosurgeon forced into exile in the United States by death threats made against him.
Dr. Briones presented Almagro with the medical cases he had attended showing torture of people who had participated in the government protests and were later captured. “The two most shocking cases I have seen in my professional and personal life,” Dr. Briones told him, visibly moved, were “two men raped with AK-47 rifles, who came to my clinic emotionally destroyed. They couldn’t even walk, they bled a lot; those men are never going to be the same as before. Those cases have marked my life forever….”
Briones also told Almagro that Ministry of Health authorities had given orders to not treat injured opponents in the public hospitals and that some doctors, like himself, were at risk for not obeying this order. Almagro listened in shock and afterwards said that what the doctor had reported amounted to crimes against humanity, which have no statute of limitations.
“They have to be pressured”
Carlos Ponce, Latin American programs director for the rightwing Washington-based, US government-funded NGO “Freedom House,” whom Ortega prevented from entering Nicaragua two years ago, reported that Congress has “very long lists” of people, including some “from the Armed Forces,” who could be sanctioned by S.3233, which was sent on October 3 for inclusion on the Senate’s legislative calendar for voting before year’s end.
He defined the bill as aimed at making Ortega’s close circle see that it’s time to abandon him. “Daniel Ortega has now reached such levels of dehumanization that nothing matters to him. Having a dictatorship of this type, I see no other option than to increase the sanctions and the pressure. The military officers who are with Ortega need to be pressured to see that their pension funds invested in the US stock market are at risk, and that their family members now studying abroad are as well. The fact is that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s children should be worried because the future Daniel is steering them toward looks very somber.”
The Army at the border
Why should the Nicaraguan Army need to be “pressured”? Despite its leadership having stated on numerous occasions that they aren’t participating in the conflict and having never once mentioned the coup d’état thesis, many people have confirmed rumors that active-duty Army personnel are on the Nicaragua–Costa Rica border, where thousands of people have crossed into the neighboring country to flee the repression.
Francisca Ramírez, nationally and internationally-recognized leader of the anti-canal movement, is one. Death threats forced her into exile in Costa Rica at the end of September. Her escape from the country was a true odyssey, reportedly made even more dangerous by the Army’s presence along the border.
“I want to clear something up with the people of Nicaragua and around the world,” she stated in an interview with Nicaragua’s daily newspaper La Prensa. “The Army has kept up the line that it has nothing to do with the situation in Nicaragua. I can confirm first-hand that it has soldiers quite active on the border, watching who goes by and checking a list they have. I crossed the border at dawn and the Army was already deployed. I managed to cross without being seen. So, they really are involved in this government’s persecution and atrocities.”
Luis Carrión, a member if the FSLN National Directorate during the revolutionary period, believes the Army does indeed have something to do with the conflict. In an interview with La Prensa he said, “Daniel Ortega is also supported by the Army’s apparent neutrality. Apparent. I’m not sure, but I suspect that its intelligence agencies have been collaborating with information. This is not neutrality. The fact that soldiers in uniform aren’t seen in the streets doesn’t mean they’re not participating in the conflict.”
Birth of the Blue and
White National Unity
On October 4, more than 40 national and territorial-level civil society organizations headed by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy announced the initiation of “a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of freedom, justice and democracy.” The members of what they are calling Blue and White National Unity include coalitions of university student organizations such as branches of the April 19 Movement from various departments of the country; business associations; the peasant movement and the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), which includes political parties and party fragments arbitrarily deprived of their legal status. Also included are youth, feminist, ecological and sexual diversity movements, academics, independent media, doctors, the committee of mothers of the fallen, the committee of prisoners and political prisoners, the committee for the release of political prisoners and still others that are continuing to join.
The manifesto in which the new unity in the peaceful resistance against the dictatorship presented itself to the nation said that with this effort, “We are initiating a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of liberty, justice and democracy.” It came in response to a new undeclared but evident phase initiated by the regime: a state of exception. Resisting such repression peacefully and civically, with the blue and white colors, has become increasingly costly, but the determination remains intact. Many youths intuited the need for nonviolent resistance way back in April when they heard 15-year-old Álvaro Conrado, fatally shot in the neck, say as he was dying, “It hurts me to breathe.”
Resisting civically until achieving a Nicaragua in which it never hurts anyone to breathe, ever again, is the goal.