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  Number 453 | Abril 2019
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua briefs

ON THE IACHR BLACK LIST

Back on December 21, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) added Nicaragua to its “black list” for the first time since 1993. That list is reserved for countries in the hemisphere that merit “special attention” due to the level of human rights violations that occur there. At this time, Nicaragua joins only Cuba and Venezuela. “It’s been quite a while since our region has seen a similar situation: so many human rights violations by the State against the population in such a short time,” said Joel Hernández, the IACHR’s rapporteur for the rights of persons deprived of liberty, interviewed by the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa. “This is leaving an indelible mark on our list of areas for
priority attention.”

LUCÍA PINEDA AND MIGUEL MORA:
SYMBOLS OF COMMITTED JOURNALISM

The IACHR presented its annual report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua in a panel held in Washington on March 22. During the event, IACHR special rapporteur Edison Lanza said that “the Office of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has advised the international community that Lucía Pineda and Miguel Mora are the only two people on the continent who are political prisoners for exercising journalism.” Accused of promoting terrorism and inciting hatred, they were illegally captured on December 21 and have been imprisoned in isolation cells ever since. Respectively the director and press chief of the 100% Noticias TV Channel, the most watched in the country before it was shut down following their capture, Mora and Pineda have become national and international symbols of committed journalism.

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
CONDEMNS NICARAGUA

The United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva approved a resolution on March 21 condemning the Nicaraguan government for its grave human rights violations. The vote count was 23 in favor (including Mexico, which until now has remained silent on Ortega’s violence), 2 abstentions and 3 against (Cuba, Egypt and Eritrea). Some consider the resolution an “historic” achievement given how difficult it is for the Council to approve the dozens of resolutions presented each year. The Council asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to prepare updated reports on Nicaragua’s human rights violations to present to the Council in June and September 2019 and again in March 2020.

MORE REPORTS ON NICARAGUA’S
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

In its latest report, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) highlighted various international organizations whose reports have characterized Nicaragua as one of the countries in which the situation regarding the population’s liberties and civil and political rights has most deteriorated. The World Justice Project, founded in 2006 to advance the rule of law in the world by Bill Neukon, previously Microsoft’s lead lawyer for 25 years, listed Nicaragua in 114th place of the 126 countries investigated, on the same level as Uganda, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Freedom House, a US government-financed rightwing NGO responsible for some very spurious reports on Nicaragua during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, ranked it 150th out of 210 countries according to its criteria of political and civil liberties, 10 places worse than the previous year. The country’s overall freedom rating dropped 12 points, changing its status from “Partly Free” to “Not Free.” Not surprisingly, Cuba and Venezuela were the only Latin American countries with worse aggregate scores.

US SENATOR MENÉNDEZ LOOKING FOR MORE WAYS TO SANCTION NICARAGUA

US Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to review all of the Nicaraguan government’s links with Russia, military included, to see if the Ortega government can be sanctioned by the internationally controversial Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. Passed by an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress in July 2017, this legislation has already been responsible for sanctions imposed on Russia, Iran and North Korea. Menéndez wrote Pompeo that US intelligence reports prove Russia is the main partner on security issues with the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In recent years, the Ortega government reportedly acquired 50 T-2781 battle tanks, 4 Project 14310 Mirage (Mirazh) patrol boats and 2 Project 1241.8 Lightning (Molniya) missile boats, while there was also mention of the acquisition of 2 Yak-130 training combat jets, all from Russia. There has also been a Russian satellite base in Nicaragua for some years now, and the Russian Ministry of the Interior has built important installations in Managua from which it provides advice to the Ortega government. Pompeo’s prompt response reminded Menéndez that last November President Trump called Nicaragua a “threat to US security” and that sanctions similar to those being applied to Venezuela could also be applied to Nicaragua.

FORMER AMBASSADOR TELLS STUDENTS
ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES IN NICARAGUA

Laura Dogu, US ambassador to Nicaragua until late last year, spoke recently with Latin American Studies Program students at the Indiana campus of the University of Pennsylvania about her experiences as a career diplomat. Unsurprisingly, they showed the greatest interest in her three years in Nicaragua, which coincided with what she called last April’s “uprising.” She suggested that the students watch the video of the opening of the national dialogue that May to see a “moment in history.” “I had the opportunity to sit in that room live,” she explained. “The power of youth, and many of you fall into that category, cannot be understated…. This young man, Lesther Aleman, stood up and confronted the President, called him an assassin, and told him they were not there to negotiate, they were there to arrange for his departure…. It still gives me goosebumps to think about that. It was extraordinary.” She said it changed his life. “On Monday when all this started he was a student. On Wednesday and Thursday he watched his friends get gunned down beside him. And by Friday he was a student leader … in a civil alliance team trying to bring peace back to Nicaragua.” She also told the students that before leaving her assignment, she had been included in an assassination plot by the regime against people it considered to be members of the anti-government movement, including Bishop Silvio José Báez.

THE POLICE AND PARAMILIITARIES:
AN UNCONTROLLABLE MONSTER?

Nicaraguan political analyst Oscar René Vargas wrote this month that “both the paramilitaries and the police know that in any serious negotiation, Ortega has to sacrifice some pieces. And the sacrificable pieces are the paramilitaries and the important members of the Police who have been the most visible faces of the repression…. I think that for Ortega, who needed the police and paramilitaries for 11 months, they have now become a problem to reaching an acceptable agreement…. Ortega and Murillo can’t get any agreement without sacrificing some repressors…. My fear is that these people are going to begin to act independently to torpedo any agreement. That possibility can’t be discarded. Ortega created a monster he now can’t totally control. That’s why there’s a need for an international agency to avoid any possible outrages against the population by these forces.”

NEW SPECIAL FORCES POLICE

On March 19, the National Police announced that it has 462 new agents, 306 of them in the Special Ops Division, which includes the anti-riot cops who have been repressing the population across the country. This raises the number of National Police agents to 15,000. The training for the recruits was brief. Many of the new black-uniformed agents seen on the streets are young, and their repressive actions inevitably captured on cellphone videos demonstrate a lack of professionalism as they abuse the people they pick up.

“A BAD DEAL”

In March, journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro wrote in the daily bulletin Confidencial that “an arrangement limited to the promise of electoral reforms and changes in the Supreme Electoral Council, including moving forward the elections to March 2020, could have some temporary positive impact on the economy, but if it doesn’t include guarantees to dismantle the dictatorship’s repressive structures and end impunity, it will leave us an ungovernable country, with Ortega and his followers ‘governing from below,’ even if he loses control of the executive branch in a free and competitive election. A ‘bad deal’ with impunity and without responding to the demands of the families of the more than 300 people murdered would also feed divisions among the great blue and white alliance in early elections, increasing Ortega’s quota of post-electoral power.”

THE CENTRAL BANK
ADMITS THE REAL STORY
In its 2018 annual economic report released on April 1, the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN) recognized the effects the government’s repression against the civic protests have had on the economy. For the first time, the BCN talked not about a “failed coup d’état,” but about the “sociopolitical events,” which it admitted meant “a change in the dynamic of the general economy, particularly evident in the tertiary [service] sector, which appears most vulnerable.” It detailed the drops in trade, tourism and finances, and concluded that the effects in these and other sectors “could persist in the coming years…. Recovering the good performance of the tertiary sector is fundamental to improving the potential growth perspectives in the medium term.” It accepted that there will be no improvement in the near future and discarded the economic recovery Ortega proclaimed to his base when promising a “rice and beans economy” that would strengthen small agricultural production. In the primary sector [agriculture and other raw materials], one of the most emblematic export products, coffee, is suffering a severe crisis because the international price per hundredweight is only US$90 while the production cost in Nicaragua is now US$50 due to the recent tax increase ordered by the government.

A NEW STUDY ON THE
INDIO-MAÍZ FOREST FIRE

On the anniversary of the forest fire that devastated part of the Indio-Maíz reserve and triggered university student protests in Managua that were the prelude to the April civic rebellion, the Foundation of the River, the Humboldt Center and the Central American University presented a joint study of the fire’s impact on that valuable national reserve. The study listed the serious errors the government committed: minimizing the catastrophe, delaying the official alert, failing to coordinate with local actors and environmental organizations, and rejecting the aid offered by Costa Rica. It calculates that regenerating the damaged ecosystem will require a 30-year conservation project. Amaru Ruiz, president of the Foundation of the River, participated in the presentation by Skype, as he is in exile following threats from the regime and its cancellation of the foundation’s legal status last December. “The tragedy could have been avoided with prevention,” said Ruiz. “The authorities never did anything to block the settlers who invaded the reserve, or to control the deforestation and the illegal sale of lands for use in cattle ranching.”

HEART ATTACKS WERE THE MAIN CAUSE
OF DEATH IN NICARAGUA IN 2018

According to Ministry of Health reports, acute myocardial infarction was the number one cause of death in Nicaragua in 2018, responsible for a total of 825 deaths at an average of 7 a day.

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