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  Number 457 | Julio 2019
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua briefs

RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

Abelardo Mata, the bishop of Estelí, went to the United States in late May to meet with the Nicaraguan diaspora in various cities. On May 30, he was invited to Washington to meet Vice President Mike Pence, who showed great interest in learning firsthand about the harassment, threats and persecution Nicaragua’s Catholic Church is suffering. “Pence wanted to hear from me directly, and to thank the Catholic Church through me for all the work we are doing for peace and to defend the people,” said the bishop. “They also wanted to listen to me to corroborate the information they already have.” Mata also met with Sam Brownback, the US ambassador for international religious freedom, informing him about the harassment the Church is suffering in Nicaragua. “It was a long and very deep conversation in which I detailed very concretely what we are experiencing in the country. I told him religious freedom in Nicaragua is shackled. I said I personally couldn’t go out comfortably and if I move somewhere I have to do so in secret. I told him what we are going throug is also terrible because the regime is poisoning people’s hearts against us religious people: priests, bishops and delegates of the word alike.” On June 21, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented Congress with his department’s annual report on international religious freedom for 2018. It details various violent episodes suffered by Nicaragua’s Catholic hierarchy, referring to the attack by paramilitaries against the Church of Divine Mercy in Managua; the threats against and persecution of Bishop Silvio Báez; the harassment of Edwin Román, the parish priest of the San Miguel Church in Masaya; and the aggression against bishops by Sandinista mobs in Diriamba. It mentions “many incidents of vandalism and the desecration of sacred items in Catholic churches throughout the country” and the government’s continued use of “ religious festivities, symbolism, and language in its laws and policies to promote its political agenda.” The report was published before recent events such as the stoning of León’s Cathedralby Ortega’s mobs at the conclusion of a Mass held to celebrate the release of political prisoners from that city; or the continuous armed attacks by anti-riot police against small groups of youths who demonstrate in the atriums of the Cathedral in Managua.

UNPRECEDENTED HUMANRIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Joel Hernández, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ rapporteur for the rights of persons deprived of liberty, labelled as “profoundly worrying, truly tragic the experiences of an extremely large number of Nicaraguans illegally and arbitrarily detained and then subjected to bad treatment, at times even torture, far removed from the guarantees of a fair process.” He said it is “unprecedented in Latin America’s recent history to see such a large universe of people subjected to detention and penal processes with such an accumulation of violations of due process. We had never seen so many accumulated violations in a single country.”

DEFENDERS OF THE PEOPLE

In early June, Julio Montenegro, who represents more than 60 political prisoners, and three other lawyers who all previously worked in the Permanent Human Rights Commission, organized a new team of volunteer lawyers they are calling “Defenders of the People” to provide pro bono services. Montenegro explained that the change seeks to avoid the “administrative complexities that limited the exposure of some cases.” Later in the month Montenegro participated in a forum in Medellín in the context of the OAS Ordinary General Assembly titled “International justice in the Americas and its challenges for the prevention of crimes against humanity.” Reporting on the situation in Nicaragua , Montenegro said with more than a touch of irony that “we were the safest country on the continent until suddenly we were the country with the most terrorists in the world.” Another participant was Amérigo Incalcaterra, one of the members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which from June to December 2018 investigated in situ the acts of violence in Nicaragua between April 18 and May 30, concluding that the government had indeed committed crimes against humanity.

“THERE ARE NO TORTURES”

Six years behind schedule, the Ortega regime presented a report to the UN Committee against Torture on May 14. It denies that any charges of torture were brought in Nicaragua since 2008, adding that only five cases have been filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office since April 18, the start of the civic rebellion, all of which were dismissed for lack of evidence. The report contradicts the conclusions of a number of well-known international human rights organizations, including the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and those of national human rights organizations (see “Torture in the detention centers” in the June 2019 of envío). The reaction of Ramón Muñoz, president of International Human Rights Network, the Geneva-based nongovernmental organization, was that “the report sent by the government is only Mr. Ortega’s word against amply documented charges of tortures and human rights violations of all types.”

THE MOTHERS OF APRIL

AMA, the Mothers of April Association, has organized mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, aunts and many male relatives of youths murdered since April 19, 2018. It held its first national gathering on July 1 at the Central American University to make decisions, strengthen its unity and agree on how to respond to the regime’s offensive to get people in different areas to accept what is offered them in the misnamed Comprehensive Law of Attention to Victims. This new law, which is anything but comprehensive, only offers a number of favors, including study grants, housing and posts in the Peace Commissions contemplated in the law. On June 30, a first group of Mothers of April filed 26 suits of unconstitutionality in the Supreme Court of Justice against the Amnesty Law approved earlier in the month by the governing party-dominated National Assembly. The suits argue that the law affects them as victims and doesn’t represent them as it fails to punish those who killed their children.

MURDER OF A FORMER CONTRA

On June 27, 56-year-old Edgar Montenegro Centeno, a former combatant in the Nicaraguan Resistance known as “Comandante Cabezón,” and his 31-year-old adopted son, Jalmar Zeledón Olivas, were murdered in El Paraíso, Honduras, on the border with Nicaragua. Both had sought refuge there from the threats and harassment by pro-Ortega paramilitaries and police following their participation in blue and white protests in Wiwilí. Félix Maradiaga, a political adviser to the Blue and White Unity, accused the dictatorship of ordering their deaths in an ambush. “This act by paid FSLN hit-men, murderers with a lot of military experience,” he said, referring to their use of long-range rifles, “shows the regime’s bloodthirsty nature.” Since 1990, hundreds of Resistance chiefs have been murdered in circumstances never clarified or even investigated.

DENNIS MARTÍNEZ

In a long interview with the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario that ran on July 5-7, 2019, retired Nicaraguan-US major league baseball star Dennis Martínez said: “From the time I get up until the time I go to bed I follow the situation in my country, always with the hope that we will soon see light at the end of the tunnel. I pray that the hearts of those who don’t want to see the realities we’re going through will soften…. One has to know how to win and how to lose. When you see that you can’t win or that you gave it your all, you have to make way for the youths, just like in baseball. As a public figure, I can’t cling to what I had and continue playing the rest of my life if I’m no longer performing like I did before. They have to pull me out of the game, and I have to accept it, to retire, and that’s the end of it.”

ON SANCTIONS…

Lesther Alemán, the 20-year-old university student who issued an ultimatum to Ortega to throw in the towel during the opening of the 2018 national dialogue, said in an interview with the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa on June 22 that those issuing sanctions against the government had let the opposition know they were “to get Ortega to a negotiating table. We’ll take it from there, making sure the table is to negotiate Ortega’s departure. My words in the dialogue have no expiration date. No matter the table, what’s going to be negotiated is Ortega’s departure. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by early elections or by his resignation. That’s the demand Nicaragua has laid out.”

LOSS OF FORESTS

Just between 2011 and 2018, Nicaragua lost 1.4 million hectares of forestland to fires, indiscriminate cutting by loggers and to clear land for cattle pastures, according to Víctor Campos, director of the Humboldt Center. In that same period, the land dedicated to pasture Increased from 4.6 million to 6.9 million hectares. Of the total forestland lost, 34,000 hectares were mangroves and 280,000 were pine forests. “The forests in Nicaragua are going through their worst moment,” said Campos, who explained that the combined budgets of all government institutions related to the country’s natural resources don’t total 1% of the national budget. “Such a paltry budget shows environmental management’s low priority in Nicaragua,” he lamented.

TEEN PREGNANCIES FROM RAPE

Four cases of Latin American girls who had been raped and became pregnant were presented to the UN Human Rights Committee on May 29. Two of them are Nicaraguans: a 13-year-old raped by a priest and raped by her grandfather in the Caribbean region. The third, a Guatemalan, was raped by a governmental official when she was 12, and the fourth, from Ecuador, was also 12 when raped by a relative. All four had to carry the fetus to term, with no option to terminate the forced pregnancy. Latin America has the second highest teen pregnancy rate after Africa and is the only region in the world where sexual violence against young girls is increasing. The decision to present these four cases to the UN is aimed at promoting new human rights principles. Obliging a raped girl to continue the pregnancy is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, not to mention dangerous. The girls’ right to life must be respected, as the risk of dying during childbirth is four times greater for under-14s.The autonomy and judgment capacity of these girls must be respected. The reality of pregnancy among girls must be treated as gender discrimination, as many girls and women do not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. The right to personal integrity must also be respected and girls who want to abort must not be treated as criminals; abortion must be included in the health services, not in the criminal code.

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