|Central American University - UCA
Number 6 | Noviembre 1981
The Case Regarding COSEP and caus members
Four high-ranking members of the Private Enterprise Superior Council (COSEP) and four members of the Trade Union Action and Unity Confederation (CAUS) were tried for having violated the Law for the Maintenance of Public Order and Safety, as well as the Law of Social and Economic Emergency.
INTRODUCTION:Four high level officials of the Superior Council on Private Enterprise, COSEP, and four organizers of the Action and Unity Syndicate, CAUS, were tried on charges of violating the Maintenance of Public Order and Security Law and the National Economic and Social State of Emergency law. One COSEP member, Enrique José Bolinas, was acquitted. (The acquittal was based primarily on the fact that he had not signed the letter on which the criminal charges were based). The other three COSEP members were sentenced to 210 days of “arrest and public works”. One CAUS member was sentenced to seven months in prison and the other three to 20 months in prison. (Both the charges brought and verdicts rendered are listed at the end of this article).
Charges against the COSEP members were based upon a letter sent by these individuals to Daniel Ortega and published in La Prensa, broadcast on Radio Corporation and sent to international organizations. The letter makes a series of accusations. Among these are: Nicaragua is on the verge of destruction, the national economy is collapsing, a climate of social peace has not been achieved, a new genocide is being prepared in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas have adopted a Marxist-Leninist line and are promoting an international ideological struggle. The letter, which was picked up by the international wire services, appeared at the same time as a series of articles in the foreign press attacking Nicaragua.
Charges against the CAUS members were based upon a statement published in the Communist Party publication “AVANCE” and also distributed in the form of a flyer. The CAUS statement accuses government officials of engineering a malicious deviation of the revolution in alignment with foreign imperialist enemies of the revolution. They also state that 40 factories are in danger of being shut down, which would leave 15,000 workers unemployed. These flyers have been accompanied by campaigns, organized by CAUS, urging workers to push for higher wages and other economic demands immediately, and to continue using strikes and factory take-overs as a form of protest, even though these actions are prohibited by the Economic and Social State of Emergency Law.
On the night of the arrests, Daniel Ortega read a statement by the National Directorate and the Junta over national television. He spoke of the international campaign to discredit the revolution which has gathered momentum since Nicaragua presented the FDR-FMLN proposal for a negotiated settlement of the Salvadoran conflict in the United Nations on October 7, 1981. Ortega also reported that ex-Somocista National Guards have carried out 16 armed attacks along the Honduran border in the first three weeks of October. The statesman then presented evidence refuting the claims of both COSEP and CAUS and presented the charges which has been filed against the eight persons.
COSEP has named a new directorate which met with Sergio Ramirez on October 25, to request the liberty of those detained and to discuss problems facing the country. Ramirez responded that the courts would decide upon the case and that the government was not acting against businessmen or COSEP members as such, rather it was applying the law to individuals who had acted in violation of the law. Both Ramirez and the new COSEP directorate expressed the desire to reach an agreement. In general, COSEP has responded to the imprisonment of its members by communicating with the exterior and by attempting to rally support from its member organizations for the letter. CAUS has attempted to organize political rallies in some barrios. It appears that both COSEP and CAUS will intensify their political efforts in the upcoming weeks.
The Trial Proceedings: The trial was carried out according to procedures established in the Maintenance of Order and Public Security Law. The Attorney General presented the case to the district judge who then notified the persons of the charges filed against them. Those facing charges were required to answer within 48 hours, naming their defense. There was then a three-day period to present and weigh the evidence. Following these three days, the judge had 48 hours to deliver the verdict, which may now be appealed. This law and the corresponding procedures were issued on July 20, 1979 for the purpose of bringing about social order in an emergency situation; thus the time span for the trial is short. The defense lawyers have not questioned the legitimacy of the legal proceedings, although they have complained that the three-day period did not offer sufficient time to weigh all the evidence. In the appeal process, further consideration can be given. The Attorney General characterized the action of both groups, highlighting the following points: 1) both the CAUS and COSEP members acted in their personal interests, rather than as representatives of trade unions or commercial interests; 2) there is a convergence between internal and external campaigns to destabilize the government; 3) the actions of these individuals are not simply acts of dissent, but rather an attempt to destroy the foundation of the revolution; 4) both groups are using the country’s economic problems in order to speculate in an irresponsible and destructive way about a supposed complete break down of the economy. As evidence, the Attorney General presented both the letter and the flyer and documented the way in which these were published and distributed.
Evidence was also presented regarding the participation of three CAUS members in the take-over of the “Plastics Moderns” factory.
The defense for the COSEP members emphasized the right of individuals to write a letter of reflection to their government, expressing concern about the national situation and criticizing government policy. The defense states that the COSEP members are qualified economist who pointed out in the letter factors that they feel are damaging to the economy and its chance for recovery. COSEP lawyers entered as evidence a 50-page document by COSEP economists which tried to back up with data the claims made in the letter. They also submitted letters from the Venezuelan Embassy, the U.S. Embassy and Senator Charles Percy of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee stating that the defendants had played an important role in convincing the Venezuelan and U.S. governments to grant loans to Nicaragua.
The CAUS lawyers stressed the right to publish economic data and to educate workers about the problematic situation within the country. They also stated that this same data had been published by the government. The defense for both the COSEP and CAUS members argued that the defendants acted in an official capacity as representatives of organizations and not as individuals.
The Verdict:In the verdict, Judge Trios stated that the COSEP letter was not merely a letter of reflection written by citizens to their government in that it was disseminated among the national and international community. He cited the COSEP letter to demonstrate that it constituted an attack against the national and public security and the national economy, the defense of order and the prevention of crime, the dignity of persons, and the authority and impartiality of the judicial system. Trios cited the CAUS document to demonstrate that it violated these same four points. He also stated that there was clear proof that three CAUS members had incited and participated in the take-over of the “Plastics Moderns” factory. Trios clarified that the accusations were against individuals and not against COSEP or CAUS, that an individual is responsible for his actions before the law even when acting in an official capacity.
Related Circumstances:Both the COSEP letter and the CAUS flyer follow the same line as previous documents by these groups, yet they are far more provocative in character and harsher in tone. In addition, they appear at a time in which Nicaragua is coming under increasing attack in the exterior.
The COSEP letter coincided with a series of articles that appeared in the foreign press. A recent Wall Street Journal article alleged that there exists repression against Managua’s Archbishop, that the closure of La Prensa is imminent, and that the combined military forces of Cuba and Nicaragua are a Soviet foothold between North and South America. The Washington Post published an article by Evans and Novak stating that 500 to 600 Cuban elite troops, who supposedly had slipped into Nicaragua as tourists and then trained in the Nicaraguan jungle for one month, were responsible for the guerrilla action which blew up the strategic Puente de Oro bridge in El Salvador. This particular charge has been picked up and repeated by U.S. State Department Officials and Secretary of State Haig in meetings with other governments. Both the Nicaraguan and the Cuban government have termed the charges absurd, and Fidel Castro has demanded that Haig show proof of these allegations. Costa Rica’s newspaper La Nation published an interview with self-exiled Nicaraguan Gregorio Cadre, claiming that there are seven military bases in Nicaragua as well as Russian tanks and Cuba planes.
This kind of reporting closely resembles reporting which preceded major U.S. intervention in Chile and Cuba. Instead of accurately reporting what is happening in Nicaragua, these articles merely reaffirm the three major accusations that the Reagan administration has filed against Nicaragua: Nicaragua is building an army stronger than it needs for its own defense, Nicaragua is aiding the El Salvadorian guerrillas and serving as a channel for arms flow from Cuba to El Salvador, and that Nicaragua is heading towards a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian dictatorship. While reiterating U.S. claims of Nicaragua’s role in the East-West conflict, the COSEP document also pretends to offer proof in the name of Nicaragua’s private sector that Nicaragua is becoming a Marxist totalitarian dictatorship.
Simultaneously, opposition leaders have been making a number of visits to the European and Latin American countries whose political and economic support is crucial for Nicaragua. Alfonso Robelo, MEN leader and former Junta member, in his recent trip to Costa Rica stated that there are forces other than Somoza’s National Guard who have taken up the armed struggle within Nicaragua; a statement which would encourage those counter-revolutionary bands who are carrying out border attacks on an almost daily basis against Nicaragua.
The COSEP letter’s impact in the exterior is due to COSEP’s access to the foreign press, its extensive international contracts and the letter’s coincidence with destabilization campaigns abroad. The CAUS flyers have an effect primarily among Nicaragua’s working people whose economic demands, even if they are just, cannot be met by the revolution at this moment. The revolution has been able to respond to many of the demands for education, health care, roads and other social services, despite its very limited resources, and although these benefits have been important to the workers, the government has not been able to raise wages substantially in order to stay ahead of inflation.
Many of Nicaragua’s factories produce goods for the Central American Common Market, which has been disrupted by the turmoil in the region. These factories also rely upon imported raw materials whose prices are rising quickly. Reduced production and lay-offs are likely in the near future which could give more power to CAUS campaigns.
Nicaragua’s Response to Destabilization Efforts:Nicaraguans have studied the historical experience of Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Chile. There are clear patterns in the U.S. government’s attempts to overthrow governments in these countries. The coordination of actions on the economic, political, diplomatic and para-military level is well-documented, as is the collaboration between the U.S. government and national opposition parties, labor unions and media.
The Nicaraguan Revolution is attempting to respond to the present destabilization threats. Unlike in Chile under Allende, the Nicaraguan army is completely Sandinista and does not constitute a potential ally of any counter-revolutionary forces. The national leadership has shown strong unity and resistance to provocations which might attempt to divide it. There are revolutionary laws which limit the activity of groups within Nicaragua who are working in conjunction with destabilization efforts in the exterior. With the arrests of the COSEP and CAUS members, the government has shown its political determination to apply these laws in order to protect the revolution.
However, opposition groups continue to exercise their existing freedoms to disrupt the process. A study of La Prensa shows clear similarities to El Mercurio, the paper used by the CIA in Chile. Yet if the government closes La Prensa, they risk losing important international support for the revolution.
Restrictions on opposition activities also have domestic costs. Nicaragua has suffered 400 years of oppression and dictatorship. Nicaraguans are now anxious to develop a civil order where individual rights are respected. The Nicaraguan revolution has been characterized for its openness and tolerance of criticism. Yet a continued tightening of control could begin to limit the climate of liberty now enjoyed in Nicaragua.
Do the Arrests Signify a Change in Policy or Direction of the Government?:Whether the government’s determination to apply the law to preserve the revolution means that activities of the opposition will be increasingly curtailed depends upon the course of action the opposition groups decide to take. One possibility is that opposition groups will adopt actions of an increasingly provocative character, forcing the government to apply the law, which will then be used against Nicaragua in the exterior.
International press coverage speaks of the Sandinistas as silencing all opposition and criticism of the government. One can guess that opposition bent upon destroying the revolution will be increasingly restricted as it becomes increasingly threatening. This could possibly mean that criticism and opposition to particular government actions or programs will be limited. In Nicaragua today, criticism is common on all levels and there is constant discussion and debate in the neighborhoods and factories, within and between political parties, and on radio and television.
There have been two incidents which COSEP has used as evidence of increasing repression. On October 27, five leaders of opposition political parties intended to leave for meetings with high level government officials in West Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium and England. In the airport, their passports were taken and they were told to reclaim them in the migration office as the passports were out of date and would have to be renewed. The opposition leaders claimed that they still had a period of grace on the passports. In either case, the decision had definite political overtones.
In another incident, a group of COSEP leaders were prohibited from holding a meeting in Managua’s Commercial Center. The order to prohibit the meeting originated in the office of the National Directorate. COSEP leaders are constantly holding meetings both in their headquarters and in public places throughout the country. The treatment of these two incidents, both by the media and by the government, has lacked the careful coverage and explanation that accompanied the arrest and trial of the COSEP and CAUS members.
Within Nicaragua, there has been little popular protest over the imprisonments. There was however a demonstration in support of the revolution which culminated in extensive vandalism to the fence and two cars belonging to Alfonso Robelo. The police did not respond vigorously against the demonstrators. This incident has been criticized by the opposition, but also by pro-government sectors, including Christian groups as being against the ideals of the revolution.
CONCLUSION:Both the Maintenance of Order and Public Security Law and the State of Economic and Social Emergency law were established to bring about social order and to create the conditions which will allow for the reactivation of the economy. Only two years ago, Nicaragua inherited a destroyed infra-structure and productive base. Forty-five years of dictatorship permitted little social organization. There have been tremendous advances in the last two years in the organization of the government, production, the financial system, the judicial system, community, health and education programs and so forth. Yet two years is little time to establish the organizational base of a new country and there are still real possibilities that Nicaragua could slip into a situation of anarchy. The government is now reaffirming its political determination to lead the country in resolving the problems facing it and to exercise those laws that have been established to protect the revolutionary process. October’s massive mobilizations demonstrate once again the energy and popular support this revolution can call forth in the face of external aggressions and economic difficulties.
November 2, 1981
Maintenance of Public Order and Security Law
July 20, 1979
Decree 148, Article 4, clause C, 1 – 4
Article 4: Persons charged with the following crimes may be subject to three months to two years in prison:
Clause C: To disseminate in written or verbal form statements which attempt to harm the interest of the majority and the victories won by the people:
1) The security and national integrity, public security and the national economy.
2) The defense of order and the prevention of crime.
3) The protection of health, morals, and dignity of persons, the reputation and rights of others.
4) The authority and impartiality of the judicial power.
The Social and Economic State of Emergency Law
September 9, 1981
Decree 812, Article 3, clause c, f, h
Article 3: Persons charged with the following crimes against the economic and social security of the nation will be sentenced to one to three years in prison:
Clause c: The diffusion of false information that tends to provoke alterations in prices, salaries, provisions, currency.
Clause f: To incite or participate in work stoppages, takeovers of work centers, strikes or the invasions or land takeovers except as provided by the Agrarian Reform Law.
Clause h: To incite foreign governments or credit institutions to withhold or to suspend aid to Nicaragua or to cause damage to the national economy.
The following persons were absolved of the following charges presented by the Attorney General:
Enrique Bolaños Geyer –
Decree 148, Article 4, clause c, 1, 2, 3, 4.
Decree 812, Article 3, clause c and h.
The acquittal was based primarily on the fact that he had not signed the letter on which the criminal charges were based.
Yamilet Bonilla Madrigal -
Decree 813, Article 3, clause c and f.
COSEPEnrique Dreyfus Morales -
Benjamín Lanzas Selva - Decree 812, Article 3,
Gilberto Cuadra Solórzano - Clause c and h.
CAUSElí Altamirano Pérez -
Allan Zambrana Salmerón - Decree 812, Article 3,
Roberto Moreno Cajina - Clause c.
The following persons were found guilty of the following charges presented by the Attorney General:
COSEPEnrique Dreyfus Morales -
Benjamín Lanzas Selva - Decree 148, Article 4,
Gilberto Cuadra Solórzano - Clause c, 1, 2, 3, 4.
CAUSElí Altamirano Pérez - Decree 148, Article 4,
Allan Zambrana Salmerón - Clause c, 1, 2, 3, 4.
Roberto Moreno Cajina -
Yamilet Bonilla Madrigal -
These persons have been sentenced to 210 days of arrest and public works.
The following persons were found guilty of additional charges presented by the Attorney General:
CAUSElí Altamirano Pérez -
Allan Zambrana Salmerón - Decree 812, Article 3,
Roberto Moreno Cajina - Clause f.
These persons have been sentenced to 29 months in prison.