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  Number 442 | Mayo 2018
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Nicaragua briefs


In an op-ed piece in the e-bulletin Confidencial, Nicaraguan novelist Gioconda Belli wrote that “if Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo had complied with the constitutional non-reelection mandate, they would now be ex-President and ex-First Lady, and could have preserved their importance, leadership and respect within the FSLN…. But the arrogance and Messianism of believing themselves indispensable opened the breech. Daniel and Rosario not only decided not to cede power when it came time, but began creating a system that would guarantee their ability to exercise their will unchallenged forever, at the price of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. One can only imagine the shock it must have caused them both to see so many people rising up impassioned, telling them to get out. To see again, as in a nightmare, the Güegüense of 1990, belying the polls, to contemplate what they called “miniscule” forces revealing themselves as immense given the size
of the general discontent…. Worse still, it must have been to realize that this is an uprising motivated above all by the injustice and brutality with which they ordered the bludgeoning and dispersion of a peaceful civic demonstration. By turning again, as on previous occasions, to this system of intimidation, they overflowed the cup of iniquity, pushed the arbitrariness beyond the inflection point and themselves produced this social explosion.”


In an interview in the Nicaraguan daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, current president of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), said that “between now and a few years into the future we are going to see 2018 as a year of breakdown, a year in which the economic activity fell. How far it drops will depend on how quickly the government wants to solve the bottom-line problem, which as we all know isn’t now only the INSS problem. It’s the problem of institutionality of the rule of law and of justice for the victims. Given these events, it’s natural to ask that the government leave, and to say there’s nothing to dialogue about. But we need to avoid reproducing the cycles of violence that have historically not let us advance or find democratic solutions that promote our sustainable development. Let’s remember that because of these cycles of conflict we still haven’t exceeded the gross domestic product of 1978 (the year before Somoza fell). The “us against them” sentiment is also very strong and I think that’s an error. There were thousands of Sandinistas, including public officials, in the march on Monday, April 23, who were upset at what had occurred yet despite that they’re not going to stop being Sandinistas. There can be no national solution without the FSLN. It’s vital to dialogue with these people so they can help generate a climate of change”


Monsignor Silvio Báez, auxiliary bishop
of Managua, said in an interview by Fernando del Rincón on the CNN program “Conclusiones”: “If the youths whose consciousness was heroically awakened are called vandals, no propitious climate can be crated for the dialogue. The essential thing in the national dialogus is not to confront people, but to resolve problems. And the government should collaborate a little more in that… The dialogue in Nicaragua is a risk because our country isn’t used to dialoguing and because a part of society has been silenced and had its fundamental human rights repressed. We bishops have accepted this risk in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of the people. If we do not run that risk, horizons of violence and chaos will open. The parties have to go agreeing to achieve a single objective.”


And the following is from an op-ed piece in La Prensa by former FUNIDES director Javier Argüello Lacayo: “Ironically, the Church is skeptical about Ortega’s intensions in calling for the dialogue, but the private sector has faith. Its communique expresses ‘the conviction that dialogue… should be the only way out of the current situation to achieve a fairer and more democratic country.’ Monsignor Báez the country’s moral authority, called the dialogue ‘a risk, in part because Ortega ‘has refused it for years, while making clear that it is a government strategy to strengthen itself. Is it possible that the Church understands Nicaraguan realpolitik better than the private sector, which has negotiated with Ortega behind closed doors for a decade? The private sector’s demands in the dialogue assume that Ortega will take responsibility for resolving the crisis of governability he himself created, and expect him to reconstruct the institutions he destroyed.,”


Human Rights Watch said on April 27 that “protesters who engage in violence should expect to be held to account, but so too should any police officer who uses excessive force. There is no excuse for taking media outlets covering the protests off the air or allowing pro-government groups to assault journalists and protesters.” It reported having received information from Nicaragua’s Red Cross that it had treated 435 people wounded in the framework of the protests between April 18 and 25, 242 of whom were hospitalized. Just between April 26 and 27, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) learned of 37 imprisoned youths who showed signs of mistreatment upon their release. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “consternation” regarding the violence exercised by government forces.


In another op-ed piece, this one by former education minister Humberto Belli in La Prensa, he wrote that “in April 2018, a time of complete peace, the government forces [in Nicaragua] attacked unarmed students who were protesting, killing around 60 people…. In Venezuela under President Maduro, a hundred civilians perished in five months of protest. Under Ortega 60 in five days This denotes the presence of a deliberate and sustained state policy…. The famous ‘July 23, 1959, massacre’ occurred under Luis Somoza, when a National Guard Platoon fired into a university march killing 4. The date became an icon of Somocista brutality. But Luis never again permitted the Guard to fire on students, even though he had to deal with many more protests. The massacre of citizens and peasants on January 22, 1967, occurred under Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last of the dynasty. When one of the demonstrators shot and killed Lieutenant Sixto Pineda, the Guard responded with a terrible hail of bullets. That Somoza, like his brother Luis and his father Somoza García, afterward took care that his forces not fire against students, despite the innumerable protests he would also ace.... Everything changed after the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro on January 10, 1978, and the subsequent armed insurrections, when the Guard unleashed its fury against thousands of civilians and combatants. But that was a civil war in which two bands were killing each other. In the history of civilian repression in times of peace, the Ortega-Murillos have exceeded the three Somozas and any other dictator in homicidal violence.”


In a text published in Confidencial by Alejandro Bendaña, who among many other things wrote a biography of Augusto Sandino, he said that “perhaps not all students realized that Sandino appeared with them. He was one more self-summoned from the moment those youths assumed representation of the country’s dignity. That was also the cause of Sandino and of the valiant peasant men and women from the north who followed him into battle against imperialism and a regime that trampled the rights of all Nicaragua…. For a long time I thought that democratization of Nicaragua depended on democratization of the FSLN. But it turned out not to be so…. During those days in April, those days of the most grandiose peaceful insurrection recorded in national history, I witnessed an emblematic scene. As a biographer and admirer of Sandino I was moved to see the video of a group of youths scaling an effigy of the national hero to remove an improvised red and black bandana and replace it with the blue and white national flat. Of course, Sandino carried that flag during the military context, but he assumed it when he signed the failed peace of February 1933. The struggle of the students and peasants is peaceful, so that blue and white flag is rightfully theirs.”


“The revolt against Ortega and his clan arose from inside Nicaragua,” said Univisión journalist Jorge Ramos in a piece published in Reforma de México. “It had nothing to do with any international conspiracy to ‘destabilize’ the country, as the Cuban dictatorship perversely suggested. It has to do with students and adolescents who have lost their fear and are fed up with having an authoritarian government, one that censors and kills. These Nicaraguan youths remind me so much of the Dreamers and the student survivors of the massacre at the high school in Parkland, Florida. The change in Nicaragua is in their hands. And they need to know they aren’t alone; that outside of Nicaragua we are seeing and hearing them…. The tyrants can no longer hide what happened. The videos of the repression will live forever on Internet…. As we see in the streets, there is now a new generation ready to lead the country.”


In an op-ed piece also in La Prensa, economist José Luis Medal wrote that “Nicaragua’s economy is more fragile that it appears. If the grave institutional problem isn’t resolved, the economy will collapse sooner or later. No one should be deceived; the problem goes beyond the Social Security Institute’s financial crisis. Venezuela’s financing allowed Ortega to continue financing political clientelism and the accumulation of what is, to say the least, a questionable fortune. But the party’s over… The economic issue is important; no one denies it, but in no way is it the central problem. The political system, the absence of democratic institutionality, is the central problem. The corruption makes it extremely difficult to adopt adjustment measures to palliate the crisis. No one will agree to pay the price for a group of corrupt politicians. The corruption also makes the political transition difficult. Interest in protecting one’s ill-gotten gains usually goes hand in hand with the stubborn determination to conserve one’s political power. It happened with Somoza and is now happening again. If this scenario prevails, the result will be catastrophic, but the political transition is not only desirable sooner rather than later, but is inevitable. It will be orderly and not apocalyptic only if the de facto powers—COSEP, the churches and especially the Army—support democracy and not the dictatorship.”


The forest fire that destroyed 2% of the Indio-Maíz Reserve started in a community of the municipality of San Juan de Nicaragua, department of Río San Juan. As is so often the case, it was the product of slash-and-burn agricultural practices by a peasant who planned to then plant rice. The burning off of brush or stubble from previous harvests, usually done in the months of peak heat and sometimes high winds before the rainy season, is a custom among peasants that’s hard to break. The person responsible was apprehended on April 18 and will be tried for starting the fire. He was clearly upset and repentant.
Meanwhile, intentional environmental crimes, such as illegal logging, go uninvestigated and unpunished. In an interview with Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper, environmentalist and filmmaker Camilo de Castro Belli remarked on the government’s complicity in what has been happening for years in the Indio-Maíz Reserve. “There’s a combination of lack of capacity and corruption among local officials and disinterest in the central government, as it is promoting an economic model that puts a premium on economic growth at any cost. Another very important factor is racism. There’s a marked discrimination toward the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples who live in the reserve. Local authorities favor the mestizos who invade and also share the mentality that these lands are there to be exploited. People go into the reserve, settle there, bring in cattle and wait to see if the authorities will do anything. And because they don’t, they keep advancing further in. The cattle ranchers will tell you: ‘I’m going to keep on going here, and if they throw me out, I don’t lose anything, because I already got what I could out of the land.’ What they get is the price for the meat we export to the United States and eat in the Pacific. Last year forest rangers patrolled the area and found a cattle ranch right in the heart of the Reserve, where they were fattening 80 calves. They also found another farm where over 200 hectares had been clear-cut and they were continuing to deforest… I can show you the videos.”

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