“The solution lies in measuring strength at the ballot box, not with weapons”
In his address at the end of the OAS General Assembly
that had convened on July 11 to hear the final report
of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro read this speech.
His words revealed an important and eloquent shift
from the position he had held up to that point.
The clarity of his vision opened up possibilities
for finding a political solution to Nicaragua’s crisis
and enjoys support from a majority of the continent.
Nicaragua today is—continues to be—a victim of violence, repression and murder, with utterly disastrous consequences for the country. We condemn each and every act of violence, each murder bringing the country one step closer to barbarity. The State and the Government bear a particularly aggravated responsibility. The exercise of violence by these entities is unconscionable.
The OAS General Secretariat’s position is clear: international commitments to human rights are compulsory and they require that we never back down. This brings us to that which daily motivates the OAS General Secretariat: seeking and guaranteeing “more rights for more people.”
The tools for responding to Nicaragua’s suffering are readily available to us, namely the instruments of the Inter-American System for the defense of Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.
We must defend the value of politics by acting in accordance with our commitments, based on a moral position and not out of abstention or paralysis which, as we have already seen, do nothing but exacerbate the situation. We must set in motion the institutional structures we have created, activating political and legal leverage for such ends. Because nothing is more urgent or more relevant than saving lives, nor is there a more transcendent role for our hemispheric community than that of strengthening democracy and people’s rights.
Violence breeds illegitimacy
Two days ago police and paramilitary forces linked to the government undertook actions that cost many people their lives. Deaths that we cannot accept, much less accept in silence. Masked and armed people are and have been terrorizing the civilian population as they dismantle the roadblocks set up in cities such as Diriamba, Dolores, Jinotepe and Matagalpa.
It is estimated that at least 11 to 14 people died, among them 2 police officers and 1 paramilitary. Violence used as a political instrument inexorably strips any ethical–political proposal of its legitimacy. Violence rolls back democracy.
State violence cannot be tolerated
Obviously the murder of police officers must be condemned. Of course. The deaths of two police officers and a paramilitary also help us understand the scale of the confrontation. But state violence against a civilian population can never be tolerated. Its disproportion and the difference in means make state violence, as well as the violence of repressive forces linked to the government, abusive and criminal. The State exists to protect people’s rights, not steamroller them. When it acts this way, it becomes particularly responsible for the ensuing violation of human rights.
I was recently reading how Hannah Arendt warned us that power never arises from violence. She added that power only arises from political action and violence only arises in the absence of power, when power is at risk. Power then resorts to armed violence to impose itself, an act that leads in turn to a spiral which in the end obliterates democracy.
State terrorism is an aberration
We condemn the murders and we demand justice; furthermore, we condemn the jailing of opponents. We have resolved in our basic agreements to protect and guarantee our peoples’ human rights.
Likewise we take on the obligation as a hemispheric community to denounce any abuse that may occur in our territories, especially when the responsibility for these abuses lies at the feet of a State in its worst form, when the State deliberately and without justification violates the human rights of its own population. Never, under any circumstance, can there be a justification for this aberration. State violence and terrorism are the tools of those who have lost all credibility and capacity for legitimately exercising authority.
A people attacked by its own government—by the government it elected to protect and guarantee its rights—is one that we must support even more, by denouncing and by using the diplomatic tools at our disposal. There are no human beings more vulnerable than those who are attacked by those who should protect them.
The pathways of terror
must urgently be shut down
The lack of healthy political rationales has led us to count deaths in the country by the dozens and the hundreds. This is something we cannot treat as normal or as merely a result of political dynamics.
Politics confers the authority to stake out positions and make decisions, but it also requires responsibility and accountability. We must urgently shut down the pathways of death, terror and the logic of reprisals in the country.
We must also denounce the ongoing arbitrary detentions. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), on its own authority, has intervened for the liberation of 29 people detained as a result of the protests. The IACHR has reported on the repression by armed pro-government groups and by police, and has requested measures to guarantee individuals’ life and integrity.
Simultaneously, we reiterate our support for the work of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IGIE). Its work is indispensable for finding the path to truth and justice in the country. In turn, the political and financial support for the IGIE’s work received from this Permanent Council’s member countries, from observers and from the international community is necessary if the IGIE is to fulfill its mission. And we are grateful for it.
Those who have died are the poor
The OAS General Secretariat pledges to maintain its work so that Nicaragua may have a free and transparent electoral process. We are continuing to work toward that end, and last week a delegation from the General Secretariat was in the country to make progress on these issues.
The General Secretariat continues to believe that holding early elections is the best tool for resolving the polarization and violence that plague the country. Repression is never a sustainable mechanism for a country; repression means more poverty, fewer rights and less well being. Healthy democratic competition must take place in the context of fair and transparent elections, in which votes are what count most. Not death, nor arbitrary detentions, nor weapons, nor violence.
I repeat the General Secretariat’s utmost commitment to supporting democratic, institutional solutions that are in harmony with the Inter-American regulatory cannon. It is time to receive responses from both the Government and other Nicaraguan stakeholders. The dominant classes’ thirst for power and wealth is paid for with the lives of the poorest people and their children.
All violent deaths are regrettable. We condemn them all. But we shine a light on the fact that while the elite are fueling hate and confrontation, the poor are the ones who have died in Nicaragua as a result of this polarization. There is no human or divine right that permits the life and happiness of poor families to be sacrificed in the name of political or class interests.
there will be more bloodshed
We urgently need responses. There will no solution, either democratic or human rights-based, in the absence of urgent replies. Without responses leading to solutions we are faced with a single certainty: more blood will be shed in the country. This crisis has already cost many Nicaraguans their lives.
Out of respect for the memory of these victims, the Government and representatives of opposition forces share the political and moral obligation to come to agreement. To shape solutions based on political resolutions. Good-faith agreements that can put an end to the murderous vortex, that can pacify and rebuild the country, occupying an institutional, democratic pathway to the rule of law and human rights. The cost of not reaching these urgent, good-faith agreements is still more Nicaraguan bloodshed.
We are awaiting replies from the Government to our institutional proposals based on democratic pathways. The Government holds in its hands the possibility of taking the unquestionably democratic initiatives that will allow the people to express their opinions at the ballot box.
As General Secretary I reiterate my call for peacemaking and understanding among fellow citizens. And once again we urgently call for an end to the violence, an end to repression and an end to murder. We urge Nicaragua to find a peaceful, democratic way out.
The solution is early elections
We have proposed from the very beginning an essential tool for ending the violence: calling for early elections in the context of a free and fair electoral process. We continue to believe it is crucial to shift the conflict from one fought with weapons to the ballot box. We were misunderstood initially by one side, and now by the other. For having proposed elections we were accused of collusion, which was one of the biggest political blunders we have had to face in our three years at the OAS General Secretariat. Our proposal for a democratic solution was considered weak by those who thought they had the strength to overthrow Ortega.
Today the Government believes it has controlled the strength that tried to overthrow it, and so it is now uninterested. These are serious mistakes that have cost the lives of Nicaraguan people, and have implied costs that Nicaragua’s poor do not have the resources to pay. No country is sustainable in human rights, social or economic terms when its government attempts to prop itself up on the basis of force and repression. No country is sustainable when the political equation falls victim to the logic of measuring strength through violence.
Positions must be
staked out at the ballot box
We continue to believe that the only way to solve this is democratically. With free and fair elections. The work of the OAS General Secretariat to reform Nicaragua’s electoral and institutional systems must have a political purpose: to give a voice to the citizenry so that in expressing themselves at the ballot box, they may find a way out of this crisis on their own.
If the political situation is not resolved, the other instruments we promote, negotiate and sponsor, i.e. the IACHR and the IGIE, will only continue being witnesses to violence and death—in fact partial witness to violence and death. The IACHR must leave here today with a clear mandate to identify all, ALL causes of the violence, and name the actions it has taken to deactivate them. The IACHR cannot continue to just chase the violence from behind. It must take clear preventive measures to deactivate those conditions that could potentially create more victims.
The complaints the IACHR may register and the justice the IGIE may seek through its investigations are crucial for the country’s future, but the country will only have a future if it reaches a political and democratic solution. We insist on the same democratic, constitutional solution we proposed initially. We insist that the people must defend their positions at the ballot box and not with weapons.