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  Number 462 | Diciembre 2019
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua briefs

LULA KNOWS WHEN TO QUIT

In a November 8 speech in which he railed against Nicaragua’s bishops and business elite, Daniel Ortega celebrated former Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s release from prison after 580 days following a Supreme Court ruling and predicted that Lula would “sweep” the upcoming elections. In an exclusive interview with The Guardian two weeks later, however, Lula said his Workers’ Party is prepared to take back the government, but he will not be its candidate. “I will turn 77 in 2020,” he said, “and the Catholic Church, with its 2,000 years of experience, retires its bishops at 75.” With respect to the recent events in Bolivia, Lulu told his interviewer that “Evo committed an error, attempting a fourth presidential period.” Daniel Ortega turns 75 in November 2021, the month of Nicaragua’s next scheduled elections, but unlike Lula he has shown every sign of running for a fourth consecutive term as Nicaragua’s President. As the FSLN’s only candidate in its entire electoral history, it will be Ortega’s eighth straight run for that office.

CARLOS FERNANDO CHAMORRO
RETURNS FROM EXILE IN COSTA RICA

Independent investigative journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, founder and editor of the bulletin Confidencial and director of the nightly TV news magazine programs “Esta Noche” and “Esta Semana,” returned to Nicaragua with his wife Desirée Elizondo on November 25 after 11 months in exile in Costa Rica. Journalist Jennifer Ortiz, director of the digital platform “Nicaragua Investiga,” Professor Álvaro Gómez, whose son was among those killed by Ortega’s forces in Masaya, and five other people returned from exile on the same flight. After deplaning in Managua, Chamorro recognized that while conditions still do not exist for his safe return, he is taking “responsibility” for his decision. He explained emotionally that now he would be able to kiss his mother, former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. In Confidencial he wrote that “during the 19 months of the April Rebellion’s pain and hope, in the hardest moments of the repression, I have always kept in mind the example of her integrity and the values she represents, paired with the democratic legacy and the sacrifice of my father, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. They are the moral reserve that feed my conviction that Nicaragua will again be a Republic.” He also wrote: “I am returning to my homeland to continue demanding the suspension of the de facto confiscation of Confidencial and 100% Noticias, which have been occupied by armed agents of the National Police since December 14 and 21, 2018, respectively.”

NICAS IN COSTA RICA

Andrew Steele, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, calculates that between 80,000 and 100,000 Nicaraguans have left Nicaragua since the crisis that began in April 2018, the majority exiled for political reasons and due to persecution. He admits the number is inexact as many enter the new country by irregular routes. Steele believes Costa Rica has welcomed them, but that the legal paths for their regularization and to obtain temporary work permits need to be more streamlined. He mentioned that professionals and students are arriving, “people with high human capital, and inserting them into the formal economy would be a win for Costa Rica, but many are in the informal economy.” All who arrive have access to basic education, but it is harder to get into university. Access to health care
is difficult because they are not in the formal economy. Some 89-90% of the Nicaraguans in Costa Rica want to return and consider their stay in that country only temporary.

FIVE MORE YEARS OF AVILÉS

On November 28, well before the deadline established by law, Daniel Ortega reappointed General Julio César Avilés as the head of the Army for another five years. In our November issue, security expert Roberto Cajina analyzed the different possibilities open to the Army’s Military Council when making its proposal to Ortega: either Major Bayardo Rodríguez, who was next in the line of succession, or five more years of Avilés. On learning that Avilés would remain in that post, which he has already held for an unprecedented 10 years, Cajina commented that “the country, the Army and Avilés all lose.” The country, because it’s one more step in deinstitutionalizing it; the Army, because it deepens its own institutionality crisis; and Avilés, because by proposing him for a third consecutive term and assuming it really had a choice in the matter, the Military Council did not take into account that its image was already “quite deteriorated,” and could get even worse. Two days later, the Army’s inspector general, Major General Marvin Corrales, said in a speech to inaugurate a sports event that keeping Avilés in his post was a “unanimous” decision of the Army Military Council and an example of the “cohesion” that exists in this armed institution.

THE ARMY’S POSITION?

At an event commemorating the Day of the Soldier on November 27, General Avilés spoke for the first time since being named head of the Army of Nicaragua for another five years. He said the Army contributes to “a Nicaragua in which we all have the opportunity to live in harmony, development and peace.” Three days earlier, the Army’s inspector general, Major General Marvin Corrales, had said that the Army had established its position since April and it is “the institutional positon we have maintained.” He was referring to a communique the Army published on April 21, 2018, only days into the rebellion and the repressive massacre. In it the Army stated that the solution to the crisis had to be “dialogue to find a consensual response.” In the next communique, on May 12, it repeated that dialogue “is the only path to avoid irreversible effects on our people, our economy, the national development and our security.” But neither a Nicaragua “for all” nor “dialogue” are policies of the Ortega dictatorship. Analysts of the country’s current situation consider that both Avilés and Corrales were directing their words to the United States, in an attempt to avoid Washington’s sanctions affecting Army officers.

ARMY REJECTS DENUNCIATION

In late September the Nicaragua Nunca + collective, made up of human rights defenders who belonged to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) and took exile in Costa Rica, delivered a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on violations of the human rights of Nicaragua’s “peasant population.” It documents the murder of 55 peasants between 2008 and 2019, 30 of them between January 1 and September 22, 2019, and 25 in the 10 years prior to the April 2018 crisis. The collective’s investigation links the Police and Army forces to these crimes, which it considers to have been “selective murders that reveal the unconscionable lethalness of the governmental repression, which is of a kind seen in times of war.” In early November the Army responded to the report, stating that it has had “nothing to do” with these deaths, many of which the two armed institutions attributed at the time to confrontations with drug traffickers and delinquents. The Army discredited the report, claiming it contains “evidence of manipulation of totally false information.” What is indisputable is that none of these deaths was judicially investigated and all remain unpunished.

SUMMARY EXECUTIONS AND “CIVIL DEATHS”

CENIDH presented a new report on November 22 that covers the human rights violations committed by the regime between January and October of this year, but focusing on September and October. .The report, titled “How Nicaragua resists the repression,” says CENIDH monitored 31 murders in the country’s northern rural zones, especially the municipalities of Jinotega, and 2 in the central zone. Twelve of these murders occurred in September and October. According to CENIDH’s president, Vilma Núñez, all 31 were “summary executions, like those the Ortega government began to commit in that part of the country against demobilized Resistance fighters after he returned to power in 2007.” The report also confirms the existence of clandestine jails where political prisoners are taken to be subjected to psychological and physical tortures.The report mentions “civil death,” which the regime is applying to released political prisoners as a form of “prolonged repression.” Civil death means the loss of the right to work: as jobs are denied to those released from prison because their official record has not been expunged. This also deprives them of their right to study as students who have served time in jail and were released or those expelled from universities have had the record of all their grades eliminated. Their right to health care is also affected, because if they are known, they are not treated in public health centers. What Vilma Núñez refers to as the “perversity” of civil death also covers the relatives of those affected.

ANOTHER FORM OF TORTURE IN LEÓN

On November 25, the population witnessed another form of torture, when a group of anti-riot police led by Fidel Domínguez, León’s police commissioner took a sledgehammer to the wrought iron grillwork protecting the door of the Reyes Alonzo family’s house and entered without presenting any search warrant. Once inside, they kicked the father and mother—the latter a medical doctor—and their elder son then dragged them outside and continued to do so in front of a 94-year-old woman who cried at the outrage. After the beating, the commissioner tied them to chairs and had them filmed while being forced to repeat: “I pledge not to mess with the Sandinista militancy.” “I pledge to respect the police.” and “You don’t play with peace.” The Police then published the videos to humiliate the family and set an example so the population would stop protesting. Days later, the victims, Diego Reyes and María Eugenia Alonso, appeared on the Sunday TV news program “Esta Semana” with Carlos Fernando Chamorro to explain what happened and reiterate that they will continue protesting against all the injustices the regime is committing, as they have done since April 2018. They commented that after the “tormentors” left, more than a thousand people came to their home to express solidarity with them.

TENSE RELATIONS BETWEEN
SPAIN AND NICARAGUA

Diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Spain became tenser than ever after Daniel Ortega prohibited, for the third time, the entry into Nicaragua of Juan Pablo de La Iglesia, Spain’s secretary of state for international and Ibero-American cooperation. The Spanish government requested information from Carlos Midence, Nicaragua’s ambassador in Madrid, and recalled María del Mar Fernández-Palacios, its ambassador in Managua. In its communique, the Spanish government said there was a “worsening of the repression” in Nicaragua. For his part, De La Iglesia, who had planned to travel from Cuba to Nicaragua, commented that “I have tried to go to Nicaragua ever since President Pedro Sánchez took office to offer support and make a constructive contribution to the solution of the crisis that country is experiencing. Regrettably I could not fulfill that objective this time.” He said that “Spain and Nicaragua have historically maintained a relationship of great depth and richness. Nicaragua is still going through a very serious crisis that is affecting the entire region.”

ARMED ACTION IN MASAYA

Between Saturday, November 30, and Sunday, December 1, police actions led to armed confrontations in Masaya and on the highway to Niquinohomo that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and three civilians. It is the first known armed action in which police officers and blue and white opposition members died since the events of 2018. The police were pursuing José Isaías Ugarte, “Chabelo” to his friends, who they accused of heading up what they
called the “Chabelo delinquent band,” which they claim is dedicated to thefts. Chabelo’s family and much of the population of Masaya refute that accusation. Chabelo was a known Sandinista militant who in April joined the blue and white opposition. “My husband was an honorable citizen,” said his widow. “It’s they who are the delinquents. The killing and the repression caused him great pain and that’s when he decided to join the civic struggle and the roadblocks. They can’t forgive him for that. I ask the youths to continue fighting so that the blood of each person murdered will not have been shed in vain.” The other two civilians killed in the confrontation were also blue and white activists, as made clear in their wakes and burials.

STATE TERRORISM DIVIDES NEIGHBORS

For its November economic, political and social analysis report, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) polled more than a thousand people nationally, only 2.5% of whom said they “trust their neighbors,” with 83% saying they do not. This is strong evidence of the terrorism instilled in society by the State’s repression. The regime Pays people to denounce their neighbors with cash payments and other perks, and then captures those accused in the streets or in safe houses, imprisoning or even killing them. Although it is calculated that 80% of the Nicaraguan population repudiates the regime, the generalized distrust expressed by this survey reveals a grave rupture in community ties, which will be yet another hard-to-heal wound this period will leave behind.

DENNIS MARTÍNEZ ON
NICARAGUA’S SITUATION

Interviewed from the United States on November 28 by sports chronicler Edgar Tijerino on his program “Doble Play,” retired Nicaraguan baseball star Dennis Martínez made various comments about the situation of his native country. “I keep hearing about the desire for peace, reconciliation and Christianity,” he said, “but at the same time I hear about the threats of gunfire, war, repression and death…. I want to ask the Police not to forget that they are a public institution and their paychecks come from the citizenry’s taxes. They are there to defend the people, not attack them. It’s time to reflect and reconsider. As a Catholic, I feel very offended by the way the Church has been attacked…. In the elections everyone needs to be given a chance to participate… and to accept their victory or defeat…. Nicaragua’s youths have to take leadership…. We want quality education for them. The youths need to be well prepared because they are the future politicians, the future teachers…. We need to support the young people who go out to protest, because they are the future, they are the ones who are going to represent us in society…. In my country politics is used as a means of enrichment and now there is a sizable group of millionaires….”

CARLOS TRUJILLO ON DIALOGUE

The US ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Trujillo, one of the five members of the special high-level commission that prepared the OAS report establishing that Nicaragua’s “constitutional order was altered,” said “we continue to think dialogue is important to ending a conflict. But the Nicaraguan people cannot let themselves engage in a never-ending dialogue without commitments. Daniel Ortega controls all the institutions today and can stop the human rights violations and free all the political prisoners in the jails…. He has total control. So I don’t know how one could go to a dialogue without the most basic conditions he currently controls, doesn’t respect and has not complied with. Ortega has no interest in a solution. We have seen that he is not interested in a return to democracy and holding free and transparent elections; he has no interest in respect for human rights.”

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