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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 468 | Julio 2020
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Nicaragua briefs


The Federal Council of Switzerland, a European country that is not a member of the European Union (EU), sanctioned six Nicaraguan government officials on June 23 due to “ongoing human rights violations.” While the text of the sanctions does not name those sanctioned, it says Switzerland is joining the EU in imposing them, implying that they are the same six people the EU sanctioned in May: Néstor Moncada Lau, the ruling couple’s national security adviser; former Health Minister Sonia Castro; Police Director Francisco Díaz; and Police Chiefs Ramón Avellán, Luis Alberto Pérez Olivas and Justo Pastor Urbina. Similar to the United States and the EU, Swiss sanctions freeze all their assets in Switzerland and ban them from traveling to or through the country. Former Nicaraguan ambassador José Luis Velásquez recalls that “Switzerland has been a tax haven where quantities of money have circulated internationally and taken refuge since World War II.”


Community spread of COVID-19, out of control due to the regime’s irresponsible treatment of the pandemic,is eroding the governing party’s own ranks. It has taken the lives of several militants, historical fighters and FSLN and government officials. Every day one hears through the media and social networks of the death of pro-Ortega territorial and national leaders. In June, Edén Pastora was the most recognized name of the pre-insurection combatants. Among the officials were Masaya Mayor Orlando Noguera and Orlando Castillo, Minister of TELCOR (Telecommunications and Post Offices).
Ever since Ortega’s return to power in 2007, Castillo played a key role in building the structure that today allows Ortega and Murillo’s children to control a large number of radio stations and all but two of the national television channels. Castillo was also crucial to achieving the political alignment of the Claro and Movistar telecommunications companies (the latter recently bought by Tigo). During the civic rebellion in 2018, Castillo used the institution he headed to censor and ultimately shut down the TV channel 100% Noticias and the T V news programs “Esta Noche” and “Esta Semana.” The former has since reopened and the latter, directed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, now uses YouTube to reach an even larger audience. During that critical stage, Castillo was also responsible for pressuring Channel 10, the most watched TV channel in the country, to adopt the official political communication line that promoted the “Coup” narrative, but it resisted the pressure. Today, Channel 10, owned by Mexican businessman Ángel González, is recognized as continuing to provide accurate and truthful newscasts. Castillo was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in June 2019. The regime replaced him as head of TELCOR with 31-year-old Nahima Díaz, one of sanctioned Police Director Francisco Díaz’s two daughters. Her sister is married to Maurice Ortega Murillo, one of the ruling couple’s sons. This appointment confirms the regime’s use of nepotism to concentrate power and control. Before rising to the top TELCOR position, Nahima Díaz was general director of TELCOR’s council, with a monthly salary of just over US$2,500.


When OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro described Nicaragua’s situation to its Permanent Council on June 24, he said that not only all the of the branches and institutions of the State but also “the Armed Forces and the Police have become politicized and act in a political manner.” That day, a month after the US Treasury Department sanctioned Army Commander-in-Chief, Julio César Avilés for being “politically aligned with President Ortega,” the Army responded to the sanction during an on-line meeting of Central America’s armies. Nicaraguan Army Chief of Staff Bayardo Rodríguez declared they were “closing ranks” with Avilés, as the sanction from Washington was an “act of intervention we profoundly reject.” He pointed out that “we have not been mentioned in any of the reports given by those so-called specialized organizations,” referring to international human rights organizations. He reiterated that “the Army is apolitical; we don’t get involved in things that do not pertain to us.”


The Ortega-Murillo regime’s continuing erratic measures in response to the pandemic constitute crimes, according to Pablo Cuevas, a human rights defender in Nicaragua’s Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH). In an interview published in La Prensa, he said at least three fundamental human rights are being violated: the right to life, the right to health care and the right to protection by the State. He also added two labor rights being violated by the failure to provide public health workers with enough protection to avoid getting infected and by the reduction of sick pay for those on Social Security. According to the Penal Code, he says, the government has also committed a crime categorized as “abuse of authority and functions” and the crime of “exposing people to danger.” It is further violating several articles of the General Health Law, starting with not declaring a state of emergency due to the pandemic. This tells us Nicaraguan society is basically without a designated authority to protect its citizens.


In the survey CID-Gallup presented on June 17, one of the questions was: “Some people believe the pandemic is punishment from God. How much do you agree with these people?” A majority 35% did not agree at all and 22% agreed only “a little.” On the other hand, 27% said they agreed “very much” with that belief and 15% said they agreed “somewhat.” According to the polling firm, “non-Catholic Christians,” i.e. Evangelicals, were particularly prevalent among the 42% most inclined to share that belief. Compared to a number of other questions in the poll where doubt or unwillingness to answer registered higher percentages, only 2% did not answer this question. The results show a very low level of scientific knowledge in most of the population, which could be related to the poor quality of education in schools and to the messages from a good number of religious hierarchies, based on biblical literalism. It is a particularly evocative question and set of answers given that the Vice President peppers virtually every one of her noonday talks to the nation with the counsel that they “trust God” to bring them through this pandemic unharmed.

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