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  Number 474 | Enero 2021
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Nicaragua

Nicaragura briefs

PANDEMIC—NEW OUTBREAK

As predicted, Nicaragua has experienced a new COVID-19 outbreak since December due to end-of-year festivities and the thousands of mass gatherings the government promoted and continues to promote throughout the country: festivals, fairs, concerts, equestrian shows, sports events, contests.... Although the loans the government has received to respond to the pandemic require detailed daily information on COVID infections and deaths by sex, age and territory; hospitalizations; tests and their results, the regime has provided none, to either the population or the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which instead gets its information from non-official medical sources such as the Citizens’ Observatory. Nor is it known whether the new outbreak is caused by a mutation in the virus. Since September, the government’s very brief—and implausible—weekly official reports have mentioned only one death per week. According to its latest epidemiological report, however, the number of deaths due to pneumonia increased from 294 in September 2019 to 2,625 in September 2020. Independent doctors point out that, in this pandemic, each case of pneumonia is a suspected case of COVID.

PANDEMIC—VACCINES

On December 13, the Vice President reported that the government would assign US$115.7 million to purchase three types of vaccines (the Russian Sputnik-V, and those from Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca labs), as they are the ones appropriate to the type of refrigeration equipment in the country. Meanwhile, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Dominica, El Salvador, Granada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines will receive a batch of free COVID-19 vaccines from the PAHO because they are the 10 poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. On February 1, PAHO announced it would send 500,000 doses, without stating any dates. The Nicaraguan Doctors Union has insisted that the vaccine should be given free of charge and following a protocol that is made public and follows medical criteria. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has been charging a fee of US$ 150 for PCR tests and they are done in only one place in the country, the Health Ministry’s main offices in Managua, causing lines miles long and forcing people to return personally for their results, making the site an infection hotspot.

UCA SUFFERS CUTBACKS AND REPRISALS

At the end of December, it was learned that the National Council of Universities (CNU) further reduced the funds from the national budget that the Nicaraguan Constitution, in compliance with the University Autonomy Law, assigns to the Central American University (UCA) as the founder of the CNU to carry out its mission. Since 2018, cutbacks in funding now equal over 60% of what the law indicates should be given. The cutbacks mostly affect scholarship students and university workers. In a “Message to the University Community and the Nicaraguan People,” the university said the goal of the cutbacks was clearly to obstruct the UCA’s work and punish it for its critical position. In addition, the university stated that it has been the object of multiple disparaging remarks, reprisals and harassment from different government agencies and state institutions, including permanent police surveillance and besieging of the university campus, illegal judicial sentences, denial of assistance for the UCA in government institutions, and omission or unjustified delay of documents needed to operate legally. The CNU also cut 20 million córdobas (approximately US$ 575,000) from the 30 million-córdoba budget for the Catholic University of Dry Tropic Farming and Livestock (UCATSE) under the administration of the diocese of Estelí, whose bishop is Abelardo Mata, a critic of the regime.

THE UNITED STATES
SANCTIONS THREE MORE

The “anti-candidate” law preventing candidates the government considers “coup mongers”—which is how it sees all opposition—from assuming government positions through popular elections was approved on December 21 at the end of the annual legislative session. The law has since received disapproval from the Organization of American States (OAS) and international human rights organizations. While the law was being passed in Nicaragua’s National Assembly, the outgoing US government announced new sanctions for three of the regime’s officials: Marvin Aguilar, deputy Supreme Court justice and political commissar in the Court—the first Washington sanction of a judicial functionary; Police Commissioner Fidel Dominguez, a renowned agent of repression in León, the country’s second most populous city; and lawmaker Wálmaro Gutiérrez, who for 20 years has been one of the regime’s most trusted legislators. These three bring to 27 the number of Nicaraguan government officials sanctioned by the US.

INSECURITY AND CRIME

As end-of-year festivities approached, the government was expected to release a large number of the more than 100 political prisoners being held. only three were released, however, while more common prisoners were freed. Between 2019 and December 2020, 24,371 common prisoners have been released with a de facto pardon “to promote family unity.” Most of them are men, many of whom were sentenced for serious crimes (femicides, murders and aggravated robbery).

SECURITY FOR THE FAMILY

According to unofficial information obtained by La Prensa newspaper more than 200 police and army officers protecting the Ortega-Murillo family’s compound in El Carmen, Managua, buildings that also serve as the presidential offices and main offices for the governing FSLN party. Since the citizens’ insurrection of April 2018, the security perimeter surrounding the complex has been extended by several streets and checkpoints have been set up with metal barricades to which walls of large paving stones were later added, followed by strips of giant tire-puncturing spikes. Each barricade is guarded by several police officers carrying military weapons.

A SYMBOL OF REPRESSION

The case of 68-year-old Justo Rodríguez, a peasant from the island of Ometepe, is known internationally as one of the most symbolic examples of the regime’s vicious treatment of those they arrest and imprison to control the population through terror. Rodríguez never went to a single protest. The night of April 19, 2020, a group of young people from the community of Esquipulas on Ometepe celebrated the second anniversary of the April rebellion with a blue and white flag and songs. The next day, a police patrol was circling the area where Rodríguez tended his cassava crops and he was arrested, along with five other people, with no explanation. At the police station he was kicked and beaten, and a tire was thrown at his chest, affecting his ribs. In July he was sentenced to three years and two months in prison. He complained of strong persistent headaches but was never treated, until he suffered a cerebral embolism. In August he was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery three times, always with a police guard in his room, while a sister who accompanied him was also permanently guarded. On December 20 he was released and returned to his family, emaciated and unable to speak or move. His body was unrecognizable as the once robust man he had been: “I was handed a little pile of bones,” said his sister.

“ANOTHER” COMMEMORATION

On January 6 Daniel Ortega decreed that from now on Sportsman’s Day will be celebrated in Nicaragua on April 19, in commemoration of triple-crown world boxing champion Alexis Argüello, whose manner of death has still not been determined by independent autopsy, while the family blames the regime for murder and the regime declared it a suicide. The decree intends to erase the collective memory of what happened on April 19, 2018, when the presidential orders “We’re going all out!” sent police and paramilitaries to kill anyone protesting against the government. The first three of hundreds to die between April and August were killed on April 19: 17-year-old Richard Pavón, in Tipitapa; and Darwin Urbina, a worker, and Hilton Manzanares, a police officer, in Managua.

BOOK BAGS WITH PROPAGANDA

To kick off the school year on February 1, the government donated book bags to thousands of children of active National Police officers, with the slogan “Proud child of a police officer” printed on the back.

CONFISCATED PROPERTIES

The facilities of the NGOs and media illegally stripped of their legal status and shut down in December 2018 have now been definitively confiscated, two years later. On December 23, a large billboard appeared on the premises of the “100% Noticias” television station declaring “This property belongs to the Ministry of Health. The center for people with alcohol and/or drug addiction will be built here.” A similar billboard was placed at Confidencial and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), designating their buildings as government Maternity Centers. The same happened to the other confiscated NGOs: Popol Na Foundation, Center of Information and Advisory Services in Health (CISAS) and the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), as well as the offices of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) offices in Matagalpa and Juigalpa. The owners of “100% Noticias” said it was a “shameless theft.” The president of CENIDH qualified it as a “vulgar assault and act of cowardice.” Confidencial director Carlos Fernando Chamorro defiantly reminded Nicaraguans that “they have never been able to confiscate journalism nor have they been able to kill the truth.” The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) an umbrella of business associations, charged that it was “disrespectful to the basic principles of a democratic State.” Demolition and remodeling of CENIDH’s and Confidencial’s buildings started in early January.

COSEP URGES A CHANGE OF
COURSE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

On February 1, COSEP published a statement in which it says the government “still has time to reconsider.” It added that “Nicaraguan society and the international community are witnesses of how priority is given within the government and its functionaries’ agenda to the approval of laws, regulations and actions destined to consolidate a police state whose function is to threaten, repress and sanction, with the goal of eliminating all possible electoral competition that could contest power…. It is urgent, and we should all demand that the government start to work based on the interests of all Nicaraguans and not only those within their party. Nicaragua belongs to everyone and as such, we have the right to a society where democracy, justice and respect for human rights prevails and where we can all work together to generate wellbeing and development for all. The government must understand that Nicaraguans and the international community will not accept the renewed destruction of Nicaragua. It must understand that we are facing a new historical opportunity and that, if we fail to take advantage of it, we will once again be condemning our country to confrontation, poverty and regression.”

RETALIATORY PENAL REFORM

At the end of December, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented a report stating that 1,614 people in Nicaragua were “arbitrarily” denied their freedom between April 2018 and May 2020 for participating in or supporting protests against the government of Nicaragua. The report says they were held in unsanitary crowded cells with inadequate ventilation, an inadequate number of beds and in several cases in isolation. The majority of those arrested were held in prison with no regard for the legal 48-hour limit before being formally charged. At the beginning of this year, the regime ordered its legislative bench members to reform the Criminal Procedure Code and extend the legal 48 hours to between 15 to 90 days. This reform is a judicial backtrack to a repressive model that denies detainees their guarantees and promotes the delay of justice.

On February 2, Ortega’s 70-member legislative bench duly passed the Criminal Procedure Code reform Ortega had ordered them to approve. It allows for a person to be arrested and held for up to 90 days without a formal charge in the case of several different crimes, including “crimes of social relevance and national importance.” The reform thus legalizes the practice applied by the police to the regime’s opposition since April 2018. This reform is added to the “four-pronged” set of laws with which Ortega wants to head into noncompetitive elections, with his win guaranteed before they start. With the reform, any opposition figure, whether a candidate, journalist, political party member or none of the above but considered to represent a danger to the regime because of their leadership, capacity to gather people or position in a political institution could remain imprisoned up to three months if Ortega and Murillo so decide.

SECRETARIAT OF OUTER SPACE

On the last day of January, Paul Oquist, Ortega’s private secretary for national policy, communicated to the Ortega-controlled National Assembly an order to create a “National Secretariat of Affairs in Outer Space, the Moon and other Celestial Bodies.” The “UN Treaty and Principles on Outer Space” created the basis for international rights over outer space and took effect in October 1967. To date, 110 countries have ratified it. Nicaragua ratified it in 2017; but nothing came of it in the country. Now, this new secretariat will “promote outer space activities to broaden the country’s capacities in educational, industrial, scientific and technological branches of this subject,” though Nicaragua, the poorest country in Latin America after Haiti, lacks any capacity in any of these branches. The secretariat will answer to the presidency and manage its own budget; representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, the Army, and Telecommunications and Civil Aviation institutions will participate in it. The news caused perplexity among the national scientific community and mockery and endless memes from the population.


ESCAZÚ AGREEMENT

The Escazú Agreement, which the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean promoted to give countries “access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters,” takes effect in April. Nicaragua signed the agreement in 2019 and ratified it in March 2020. Víctor Campos, Director of the Humboldt Center, points out that even though the government signed and ratified it, “we know there is no compliance in Nicaragua with any of the three pillars of the Agreement.” In his opinion, the signing “was for export, in search of resources and financing they requested from the Green Climate Fund, which have been approved.”


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