|Central American University - UCA
Number 477 | Abril 2021
Hopefully waiting to find a way out
The regime beefed up its repressive apparatus
for the third anniversary of the April 2018 rebellion.
And despite the international community urging that
it ensure conditions for credible elections in November,
Ortega instead announced electoral reforms
that only pave the way for a complete farce.
For its part, the blue and white opposition
commemorated April with acts of resistance
and took the first steps toward forging
an essential united electoral alliance.
Might it reach firm consensus by May?
Three years have passed since the spontaneous uprising against the authoritari-an regime of Daniel Ortega in April 2018 that many see as a watershed “awaken-ing.” Countless signs of resistance, courage and valor this April demonstrated that the determination of the blue and white opposition—as those hundreds of thousands who marched behind only the colors of the national flag have come to be known—is still vibrant despite the years of grinding repression. It also still has the same objective: unseating the ruling couple through civic means and changing Nicaragua’s course.
The elections this November 7 will thus have all the trappings of a plebiscite between Ortega and the social majority that rejects him. But the underlying reali-ty is very different: despite the opposition’s numerical majority, Ortega holds all the advantages.
struggle for unity
As crucial as a unified opposition is to creating the conditions for change, even that has proved difficult to achieve over these years. Since the devil is in the de-tails, little consensus has emerged in this long-polarized country beyond the de-sire to defeat the ruling couple and the governing party loyal to them, preferably via elections.
Ortega, a master of division, misses no opportunity to further bedevil those details. But for the first time in the country’s political history, dominated by rul-ers alternating through the barrel of a gun, the opposition has been preparing for the upcoming elections with three years of intense debates, agreements, disa-greements, divisions and continuing attempts at unity.
To appreciate the plurality of visions that surfaced in the April uprising and the difficulty of finding common ground, it must be remembered that Nicaragua has suffered four wrenching changes of governing systems in as many decades, with accompanying polarized loyalties. First, the half-century Somoza dictator-ship overthrown at the cost of 50,000 lives was succeeded by a decade-long leftist social revolution. It inevitably produced a counterrevolution whose US-financed military expression finally ended when the Cold War that had inflamed it also ended, leaving behind devastating human and economic destruction. The revolu-tion’s electoral defeat in1990 ushered in a decade and a half of neoliberal gov-ernments that exacerbated the economic, social and post-traumatic breaches, ig-noring warnings from intellectuals of the need to reunite the country by hammer-ing out a shared new sense of nation. That period in turn was followed by the past three five-year terms of the new hybrid Ortega-Murillo regime: efficient but even more corrupt neoliberal economics combined with hypocritical revolutionary rhet-oric and populist handouts plus authoritarian repression of opponents that only deepened the polarization.
Complicating the panorama, but paradoxically offering a vital ray of hope for the future, many younger generation opposition activists see the world very dif-ferently than their parents and grandparents on both sides of the divide. They insist on pushing the debate well beyond sterile right- or left-wing ideological pre-cepts. A further but less positive complication is that, as the November elections loom ever larger, traditional opposition political parties, which had no part in the 2018 grassroots uprising, are now inevitably key players, adding their own com-petitive perspectives and methodologies to the mix, seldom to the benefit of unity.
The past three years
In 2019, the first anniversary of the April Rebellion coincided with Holy Week. Although by then marches had been prohibited, the massive Good Friday proces-sion in Managua and those held in other departments became collective expres-sions of remembrance of those killed the previous year and demands for justice.
The second anniversary shared the stage with the onset of the pandemic and self-protection measures recommended by independent physicians. For its part, the regime called massive gatherings by its supporters, and tourist events to attract still more crowds. Those first months had the highest figures of COVID-19 contagion and death.
On this third anniversary, despite another resurgence of the pandemic, small but inspiring demonstrations were held throughout much of the country to remind us that the flame of April is not extinguished. This time the blue and white opposition not only commemorated those murdered, but also rejected the electoral reform project unilaterally presented by Ortega on April 12.
With diligent accountability, the Blue and White Monitoring Group tallied 382 incidents by the regime’s repressive forces between April 15 and 20, pushing to the extreme the de facto state of siege Ortega has imposed since September 2018. Police officers were responsible for 278 of these cases involving threats, sieges, harassment, attacks and detentions, while pro-Ortega fanatics and civilian parapolice accounted for the remaining 104.
That week the regime multiplied the number of riot police in Managua and patrolled its neighborhoods. The houses of recognized or potential opponents, released political prisoners and their respective families were either raided and robbed or experienced nighttime sieges and blaring police sirens that prevented them from sleeping. Meanwhile, armed people were stationed nearby to stop them leaving their homes. Some buildings and shopping malls where protests have previously been mounted, were also surrounded. Despite so much control, people and small groups all over the country flew the flag and stuck handwritten flyers on poles and trees demanding freedom for political prisoners. Masses were held in memory of the murdered and #Yonoolvidoabril (I’m not forget-ting April) dominated the social networks.
“We could settle everything with a bullet”
Two cases were particularly emblematic. On April 20 in Estelí, the family and friends of 24-year-old Franco Valdivia, killed that same date in 2018 in the city’s main square by a bullet to the head fired by a sniper on the roof of the mayor's office, were preparing to hold a memorial Mass for him in the Cathedral. Howev-er, groups of pro-Ortega fanatics surrounded the site to prevent the service and the Cathedral had to be closed to keep them from entering.
When the family, which has often suffered sieges, decided to pray at home instead, a group of riot police burst into the house, dragged Franco’s mother, sis-ter and widowed wife out to the patrol car and took them to the police station, where they were held for an hour. The women were kicked as they resisted and both Franco’s mother and sister were badly bruised. They ended up in the hospi-tal, where they were prescribed cervical collars and told to keep their right arms in a sling.
Francys Valdivia, Franco's sister, is a lawyer and president of the Mothers of April Association (AMA), a recognized organization that fights legally and in various other ways to keep alive the memory of those murdered in April 2018. At the police station, she was stripped, groped and photographed by the police; the photos were then posted by the institution to pro-Ortega social networks to go vi-ral and be mocked. The police chief who captured her told her: “We’re at war... We could settle everything with a bullet.”
“We want you and your family to feel good”
The other emblematic case was the arrest of Campesino Movement members Nel-son Lorío and his friend Balbino Coleman the night of April 20. Both were taken to the notorious El Chipote jail and dressed in blue prisoner uniforms. Although neither of them knows how to drive, they were accused of stealing a car and sub-jected to threats for 48 hours.
Lorío has been harassed frequently since his return from exile. On June 23, 2018, he was taking his14-month old son Teyler to his grandparents’ house in Managua when the boy’s head was shattered by a paramilitary’s bullet.
While in detention, the police officers, hoping to take advantage of his pov-erty, attempted to intimidate Lorío into validating their altered report of what had happened to his son. “They asked me what I wanted,” he recounted upon his re-lease, “so that my family would be okay. My answer was direct: ‘You want to offer me something, but my son’s murder and blood are not for sale.’”
Nelson Lorío is also a member of the Mothers of April, whose slogan is “Love truth, Love justice, Love and do not forget.” He will never forget.
A double deadline and
seven reforms in May
According to the Electoral Law, the government is supposed to officially call for elections at least six months in advance. This year’s elections should be held on November 7, the first Sunday of that month, but as of April 30 they had yet to be confirmed. May is also the deadline set by the Organization of American States (OAS) for presenting a reformed electoral law to guarantee credible elections, which we have not seen since Ortega won the presidency in 2006.
On October 22, 2020, the OAS General Assembly approved a “Resolution Restoring Democratic Institutions and Respect for Human Rights in Nicaragua Through Free and Fair Elections” in which it “urged” the Nicaraguan govern-ment to make seven specific electoral reforms by May:
“a. modernization and restructuring of the Supreme Electoral Council [CSE] to ensure it operates in a fully independent, transparent and accountable fashion;
b. a pluralistic political process leading to the effective exercise of civil and political rights, including the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and open registration of new political parties;
c. independent technical review and updating of voting registries and independent audit of voter rolls;
d. independent, credible, and accredited international electoral observation;
e. transparent and effective voter registration, distribution of ID cards and voting center management;
f. transparent counting and consolidation of results, and real-time publishing of results; and
g. adequate procedures for lodging complaints about election conduct and results, and procedures for resolving them.”
The resolution further requests the OAS General Secretariat “to support inclusive and timely negotiations between the Government of Nicaragua and na-tional actors representing the Nicaraguan opposition” on at least these “essential” measures.
There was no makeup
The presidency’s bill reforming the Electoral Law, reportedly drafted some time earlier, was submitted on April 12 to the National Assembly, in which the govern-ing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has a qualified majority.
As a result of the pact between Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán ratified into law in 2000, the CSE and all other state institutions increased their members, divided between Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and Ortega’s FSLN. Twenty years later, all CSE magistrates are currently Ortega yes-men and have remained in their posts long after their term in office ended. By some mysterious political calculation, Ortega now recognizes that it is time to elect (or re-elect) seven magistrates and three alternates. The political parties were in-vited submit names for replacement those magistrates.
It was expected that the regime would present only cosmetic changes to cir-cumvent the OAS resolution, but it didn’t even bother. The reforms do not com-ply with any of the OAS requirements. And not only do they reiterate the loop-holes, tricks and subterfuges already in the law, they increase them with ambigui-ties that pave the way for many modalities of fraud, placing the opposition at a total disadvantage against the FSLN. “It is a barbarity, a mockery,” said Kitty Monterrey, president of Citizens for Liberty (CxL), indignantly mirroring the feeling of all the blue and white opposition.
First unitary steps:
In addition to challenging the international community with his grotesque “re-forms,” Ortega intends to use this project to consolidate the strategy he hopes will ensure his third consecutive reelection on November 7: discouraging voter partic-ipation (“everything is already lost”) and encouraging the disunity of the opposi-tion organizations (“do we participate or abstain?”). This two-prong strategy—abstention + division—has been clear for months.
The reforms were so provocative, however, that they boomeranged. For the first time the opposition united, determined to stand up to the dictatorship’s strategy.
On April 19, the anniversary of the civic uprising, the Electoral Reforms Promoter Group (GPRE)—born after the Ortega-Alemán pact to draft reforms to remedy the damage the two caudillos had done to the electoral system—brought together the 10 presidential pre-candidates to discuss the reforms. They drafted a joint declaration “categorically rejecting” the previous week’s governmental pro-posal.
That same day, the Citizens’ Alliance (the new name adopted by the Civic Alliance and the CxL when they formally allied) proposed a similar joint declara-tion to the National Coalition, the other blue and white opposition bloc. In just three days the two opposition platforms—which together represent virtually all the blue and white opposition—issued a statement signed by roughly 50 member parties, movements, sectors and business associations and chambers of the two blocs, as well as organizations of Nicaraguans in the Diaspora announcing they were “uniting our voices” to “demand" proposals in accordance with the OAS reso-lution, pointing out that the government’s reforms only “deepen” the electoral system’s already existing problems.
On April 28, the same blue and white representation wrote to OAS Secre-tary General Luis Almagro with a “vehement call to conduct all the diplomatic actions within your scope, in the bilateral and multilateral spheres, to demand from the current regime the approval of reforms to the Electoral Law and the election of electoral magistrates who ensure respect for the will of the people.”
These succinct declarations have been the first important steps toward a united electoral alliance that will hopefully go toe to toe with Ortega with a single candidate. In this issue we reprint the April 19 declaration of the 10 presidential pre-candidates and the April 22 declaration of the two opposition blocs. The objec-tions and alternative proposals in those two declarations and the Speaking Out article by GPRE member José Antonio Peraza, also in this issue, clearly explain how the official proposal gives all the advantages to the governing FSLN, thus casting long shadows over the elections.
Objections and proposals to
a non-responsive commission
On April 26, the National Assembly’s legislative commission, made up entirely of Ortega supporters, invited the 18 political parties with legal status to present their positions on the electoral reforms. Most of those parties are miniscule and 15 are allied or collaborate with the FSLN. Both CxL and the Democratic Resto-ration Party (PRD), which are more serious parties, each aligned with one of the blue and white opposition blocs, were also invited. All the proposals of the blue and white opposition essentially coincide, with only nuanced differences and em-phases.
CxL presented 25 objections and proposals to this commission. The party’s visibly upset and disappointed president, Kitty Monterrey summed up the experi-ence with these words: “We were before a mute commission.” She explained that its members made no comment whatever to anything proposed by her party, the PRD or the regional indigenous party Yatama. Before leaving, Monterrey had asked whether there would be international electoral observation. The commis-sion president didn’t know how to answer, but FSLN lawmaker Edwin Castro filled the vacuum of silence: “That is already in the law,” he snapped.
The silence with which the legislative commission received objections and proposals from the opposition is further proof that under Ortega’s rule the entire State is mute: no one speaks without permission and when they do, they only re-peat orders and slogans. Today’s legislative body is the very opposite of a debating chamber. It is a hall to celebrate anniversaries and a transmission belt for the “lines” handed down by the ruling couple.
Maturity vs. discouragement
These silences and the contents of the official proposal, unabashedly favorable to the FSLN, are intended to stymy the opposition: to intimidate and discourage it. That’s why it was so positive that the opposition went to the National Assembly, that it dedicated time and effort to drafting detailed objections and counterpro-posals to make clear its capacity to respond and its determination to participate in a united and proactive way rather than letting cynicism reign.
The Ortega regime is seeking to project itself as a government that guaran-tees stability as an experienced party, even one ostensibly with ideals, facing a weak opposition paid from abroad that is basically an internally contentious bunch of old politicians and upstarts fighting over a political bone. Up to now, the opposition has only made that task easier.
What we really have is a government in which solidity is no longer provided even by an attractive caudillo—Ortega no longer is one—much less by a party with ideals. What passes for solidity is provided by a family group that dictates orders and whims that are obeyed without discussion.
A broad and heterogeneous group of women and men who came together in April 2018 is learning for the first time to debate and make consensual decisions, and they are doing it under the worst conditions: going up against a homogeneous mass of Ortega followers, agglutinated by perks and by bullets “that settle every-thing.”
The RENACER Act is another of
Washington’s foreign policy tools
Is the regime’s insolent, defiant attitude “a brazen challenge” to the OAS, as read in an editorial in The Washington Post, or is it Ortega’s response to Washington’s new bill: ‘Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform” (RENACER, not coincidently the Spanish verb “to be reborn”)?
It is taken for granted that this bill, introduced into the US Senate on March 25 by several Democrats and Republicans, will be approved unanimously and very soon, without formalities or debate. It is also expected to have no trouble in the House and to be signed by President Biden without hesitation. It is the lat-est and probably last pressure mechanism Washington will use to get Ortega to opt for an electoral solution and credible elections this year.
Like its forerunner, the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act of 2018 (NICA Act), RENACER opens with a historical summary of the Ortega administra-tion, going back to the first fraud in the 2008 municipal elections. It also details what has happened since the protests and the massive human rights violations of 2018 and includes the OAS resolutions since that year.
The bill’s stated purpose is “To advance the strategic alignment of United States diplomatic tools toward the realization of free, fair, and transparent elec-tions in Nicaragua and to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to protect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the people of Nicaragua,” omi-nously tacking onto the end of that lead paragraph the words “and for other pur-poses.” Another is to expand the list of Nicaraguans targeted for sanctions. This primacy of election concerns is new; the NICA Act, true to its time, put more em-phasis on human rights violations and corruption.
One of RENACER’s main means to achieve this goal is to double down on the scrutiny demanded by both the US government and its representatives on the international financing institutions for any loan and financial or technical assis-tance provided to Nicaragua. Literally amending the NICA Act language, RE-NACER requires stricter restrictions on and oversight of resources destined for humanitarian projects such as those already received by Nicaragua in the wake of hurricanes Eta and Iota in its northern Caribbean region in November 2020. Humanitarian assistance was the only category exempted from the negative vote the NICA Act requires of US representatives to these lending banks. Both the hurricanes and the pandemic opened the way for approval of significant unantici-pated funds to the regime last year, saving it from a worsening economic depres-sion.
Another tightening of the screw comes in the bill’s list of proposed candidates for sanctioning. Among others, it specifies Daniel Ortega himself as well as members of his family, the Army, Police, CSE, other government officials and the FSLN. While most of these are not new additions to the list, they would now be subject to sanctions not only for acts of corruption and human rights violations but also for directly or indirectly obstructing free elections. The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 (a.k.a. Magnitsky Nica), a Nicaragua-focused vari-ant of the global law by the same name that provides for economic sanctions against human rights violators, will apparently be incorporated into RENACER, according to the bill’s language.
A third major intensification is found in the section on “Developing and implementing a coordinated sanctions strategy with diplomatic partners.” Recog-nizing that Canada, the UK and the European Union have on several occasions followed suit in sanctioning Nicaraguans already targeted by the US, this bill pro-poses tighter coordination with those allies, and also bringing Latin American and Caribbean countries into the mix.
The following section mandates the inclusion of Nicaragua on the Engel List, named for Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY), who proposed it for this year’s Consolidated Appropriations bill approved in December. This list orders sanctions and the withdrawal of entry visas to the United States for persons from the three Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) linked to corruption, money laundering and similar crimes.
The next two sections of RENACER order classified reports on acts of cor-ruption committed by the Ortega family and government, and on a specific list of Russia’s activities in Nicaragua, with an assessment of their risk to US interests and national security.
The bill also requests periodic State Department reports on human rights violations in rural Nicaragua, particularly by the armed forces against peasant farmers and indigenous peoples. It wraps up by pledging support to independent media and freedom of information in Nicaragua.
The NICA Act was written to be in effect until 2023. Since RENACER was drafted largely as specific amendments and additions to that law, it is unclear whether the same expiration applies.
Military power and
the force of capital
Ortega’s electoral reforms proposal has only worsened the national crisis. “Orte-ga’s project, said Nicaraguan economist Edmundo Jarquín, “is an invitation to more international sanctions, kindling for tomorrow’s fire.”
On April 23, ten days after piling on that firewood, Ortega again moaned about the ill will of those who have sanctioned his family, officials and companies, as if he were an innocent victim. This time his venue provided a particularly sympathetic audience: a forum on climate change by those countries that remain in ALBA, Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. Or-tega complained that “they use the resource provided by military power and the force of capital to impose a tyrannical policy.”
He also spoke of himself and of the military power that om fact sustains his own tyranny. It feeds Ortega’s defiant attitude toward the global pandemic, this virus that is keeping the world on its knees and thus less attentive to what he does and undoes in Nicaragua. Ortega is also emboldened by “the power of capital,” in particular that which his family has amassed in these years, and even that of big national capital, which only turned against him in April 2018 but is currently am-bivalent and frightened by the uncertain future they see.
The fears of the economic
and political elites
Democratic and Republican lawmakers first introduced the NICA Act into the House of Representatives back in July 2016—in part to pressure Ortega to hold free elections that same year. No one imagined back then that the April Rebellion would occur, but enough political shenanigans did happen for Ortega to ensure his reelection with no competition that year. And they were so “brazen” they caught Washington’s attention.
The business elite was shaken by the NICA Act. Several of its members, representatives or delegates flew back and forth to Washington, dedicating time and resources to lobby against its approval that year. It would complicate Ortega’s relationship with the international financial institutions and, naturally, the na-tional economy... and by extension their own economies, on the rise that year af-ter seven years of their “dialogue and consensus” model with Ortega had brought them so many privileges and benefits. The bill didn’t make it through both hous-es of Congress and onto Trump’s desk for signature until December 2018.
Today, beset by fears, those same political and economic elites are again in Washington, lobbying to prevent passage of the RENACER Act. They fear that Ortega will be declared illegitimate following fraudulent elections and that Nica-ragua will fall into the kind of isolation and stagnation suffered by Maduro’s Ven-ezuela. They dread something like the collapse caused by the US economic boy-cott of Nicaragua in the 1980s. They worry about losing. And they’re afraid of Ortega... They fear he will make them pay for having joined, albeit timidly, the process of changes initiated in April 2018 or for the businesses they shared with him. They fear so many things, and fear is never the best adviser.
Official optimism and the fragile economy
After three consecutive years without GDP growth, the Nicaraguan economy is technically in a depression and extremely vulnerable to the kind of new crises that could result from a resurgence of the pandemic and the announced RENACER Act.
The international financial institutions’ unexpected flexibility toward Nic-aragua after hurricanes Eta and Iota hit the Northern Caribbean allowed the gov-ernment to replenish its coffers and also emboldened Ortega. The loans and do-nations received at the end of 2020 and start of 2021 have allowed an accumula-tion of reserves in the Central Bank that have improved the government macroe-conomy but not the economy of the majority of the population.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund announced that Nicaragua will have the lowest economic growth rate in Central America this year, with the World Bank projecting 0.9% and the IMF only 0.2%. Finance Minister Iván Acosta, however, claims Nicaragua will grow between 2.5% and 3.5% or even more based on the improvement he says the world economy will experience, gen-erating increases in remittances, exports and tourism for Nicaragua.
Acosta can rightfully use the term “improvement” because everything is or looks like up from the bottom of the barrel into which Nicaragua fell last year with the pandemic coming on top of the political crisis. But from a less subjective perspective, one can only ask why the IMF and World Bank’s economic growth projections are so different from Acosta’s when they have access to the same Cen-tral Bank data.
The answer is that Acosta is speaking propagandistically, with the Novem-ber elections in mind. He is ignoring, or perhaps attempting to stave off the fears of the country’s banks and depositors. Banks are increasingly strict when grant-ing loans, protecting their liquidity in anticipation that the elections will lead to a serious crisis triggering capital flight. They already experienced it in 2018, which reached about 30% of the total deposits of all banks. Three years of unresolved crisis have led banks to close 168 of their branches and counters across the coun-try.
Acosta is also ignoring, or needs to ignore, the reality of the daily micro-economy of so many Nicaraguans without a steady job, who are dreaming of leav-ing the country, scrounging for three daily meals. The situation is dramatic in the households of this majority of the population. The cost of fuel has been rising weekly for the last five months, which means rises in the cost of everything else. The basic food basket rose 12% from March 2020 to March 2021, according to offi-cial data, and more than 200,000 formal jobs have been lost since the April crisis, also according to official data.
In a context of unemployment and business closures due to three years of political crisis and over a year of a health crisis “with one of the worst public health performances in the world,” as The Washington Post describes it, the situ-ation gives little room for optimism.
The circus and its owners: today
Passage of the RENACER Act hopes to send a strong bipartisan message to Ortega. While that bipartisanship on his regime has been consistent for five years, the motivation of the two US parties seems different. The congressional Democrats genuinely appear to want to safeguard and further democracy at home and shift towards it in Nicaragua. The majority of their Republican colleagues, in contrast, are proving themselves willing to sacrifice democracy for power at home, which suggests a less noble drive with respect to Nicaragua: perhaps an anti-communist proxy war with Venezuela in which Nicaragua is an easier target, especially in its election year.
In February, soon after Joe Biden had taken office, the Inter-American Dia-logue organized a regional meeting for Central America as a whole to speak to the new administration. One request was that its agenda have a “regional focus” in-corporating other issues than just migration, and that it encompass all countries, not just the three of the “northern triangle.” As an example, they asked for envi-ronmental issues to be taken into account, since they affect the entire region, and for “the dictatorial drift in Nicaragua” be put on the agenda, as it also has regional consequences. Nicaraguan presidential pre-candidate Cristiana Cha¬morro asked Biden to send “a high-level mission” to Nicaragua to “negotiate with Ortega.”
Naturally, Ortega would like to talk to Washington. Some of his spokespeo-ple have recently said that “the comandante” will never negotiate with “the circus monkeys,” but only with “the owners of the circus.” It is a re-editing of his line on the US-financed contras during the war of the 1980s, in which he insisted he would never talk to “the puppets,” only to those who “pull the strings.” He refus-es to speak with the Nicaraguans who reject him, whom he arrogantly despises. He is more likely to negotiate with Washington, which he surely equally detests. So far there has been no response from Washington, and Ortega’s international discrediting is growing at a parallel rate to the repression at home.
In a conversation with envío in August 2016, Víctor Hugo Tinoco, deputy foreign minister of the Ortega government during the 1980s, recalled the attitude that dominated the governing party during those war years: contempt for the Nic-araguan adversaries because no opposition is considered to have reasons or de-mands of its own and is only obeying the “empire.”
“Did I see it that way in 1985?” Tinoco wondered out loud. “Things don’t look the same from within power. That’s why I talk today with Nicaraguan broth-ers and sisters who were on the opposite side of the street from me in the 1980s. And not because I forgave them for being mercenaries, as we called them then. They were not mercenaries. They were Nicaraguans like us, caught in the conflict between two powers and with just claims against us.” Tinoco was expelled from the FSLN in 2005 for supporting the presidential challenge by former FSLN mayor of Managua Herty Levites that year.
Ortega and the FSLN group that still follows him seem to have learned nothing from the experience life gives us. They see nothing beyond power.
The Army’s weapons in the 2018 repression
The Biden administration has global priorities, but it is very familiar with Latin America. Democratic Party adviser Harold Rocha, a Nicaraguan jurist, says that “Biden is a person who starts with dialogue as the first step to seeking under-standing and solutions. If he builds bridges through dialogue, it’s to look for solu-tions, not at all with the intention of losing ground or minimizing conditions.”
With everyone waiting anxiously for May and what might come of any at-tempts at building bridges of dialogue, Costa Rica’s Arias Foundation hosted a fo-rum in San José on April 19 in which organizations of Nicaraguan civil society in exile commemorated the third anniversary of the social uprising in their country. A surprise appearance was put in by Rafael Solís, for decades the political operator closest to Ortega in Nicaragua’s judiciary. He caused a political upheaval in the regime and in the FSLN when in January 2019 he resigned both his position as a Supreme Court justice and his party militancy for what happened the previous year. Not unexpectedly, the FSLN declared him a “traitor.”
In an hour-and-a-quarter interview by independent Nicaraguan reporters, Solís said nothing we didn’t already know, but his words were significant coming from a qualified witness feared by the regime for how much he knows and has not yet said.
What Solis said about the regime’s armed response to the protests was par-ticularly striking: “There was no need for that excess of force to provoke the death of so many young people.” Speaking of the weapons used by “the police and par-amilitaries,” he said “I have the perception that they were indeed Army weapons; that is something very difficult to deny.” He stated that he reviewed “all the Fo-rensic Medicine” files of those killed in the protests, files he said neither the In-ter-American Commission on Human Rights nor the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts were aware of, and “what struck me the most were the snip-ers shooting straight at the head, neck and heart... This indicates a decision to kill.” He also said he was receiving direct orders from “Daniel and Rosario” when the trials against the protesters began. “They would tell me: ‘have these people convicted’”; and they were. As the political head of the Supreme Court, he insist-ed he had to obey them: “You all know that all the powers of the State answer to them….”
They’re still in time…
Listening to his slow, sure words, the “protected witness” Solís must be today, seemed to be speaking to Ortega and Murillo: I know you; I know everything you did, and everything I know can be evidence against you. The RENACER Act is much tougher than the NICA Act... If the ruling couple remains unbending, there’s going to be an escalation of harshness and Nicaragua will be very isolated... You’re still in time....
A week later, Army spokesman Colonel Álvaro Rivas “categorically" rejected what Solís said, also dismissing as “slanderous” any other statement that impli-cates the Army or its weaponry or snipers in what happened in 2018. He reiterat-ed the slogan that the military institution is “the people themselves in uniform.” And to leave no echoes of what Solís said, he repeated yet another: “We are firm, cohesive and strengthened around our commander in chief,” who of course is none other than Daniel Ortega.
For those who would like more information on this delicate subject, we re-fer our readers to an investigation by Expediente Público in three in-stallments. In addition to legal analysis and a historical account, this digital In-ternet medium adds confidential interviews with Army officers now in exile, tes-timonies of victims and reconstruction of official reports.
Wilton, the face of Nicaragua
Groping, anxious, speculating, wishing.... In great uncertainty and fear we close this April issue and await what May will bring. We walk towards November like Wilton, the ten-year-old Nicaraguan boy a US border patrolman found one cold dawn walking in the nothingness of the Texas desert...
Wilton’s face went around the world. “Can you help me...? I've been dumped.” The boy was tearful but determined. He was the face, the tears and the decision of Nicaragua, for three years walking an endless desert, driven by a long-ing for freedom and weighed down by the pain and fear that so many hopes will be thrown away. Like him, Nicaragua is asking for help to find a way out.
Wilton found it. He found a piece of land to live on and he found his moth-er. He will not be repatriated as the regime tried to make us believe, staging a propaganda farce. They did not “send him back" as Wilton feared.
Until May and even after, we will continue walking with the fear and un-certainty that in November they will “send us back” and with the hopeful expec-tation that this will not happen, that we will find a way out.