The news that the Ministry of the Interior approved legal status to a new NGO called “Defenders of the Homeland”, composed of ex-military, created expressions of serious concern in the current context where the Interamerican Human Rights Commission has documented extensive use of paramilitaries in the deaths of 325 civilians in the first two months of the crisis.
They Created “Defenders of the Homeland”, a Suspicious Military Organization
By Uriel Velásquez
April 29, 2019, published in Despacho 505, on line magazine of Nicaraguan exiles in Spain.
Among the objectives of the organization are “contributing to respect for the fatherland and patriotic symbols.” They will be able to have a presence throughout the country, and to be a member it is enough to be 18 years old. Experts warn that they are legalizing paramilitaries in Nicaragua.
The Ministry of the Interior authorized the registration of an organization called “Council of Defenders of the Homeland” (CODEPAT) that brings together different organizations of retired soldiers from the old Popular Sandinista Army (EPS) and the current Army of Nicaragua, and has the objective of “contributing to the establishment of ethical and moral values, respect for the homeland and national symbols.”
The statutes of the organization were published in the official public record this past April 24th, and it was founded on February 14th of this year.
CODEPAT has its central office in the city of León, but it can have provincial and municipal branches throughout the country or outside the country “if necessary”, according to the official publication.
To fulfill its objectives, the organization will establish contacts with public and civil society entities “to respond to a series of problems that the association of retired soldiers are facing who belong to organizations who come together in this Council.”
“Contributing to the improvement of the living conditions of its members through the preparation and implementation of economic and social projects aimed at programs that the president of the Republic and private or state institutions are promoting for that purpose”, is another of its objectives.
In addition this organization will be able to negotiate public and private medical attention, education and scholarships for its members.
Who can be members?
According to the statutes, retired and demobilized soldiers from the Armed Forces can be members of this organizations, those who are interested in joining and are older than 18.
There are three categories of members: founding members, members and honorary members.
The only requirement to be a member is to be over 18 years of age, present an application in writing, and obey the statutes and internal regulations of the organization.
The creation of this new organization creates suspicions in a context where the Regime of Daniel Ortega has used hundreds of paramilitaries to repress and murder demonstrators who since April 2018 decided to protest against him.
Roberto Cajina, an expert on security issues, states that the creation of this organization to seek “benefits” for retired military and youth who want to join, “looks more like a smoke screen for a strike force and even para-state force.”
Formally it meets all the requirements for an association. Nevertheless, in the current conditions of Nicaragua, in other words, in the context of the social and political crisis, “it ends up being suspicious not just the name, but that it is composed of people with military preparation and operational capacity (youth older than 18), in other words, potential paramilitaries that are looking for legal cover”, explained Cajina.
According to the expert, the fact that it is called “Defenders of the Homeland”, already provides an important clue about its true purposes: “defending the Homeland is, for them, defending the regime.”
Another fact that draws attention is that its national office is in León, a city which has been a niche for ex members of State Security in the decade of the 1980s, adds Cajina.
“They are legalizing paramilitary actions”
Vilma Núñez, the president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) criticizes the fact that among the objectives of this organization is “contributing” to respect for the homeland and national symbols.
“They do not say how they are going to do it, but this is a faculty that is exclusive to the Army,” she maintains. For Núñez the creation of this organization for purposes of assistance is a smokescreen of the Daniel Ortega regime for legalizing para-militarism.
“It is like legalizing the aggression, it has all the characteristics of a paramilitary organization. They are promoting assistance to buy off people. This is very serious because they are legalizing paramilitary actions”, she denounced.
The human rights defender argues that currently organizations exist of people who participated in the resistance of the 1980s, and in this case warns that they want to recruit new members, above all, youth.
“They are going to recruit more people, they are preparing themselves to increase the levels of repression. This is a smokescreen for increasing the aggression and repression. They have always kept the members of the resistance excluded, now that they are using them to repress the people, they are rewarding them. Invoking the right of association, they are using them”, states Núñez.
Characterization of the Paramilitaries
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), that investigated the deeds of violence of April 2018, define paramilitaries as groups composed of unidentified people who use firearms, many times weapons of war, and that act in coordination with police forces in repression against voices opposed to the regime.
Hundreds of illegal detentions of demonstrators opposed to Ortega are attributed to these groups, and their participation in the so called “Operation Clean up” carried out between July and August of last year. It consisted in the elimination of road blocks and barricades through armed attacks on demonstrators, that left hundreds of people killed throughout the country.
The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) documented the operation of these groups from May 2018, less than a month after the beginning of the civic rebellion against Ortega.
They called them para police groups, considering that they act with the “acquiescence, tolerance and collaboration” of state authorities and, specifically, the Police.
THEY ARE NOT SINCE APRIL, THEY ARRIVED WITH ORTEGA IN 2007
The so-called strike forces were formed at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 with the arrival of Daniel Ortega to the Presidency. One of the first occasions where there is a record was in the municipal elections of 2008, when they confronted and attacked opposition sympathizers who protested the electoral results in different municipalities of the country in view of the Police, in full light of day and directed by officials of the regime.
According to testimonies collected by the GIEI and documented in their report of December 2018, the strike forces, also called “Sandinista mobs”, are composed of youth recruited in different ways: members of the Sandinista Youth, people picked up in the neighborhoods through the CPCs, Municipal Governments, political leaders, workers of state institutions and gang members or ex-gang members.
Since 2011 those responsible for centers for the reinsertion of young gang members publicly warned about the recruitment on the part of political secretaries of the Sandinista Front and the delivery of weapons to participate in acts of repression against political opposition groups.
The most serious case was that of young Samir Matamoros, who shot at a protest demonstration in the campaigns known as “Protest Wednesdays” outside of the Supreme Electoral Council. The youth had belonged to a gang, went through a reinsertion process, and was pressured by government supporters to join the strike forces.
“The participation of strike forces in attacks and aggression on the political opposition or expressions of social discontent has been a constant during the eleven years of the Ortega government”, concluded the GIEI.