This article addresses the Nicaraguan Army´s response to a report on peasant killings that was presented by three Nicaraguan organizations to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights of the OAS in September 2019.
Army of Nicaragua rejects responsibilities in crimes occurred in the countryside over 12 years
By Elizabeth Romero, Independent journalist, published January 13, 2020 in Obrera de la Tecla, an online magazine
In spite of the insecurity that the population in the countryside is suffering, the Army of Nicaragua (AN) states that it fulfills its missions in accordance with what is established in the Constitution. And in an apocalyptic way, the military institution warns that if it should leave the countryside, the history of violence in the neighboring countries of northern Central America could be repeated.
“The day that we leave the countryside, Nicaragua will join the chaos like exists in the Northern Triangle of Central America, or like areas of Mexico”, alleges the Army of Nicaragua.
The justification of the army was contained in a document that was distributed selectively in response to the report on the Human Rights Situation of the peasant population, presented during the 173rd period of sessions of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on September 25, 2019 by three petitioning organizations. That report mentions 30 peasants murdered as of the date of the report.
Currently the Peasant Movement now registers more than 90 crimes occurred in different parts of the country, without there being investigations of those events, states their coordinator and former political prisoner, Medardo Mairena.
In the document, recently released and sent selectively weeks after the hearing of the IACHR, the Army not only rejects the report presented to the IACHR by the Peasant Movement, Acción Penal and the Nunca Más Human Rights Collective, but it discredits it, and attributes it to the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Movement for the Recovery of Historical Sandinism.
“Acción Penal categorically states that that report was prepared objectively, without any type of bias, and establishes that it is not true that members of the MRS and MPRS political expressions have participated: it is worth pointing out that Acción Penal is apolitical and does not have any connection with any formal or informal political organization”, maintained its coordinator, Boanerge Fornos.
In August 2012 Fornos was awarded the first class Medal in Honor of Naval Merit by that military institution, when he acted as the Regional Prosecutor in the Southern Caribbean. He explained that the purpose of the report was “to reveal the situation that the peasants in the depths of the mountains of rural Nicaragua have lived and continue living, and it has never been the objective to discredit any institution”.
The report is based on testimonies of peasants who have had their human rights violated, and the demand is for a professional, impartial, objective investigation without obstacles, Fornos said, after referring to the fact that they require an investigation that would determine the responsibilities of those involved “now be it through action or omission in the violation of the human rights of the peasant population.”
In a pronouncement, the Nunca Más Human Rights Collective of Nicaragua pointed out, on their part, that “the military entity deliberately is lying, for the purpose of discrediting and distracting from the key issue, which are serious human rights violations, since these defenders do not belong to the movements cited”. Even though the Army alleged in their document that the petitioners “attempt to bring up situations of previous times not connected to the current situation”, it did not offer a real explanation for those cases still awaiting a justice investigation, and have been left in impunity.
In its time the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) counted 25 murders of peasant leaders of the opposition or those who had taken up arms between 2008 and 2017, and these organizations relooked at those cases again in their report.
As the organizations explain it, twelve of those were perpetrated in Honduran territory, another fourteen crimes were reported by the institutions as “confrontations” or operations against supposed criminal groups.
Allegation without much content
In addition, the Army in their document only made reference to one of the recent cases mentioned in the report by the organizations, the case of Juan Gabriel Cordero, and only to allege that “the place, date and names of those affected were not specified, nor details about them”.
In his testimony before the Human Rights Collective, Cordero referred to the fact that “he ended up wounded by firearm in his knees when he was escaping from the Army, who had showed up at his house looking for him, days after the cleanup operation.”
They also presented the version of the wife of Cordero, whose name does not appear, who points out that the soldiers captured her son of 14 years of age in the field, “they tied him up and forced him to guide them to his home, where she was found with her other 7 children, between the ages of 1 and 14 years of age”.
All of them were threatened with firearms to force them to leave the home, with the exception of a seven-year old girl, who was found to be in very bad health and died three days after this incident. After four months hidden in the mountains, Cordero was taken out by hammock to the border with Costa Rica, where they operated on him and saved his life.
The cases from the period of 2008-2017, according to the Collective, “form part of a serious and immediate precedent to the social explosion in April 2018”, and “show a tendency in the behavior of the armed forces and the police for human rights violations, which have not been investigated, showing the subjugation of the institutions to the executive branch”.
Coincidentally, most appear implicated in crimes such as cattle rustling or drug trafficking, “for the purpose of not having to recognize that they were selective killings that make evident an excessive lethality of the governmental repression which is typical in times of war”, the report highlights.
Military Intelligence Operation
Among the cases that appear in the report of the three organizations is the death of Juan Gabriel Garmendia, alias Yajob, former second chief of the special troops of the counterrevolution, who in 2010 publicly declared himself to have taken up arm against the government of Daniel Ortega in protest for the unconstitutional presidential re-election and the electoral fraud that was seen in 2011.
In February 2011 he was killed by a sharpshooter when he was on a farm in the area of Santa Teresa of Kilambé in the municipality of El Cuá. What the Army did was take up a note from La Prensa where some declarations appear from the Police authorities, who were stating that the crime had been solved on having arrested the supposed author with whom Yajob had personal grudges.
The Collective pointed out that this event was “an intelligence operation of the Army”, from which the military institution seeks to disconnect itself, for which purpose it cites journalistic reports that “reflected an investigation of the Police and the later accusation against the citizen Apolinar Hernández. The document of the Army alludes to this, as a way of discrediting the Collective and to give the appearance of an investigation, process and justice in the murder of Garmendia, nevertheless, the crime continues unpunished”.
Attack in El Carrizo
Another case that appears was November 8, 2011 in the indigenous community of El Carrizo, located in San José de Cusmapa, in the province of Madriz. Mercedes Pérez Torres (70 years of age), Josue Ariel Torres (22 years of age) and Elmer Torres Cruz (35 years of age) were murdered, the latter two were poll watchers for the PLI Alliance; and José Francisco Torres Cruz (18 years old) and José Moisés Pérez Cruz (30 years of age), were wounded.
The attack was carried out by FSLN militants led by the Political Secretary of the FSLN of San José de Cusmapa, the Municipal Delegate of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), with the support of the Municipal Chief and several members of the National Police. The sentence was for three years “which constituted a mockery for the victims”. But the document of the Army does not make any reference to it.
Murder of refugee
The report to the IACHR highlights the fact that the persecution and harassment of the Police and the Army in the countryside caused many peasants that had taken up arms to seek refuge in Honduras.
One of them was Alberto José Midence López, known as “El Flaco Midence”, who belonged to the Nicaraguan Patriotic Command, an organization that defended the right to take up arms as the only way to stop the consolidation of the government of Daniel Ortega into a dictatorship. On December 22, 2013 he was killed by bullets in El Paraíso, Honduras.
Likewise, in this case the Army annexed a copy from a Honduran communications media that published a story about this event.
Explosion of a backpack bomb
In turn, concerning the explosion that occurred on January 20, 2015 in the community of El Portal, Santa María de Pantasma, Jinotega, the military institution used a publication from the time of a television program which highlighted the official version that it was a matter of confrontation between Honduran criminals with Nicaraguans connected to drug trafficking, and which alleged that there was no military presence in the site.
At first in that place two unknown people died, the result of an explosion of a bomb that had been sent to them in a backpack as if it were a package. Hours later the owner of the property was murdered, Modesto Duarte Altamirano, when he showed up at the site of the explosion and was captured by troops of the Army.
The Collective highlighted that Duarte appeared dead, presenting two bullet holes and fractures of his arm and right foot, as well as a stab wounds in the right ribs.
Murder of a peace promoter
Another case mentioned in the report presented to the IACHR this past September was that of Andrés Cerrato, a peace promoter in the community of San Martín de Daca, in the micro-region of Ayapal, who, after having denounced the harassment of the Army, was executed in the early morning of April 18, 2016.
In their document the Army once again alleges that in a publication of the daily newspaper La Prensa dated April 16, 2016 “during the interview it did not mention any harassment on the part of the Army.”
Nevertheless, the military institution does not make reference to other publications in that same paper where the topic is addressed, like the publication on April 21 of that same year where the Bishop of Estelí, Mons. Abelardo Mata, stated that in a meeting that the religious leader chaired on March 12th of that year, Cerrato denounced that “members of the Army of Nicaragua not only had threatened him, but that they had placed a weapon in the mouth of his son.”
During the decade of the 80s Cerrato joined the counterrevolution, and at the time of his murder was a militant and grassroots leader of the Liberal Independent Party (PLI).
“His relatives reported that at 1am a group of armed men arrived at the home and took him away. Five kilometers away he was found dead that day in the morning. His body showed different signs of torture, including a severed tongue”, mentioned the report.
Also in Ciudad Antigua
The report included the triple crime that occurred in El Coyol Hill, Ciudad Antigua, Nueva Segovia, on November 6, 2016, the day of the national elections, where José Nahum Arriola, 47 years old, Margarito Mendoza Sevilla, 35 years old, and Santos Pérez López, 19 years old, died.
“According to declarations of the inhabitants, the deaths occurred as a consequence of a confrontation with the Army”, indicates the report in the hands of the IACHR, which in addition states that “in the case of José Nahum, his wife referred to the fact that he had taken up arms 6 months ago against the Government, because the Army and the Police would come to the farm looking for him, and that out of fear he slept in the mountains.”
At that time CENIDH knew that the bodies presented evidence of having been executed, with signs of torture, wounds in the neck with signs of his throat being slit, and also stab wounds in the feet and other parts of the body. Two of them had their legs and feet broken. In addition, they presented several bullet holes and grenade shrapnel, according to photographs provided as evidence, indicated the report.
The explanation that the Army offered in their document about this event was that the Police referred to the fact that “the deceased were involved in marihuana trafficking activities from Nicaragua to Honduras, and the event occurred during a drug transaction.”
Nevertheless, it mentions that in that place were found 16.4 kilograms of marihuana, which is a very small amount.
Massacre in the community of La Cruz del Río Grande
Meanwhile on November 12, 2017 in the community of San Pablo 22, in La Cruz del Río Grande (RACCS), six people were executed in a military operation, among them minors, Yojeisel Elizabeth, 16 years of age, and Francisco Alexander, 12 years of age, who were found with their father, Francisco Dávila Pérez, who had taken up arms against the regime.
Two days later the Chief of the Region, Colonel Marvin Paniagua stated to the La Prensa newspaper that for nine days they had pursued those who they described as “criminal elements”.
The explanation that the Army offered in their document was that investigations of different communications media in that place stated that “the deceased were part of a criminal group that had an impact in the zone.”
At the same time, it annexed photographs that were published back then by 100% Noticias that show a minor clothed in military clothing, carrying a rifle and stated that he was the son of Valle.
It is important to highlight that in that document the Army makes a reference to the fact that they were published in the “opposition” media of 100% Noticias, but the Nunca Más Collective of Human Rights of Nicaragua makes the clarification in their pronouncement that it is “information outside of its context, because in the period indicated that media was identified as allied with the Ortega Murillo government.”
And it notes “reflected here is the complexity of the multiple efforts by which the State is seeking the nullification of the right to freedom of the press and expression.”