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The Massacre of San Pedro de Lóvago

This story published Sunday recounts the violent dismantling of one of the principal barricades in the country in the earlier days of the crisis, from the perspective of the peasants from the Anti-Canal movement. It also reflects the contradictory role of the Catholic church in the crisis, from a pastor who helps save the lives of wounded peasants, to a Bishop who refuses to accompany the dismantling, which would have protected them from the violent government response.

The Massacre of San Pedro de Lóvago

By Ana Cruz, La Prensa, January 18, 2020

[see original Spanish]

Was there a massacre at the barricade of San Pedro de Lóvago? And if there was, how many peasants died? This work tries to clear up the facts behind one of the most violent events of 2018 of which little is known.

July 14, 2018. As of now there is no report on what happened that day at the strategic intersection known as the “San Pedro de Lóvago Junction,” 120 kilometers from Managua, when peasants from the central mountains of Nicaragua, who had put up a roadblock in protest against the Daniel Ortega regime, were attacked.

The versions go from a massacre with hundreds of peasants executed, at times supported by videos of doubtful origins, to the official version that ignores it. It did not happen for the Government of Nicaragua, like that massacre of banana workers in Colombia, January 6, 1928, that Gabriel García Márquez recounts in A Hundred Years of Solitude, when the authorities tried to convince the inhabitants of Macondo that everything was a dream, that there was no massacre, and that the workers were no longer there because they had left to seek better jobs in other places.

In May 2018 at the San Pedro de Lóvago Junction in Chontales was one of the approximately 180 roadblocks that had been put up throughout Nicaragua. Possibly this was one of the most important, because it paralyzed the three roads that connected with the municipalities of Juigalpa, Acoyapa and Santo Tomás. This junction was a key point through which moved farm and milk production from several provinces of the country.

The peasant, Nemesio Mejía, 43 years of age, remembers that it took a week for them to plan the roadblock. “We started with a barricade on April 23rd in Nueva Guinea (located in the southern Caribbean). We were there a week, pressuring from there so they would quit repressing in Managua, but we realized that we were only wearing people out. There were no results at that time. So, between May 1 and 2, we had some meetings, and we decided to advance. We agreed that we were going to the the Lóvago junction,”related Mejía, one of the peasants who became a coordinator of that barricade.

On May 10, 2018 the peasants closed the three roads from the Junction of Lóvago that connect with the municipalities of Juigalpa, Acoyapa and Santo Tómas. The barricade was maintained for two months and four days, and at which gathered, between 1,000 and 2,000 peasants -at times more, at other times less- from Punta Gorda, Río San Juan, El Almendro, Juigalpa, Santo Tómas and Chontales.

These peasants already had long experience in protesting. They came mostly from the Anti-Canal Movement that demanded respect for their lands, and the repeal of the “Special Law for the Development of the Infrastructure and Nicaraguan Transportation related to the Canal, Free Trade Zones and Associated Infrastructure”, Law 840.

The peasants were so well organized that they never lacked food nor vigilance. “They would bring us trucks full of food. Trucks with cheese, taro, cassava, plantains and butchered cattle. One day there was so much that we had to set a date for each person who wanted to donate food, because so much was coming in that we were wasting it,” remembered Mejía.

The Catholic priest, Carlos Abea Balmaceda, at that time pastor of the San Martín de Porras Church in Nueva Guinea, stated that he visited the Lóvago barricade on 12 occasions, and it was “when I ate the most meat in my life. They butchered cows there almost every day. This families would send food. Trucks arrived with products that they planted on their lands. Food was never lacking at that barricade.”

“They used to share even with those who could not pass because of the barricade,” commented the religious.

The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade pointed out that with so many people gathered, they had to organize themselves into three groups, even though those from Punta Gorda coordinated the entire barricade, which watched over each road that connected with Juigalpa, Santo Tomás and Acoyapa. But at night, when the support was less on the part of the communities of Juigalpa and Santo Tomás, the people from Punta Gorda supported the care of the barricades.

The stakeout, according to Mejía´s story, was difficult for the peasants, because they had few and poor hours of sleep. In the two long months of protest from the barricade, the peasants slept on stones, pieces of black plastic, or cardboard. The most fortunate slept on hammocks and others, more confident, on the weeds next to the highways.

“We would not even sleep for a complete hour because of the uncomfortableness, and the fear that they could come in and attack us,” revealed Mejía.

The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade remembers that several peasants “went crazy” because of the accumulated weariness and the fear of being murdered. “There were more than 2 months without being able to sleep well. There was no rest. It was very hard. A young man suddenly began to talk incoherently, and we had to put him in the hospital for several days. Many people left there traumatized because they were afraid and were not saying so,” referred Mejía.

Fr. Abea noted that two days prior to the July 14, 2018 ambush, by accident a person who was driving drunk ignored the barricade and ran over one of the demonstrators. “The man died, and we had to show up to mediate, because the driver was driving drunk,” lamented the priest from Nueva Guinea.

Another one of the painful, but moving, moments according to Mejía, happened when the peasants paid homage to the student, Kevin Valle. The young man died during the attack against the students entrenched in the Polytechnical University of Nicaragua (UPOLI).

The casket of Kevin Valle passed through the Lóvago junction, because he was from La Gateada in the municipality of Villa Sandino in Chontales. This is why, at the request of the peasants, his relatives allowed that they pay him homage for a few minutes.

The emotional posthumous event began when the peasants raised the white and blue flag. Then they formed a human chain and sang the National Anthem, while the casket with the body of Valle slowly moved forward on top of a small truck.

The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade gave a speech to all those who at that moment were watching over the barricade. “I told them that we should be prepared, because what happened to that boy could happen to any one of us. He died for seeking freedom for Nicaragua, and we also were exposed to that sacrifice and suffering,” warned Mejía, before the shattered peasants who were supporting the grief of the family of Valle.

Operation Cleanup

Fear and exhaustion began to be felt. The brutal Cleanup Operation that the government executed had already begun, dismantling by gunshot, one by one, the barricades in the country. By the beginning of July, the neighboring barricades in Santo Domingo, Juigalpa, San Pedro and Morrito were dismantled, and that left them practically defenseless to a possible ambush from para-police, police and soldiers. Mejía remembers that now by July 13th there were not even 500 peasants who continued supporting, at least by their presence, the Lóvago barricade.

Days before the brutal ambush, suspicions of a possible attack on the Lóvago barricade arrived when some people from the communities warned the coordinators that in a community close by, some 400 people were gathering from the Nicaragua Army. “The people who live close to the Tierra Blanca community told us that they saw soldiers congregated, and with the dismantling already of nearby barricades, well, they nearly had us surrounded. So the decision to leave began to develop,” Mejía confessed.

Added to the fall of so many nearby barricades, that in one or another way protected the Lóvago barricade, the peasants received the news in the afternoon of July 13, 2018 that Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, also founders of the Anti-Canal Movement, had been detained in the August Sandino International Airport in Managua.

The feeling that it was time to leave became latent. A peasant with the initials of M.G., who we will call Luis to protect his identity, stated that, for them as members of the Peasant Movement, one of the strongest reasons for leaving the barricade was the detention of Mairena. “We thought that if we left the barricade, they might release Medardo, but instead of that, they attacked us with gun fire, when in the barricade, since all of us were peasants, we only had our machetes, others had stones, sticks, slingshots and one or another pistol that we used to take care of our plots of land.”

The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade met with the people that were left, and spoke to them frankly. “I told them that I preferred to abandon the barricade and no allow the death of any peasant. It would hurt me that they would kill the people for continuing, even though there was no longer any more support from other barricades,” revealed Mejía.

The massacre

The morning of July 14, 2018 some peasants, without consulting the coordinators of the Lóvago barricade, called Fr. Abea to inform him that they had planned to dismantle the barricade. They also entrusted to him that they requested the accompaniment of Bishop René Sándigo, and that he had refused.

“They (the peasants) tried to negotiate the arrival of the bishop, and the demobilization of the barricade would be achieved, but the Bishop of Chontales refused. He said he was not coming,” confirmed the religious priest.

The priest stated that the dismantling began at 5am, when the peasants began to withdraw in small groups to their homes. The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade stated that the majority, some 200 to 300 peasants, left between 9 and 10am on that July 14th, heading to the highway that connects with Santo Tomás.

“I told them, let´s go, let´s go, get on the trucks! And we pulled out in a type of caravan,” described Mejía.

The coordinators of the barricade were in a small vehicle, and attempted to go out ahead to inform the rest if they saw something suspicious. Mejía remembers that, meters before reaching the area of Poza Azul, the place in which they were attacked, again along the highway to Santo Tomás, he received a call in which he was warned that they were waiting for them.

“I consulted with the driver about how far we were from the point that they told me, and unfortunately we were already less than 800 meters away. Immediately I told him to stop. I signaled to one of the trucks to stop, but it continued on, and a hail of gunfire ensued because they were waiting for us,” lamented Mejía.

The sector of Poza Azul where the ambush occurred, is some nine kilometers from the Lóvago Junction. The peasants who witnessed the attack stated that they saw between 40 and 80 paramilitaries, police and Army officers deployed on both sides of the highway.

The hail of bullets against the group of unarmed peasants lasted more than 30 minutes. Some, who fortunately did not end up wounded, say that they saw the bullets hit the pavement and how others hit the bodies of their brothers in the struggle.

“The bullets passed so close to me that I heard them whizzing by  while all of us were running. It was a time when we were running for our lives, and we ran to both sides of the highway,” remembered Mejía.

Luis, in contrast to Mejía, was in one of the trucks that carried quarry stone when he was a victim of the attack. “Everything happened quickly. You could hear the explosions. The truck braked sharply, and we all looked for how to jump off and flee into the woods,” related the peasant, now from a point in Nicaragua where he is hiding out of fear of being killed by the Ortega Murillo dictatorship.

He says that he saw police and soldiers shooting at them with high caliber weapons and, when he began to run on the highway, felt that something hot destroyed his leg. “I shouted at my companions, ´they hit me, they hit me´! But they only said to me, ´Where?´, while we ran toward the woods,” recounted Luis.

Nine pellets of buckshot from a 12 caliber shotgun hit the body of Luis. The bullets were lodged in his left leg and part of his abdomen, destroying tendons and part of his intestines.

At the same time, another peasant who we will call Juan, 34 years of age, also was hit by bullets, after he got down from the truck of quarry stones, that they were using to leave the barricade. Also a farmer, he was hit during the attack. 11 pellets of buckshot from a 12 caliber shotgun hit his body. They destroyed his spinal cord. He was left a paraplegic.

The peasant Juan Gabriel Mairena, the brother of Medardo Mairena, also was hit by the bullets during the ambush. The young peasant was in the back of a small car, along with another five protestors, and on seeing the hail of bullets, left the car in search of the woods. Before being able to hide among the trees and undergrowth, Mairena was hit by two bullets from an AK-47. They hit him in the shoulder and the left forearm, draining his arm of strength and mobility.

They had given up the brother of Mairena for dead. Mejía describes that, at the moment when they gave him the homemade weapon that Gabriel carried, all stained in blood, it was like “when one loses a son. It was devastating. They thought that they had finished him off because they left him some 800 meters within the woods, under a tree,” recalled Mejía.

Gabriel pointed out that, on being left under the tree by the companions who helped him to continue, he regained his strength and walked for four days in the mountains toward Nueva Guinea. The excessive attack and the long hours of walking, that more than 200 peasants had to do until feeling themselves “safe”, in addition to the lack of communication among the members of the Anti-Canal Movement, made many think that the deaths had been more numerous.

Dead and wounded

“There was talk of more than 20 dead, but I could not confirm that because I did not stay there. All of us ran,” stated Mejía. Fr. Abea related that, possibly the more “confirmed” dead were the three citizens who were driving, and were helpers in the truck in which  the peasants were traveling, because he stated that days after the ambush, he was able to have some contact with approximately 90 percent of those who were in that caravan.

International human rights organizations, in spite of being present at that time in the country, did not record exact data on that attack on the peasants who blocked the Lóvago junction.

Nevertheless, in their 2018 Annual Report, Chapter IV on Nicaragua, the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR), described as “the most violent incidents occurred within the framework of operation cleanup those that took place in peasant areas, like Morrito, in the Río San Juan Province and San Pedro de Lóvago in Chontales.”

The number of people killed in Nicaragua, from April 18 to July 30, 2018 then had reached 317, according to the report of the IACHR.

In the early morning hours of July 16, 2018, now with the permission of the Police, Fr. Carlos Abea was able get them to allow him to see how the place had been left, and confirm with his own eyes whether there were bodies of peasants strewn in Poza Azul or around the highway that connects with Santo Tomás.

The priest remembers that several peasants told him that the three that were in the cabin of the truck “did not run because they were not in the barricades,” but since the attack did not stop until several minutes later, unfortunately, they were also hit by the bullets.

The point where the attack occurred, even though nearly 48 hours had passed since the ambush, the priest stated that it looked like a hurricane had just passed through. “The environment was silent and very tense. Everything was run down, like a hurricane had just gone by, that left everything strewn about. There was a stretch of road with a ton of stuff strewn about, clothing and shoes. There was everything because the peasants threw themselves to both sides of the highway and they had to run to save their lives,” bemoaned the priest.

The priest walked up to 800 meters around where the ambush occurred, but did not find any bodies. “I did not see any bodies, but I did see a lot of people wounded,” he said, at that time the pastor of Nueva Guinea, now confined to exile in Mexico, because his life was in danger for having helped the peasants.

After more than six hours of searching without results, the priest decided to abandon the area, but stated that he returned 17 days later to rescue the wounded peasants who were hiding in the woods.

Mejía revealed that he was in coordination with Fr. Abea, after he was able to charge his cell phone, to indicate to him the location of those wounded or sheltered in different points in the woods. The religious remembers that there were occasions when he rode around for up to two or three hours in his vehicle to be able to get to the points where the peasants were hiding.

The coordinator of the Lóvago barricade had to go into seclusion in the woods for a week, until he crossed into Costa Rica. Gabriel, in contrast, walked four days by himself in search of medical attention. Everyone had given him up for dead. He got to Nueva Guinea, and a doctor gave him medicines and sewed him up, but told him that he could not do anything more, because if he did, they would kill him. One month and seven days later Mairena also crossed the border into Costa Rica to save his life.

Luis and Juan, hours later the same day of the ambush, were taken by human rights defenders, sent by Abea, to a private clinic in Juigalpa. Both spent several weeks hospitalized.

In total the priest states that he supported some 18 or 20 peasants who remained in the woods wounded. One of the cases that had the most impact on Abea was that of a 90 year old peasant, who had two bullets in his left leg, above the knee.

“His capacity of love for others, and his conviction that his struggle was just, and if he died it was worth it, had a great impact on me,” commented the priest.

The celebration over the rescues carried out did not last long, because the religious realized that several of them, some 12 peasants, had been detained by the Police. Most were from the community known as La Campanera. As of today the priest states that he never heard anything about them.

 

Army of Nicaragua rejects responsibilities in crimes occurred in the countryside over 12 years

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

[original Spanish]

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.

Prior Cases

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.”

 

 

 

What 2019 leaves us and where we are going

This provides a good short summary of what happened last year and the principal tasks the opposition faces this year by former president of MRS.

What 2019 leaves us and where we are going

By Enrique Sáenz, January 10, 2020 in Confidencial

[original Spanish]

A strategy to displace the regime through peaceful means and begin a process of democratic change.

At the beginning of the year, the task asserts itself of seeing the prospects that are presented to our country for 2020 in the political, economic and social planes. Logically, the starting point is an assessment of what happened in the year that just ended, since the social and political processes continue their course and dynamics.

I want to clarify that I will not do a detailed recounting of events, but a panoramic review, focusing on what I think is central.

Let us start with the political field. Throughout the first semester, and more specifically between February and July, the dynamic was marked by the negotiations between the leaders of the regime and the representatives of the Civic Alliance. An unexpected encounter between Ortega and prominent businessmen served as the scenario to open the cycle. A notable fact of that stage was the withdrawal of the Catholic hierarchy from the role of mediator that they had played in 2018. They saw it coming and took their hands out of the fire. After the first month some general agreements were signed, that Ortega did not implement. The negotiations stagnated until the bigshot buried the process in the month of July.

What lessons can we draw from the negotiations with Ortega?

The big lesson is that for Ortega the dialogues are simply delaying or diversionary tactics which are part of his war strategy, and not a resource to find agreed upon solutions to the crisis that the country is undergoing. Ortega intends to subject or crush, through deceit, bribery or force. In 2018 he resorted to the first dialogue because of the internal pressure. He took on commitments. He pushed and pulled. And aborted the process when he felt that he had controlled the situation with fire and blood.

In 2019 he ran to call for negotiations when Juan Guaidó erupted in Venezuela, within a strategy combined with threats from the US administration, and actions of the international community, principally the Lima Group. The moment appeared to portend the imminent fall of Madura and Ortega, who tried to take precautions in the face of the risk of being left in the middle of the street, naked and feeble. When the threat dissipated, and he felt the danger exorcised, he started kicking the table again.

It is important to highlight this lesson, because Ortega will use the same ploy again when he feels the water up to his neck again. Let us remember that Maduro has called for eleven dialogues. The corollary is: the only language that Ortega understands is that of the correlation of forces, and therefore the prescription is to not give him breathing room and “squeeze and squeeze” as much as possible.

The positive aspect of this stage was the release from jail of a significant proportion of political prisoners. The way in which the release happened  – an absolutist wave of the hand – showed that in reality it was a matter of hostages, which the regime used as a bargaining chip in the give and take, principally in light of the international community.

The second semester was marked predominantly by the expectations and actions of the international community: the opening of the procedure for the application of the Democratic Charter on the part of the OAS; the declarations of condemnation of different bodies of the European Union; the sanctions imposed by Canada and the United States, as well as the suspension of bilateral aid on the part of some European countries; they deepened the international isolation of the regime. To that is added the fall of Evo Morales, which broke a link in the chain with Cuba and Venezuela.

Nevertheless, the most decisive blows were the sanctions imposed on BANCORP, the financial arm of the business conglomerate of the ruling clique, and financial platform for the trafficking and laundering of capital. More than $2.7 billion of Ortega´s capital was under the custody of that bank in the form of trust funds. With its closing, it is a mystery where that capital has taken refuge.

The other blow were the sanctions against DNP, the head of one of the most lucrative, fraudulent businesses of the regime, that is, the company for the import and commercialization of hydrocarbons at onerous prices.

In both cases, BANCORP and DNP, the shameful confusion was made evident between public patrimony and the business interests of the ruling family. With BANCORP the operation was scuttled that intended to transform it into a state bank through a law that Ortega´s deputies approved,  but was left non nata. The sanctions arrived before that, and did not leave any option but to proceed with its liquidation. With DNP they nationalized the inventory to ensure its liquidity at prices that would be borne by the backs of the people. But the lucrative business was deflated.

Based on these dynamics two constants occurred: fierce repression and the cancelation of citizen rights and freedoms, as the sole mechanisms for holding onto power. And the progressive economic and social deterioration, that affects families and businesses of every size. Unemployment, business closings, contraction of bank credit, loss of income, migration, impoverishment, indebtedness of families and businesses, economic recession.

In terms of the opposition, there are bright and somber elements. The ruling clique maintains power, but has not been able to re-establish “normality”. At the point of repression it keeps massive expressions of protest contained, but the rejection of most of the population is growing, likewise recurrent demonstrations of resistance leak out, particularly from families of victims and political prisoners.

It is appropriate, likewise, to record the progress in the unification of forces and efforts. We can cite: the publication of proposals for serious changes, on the part of COSEP, the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity, which offer the bases for a substantial strategic agreement; the structuring of a proposal for electoral reforms, in spite of the fact that an electoral scenario is not visible; and the efforts to build a national democratic coalition. Slow and insufficient progress, certainly, but progress in the end.

With this background, the immediate challenge is, beyond the declarations of intentions, to agree upon a strategy that:

  • Unite different political and social sectors committed to democracy;
  • Connect the short and medium term
  • Articulate the international plane, citizen mobilization, political communication, organization and reaching out to the daily problems and anxieties of the population, through the accompaniment of their demand with proposals and actions;
  • Have the explicit purpose of displacing the regime through peaceful means and beginning a process of democratic change

 

 

The orders from Murillo, after the killing of Álvaro Conrado

This past week more internal documents from the Vice President were leaked to the press, showing her role in the directing the FSLN social media response to the horrific scenes of open repression that flooded social media in April 2018. It was precisely the social media recording of the repression that led to the massive demonstrations of the population against the government. The government´s disinformation campaign was explicitly confirmed by the editor of the official FSLN media “El 19 Digital” at that time, Carlos Mikel Espinoza, In interviews he gave after resigning.

In an interesting parallel, at the time these documents were made public in Managua, Meet the Press did an interview of the Russian journalist Masha Gessen that dealt with similar tactics in an entirely different context.   

The orders from Murillo, after the killing of Álvaro Conrado

By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto, December 28, 2019 in Confidencial

[original Spanish]

New emails from the Vice President reveal her desperation to impose the message of her trolls and the message “we are going all out.”

Almost two and a half hours after the child Álvaro Conrado Dávila was deadly wounded on April 20, 2018 in the field next to the National Engineering University (UNI), the Vice President Rosario Murillo sent an email ordering the militants of the FSLN to propagate official messages on social networks that were dominated by the blue and white protestors.

The email contained two attachments: the first, a memo with orders to the Sandinista militancy to redouble the discourse of the regime on social networks. And the second, a “strategy” with the “principal points and aspects” to reinforce it.

It was 2:08 in the afternoon. At that time the video of the wounded Álvaro Conrado went viral on social networks. In the 19 second video– that circulated like wildfire on cellphones – the lament of the adolescent can be heard: “It hurts to breathe”. A testimony that moved the country and ended up turning the citizenry onto the streets against the regime of Daniel Ortega.

The memo denoted the growing desperation of the acting president of the country and de facto head of the FSLN in the absence of Daniel Ortega. The document is signed by Rosario Murillo, and urges the party militancy to act quickly in the face of a scenario that was getting out of their control, in the streets as well as on social networks.

“We are deploying on all Fronts, and this should be reflected in our active participation in Social Networks, tweeting, responding, re-tweeting so that the Christian, Socialist and Solidarity Ideas, our Faith, our Hope and our Confidence in a Future of Rights and Full Well-being be ratified in the Communications”, reads the memo.

The memo forms part of a series of emails written by Rosario Murillo which are in the possession of CONFIDENCIAL. In November 2018 we published a good part of these communications, but sources connected to the FSLN leaked more documents in the format of emails to CONFIDENCIAL, that offer insight into the role of the Vice President administering the social and political crisis in its first days. The emails cover from April 19th, when Murillo ordered “we are going all out” and the first three deaths were produced, to April 25th when it was announced that the regime would attend the first national dialogue called by the Catholic Bishops.

A propagandist from the JS[1] for the strategy

From the beginning of the protests the social networks were the breeding ground for the rebellion against the Ortega-Murillo regime to acquire a national scope and become known internationally.

Since April 18th, when the joint repression from the Police and the thugs in the Camino de Oriente became the detonator, social networks became a tool for denouncement and convening of the students in revolt. In spite of the governmental propaganda machinery and the censure of the communications media, the social networks were monopolized by the citizenry. The flashpoint of this virtual dynamic was the dramatic video of Álvaro Conrado drowning in his own blood.

The orders of Murillo during the April rebellion

In El Carmen – presidential home and offices at the same time – the Vice President understood that “the active and proactive presence in networks” had dwindled. “This is the world of today, and this is the form of  communications for the world of today”, Murillo warns in the memo.

The Vice President presented Erick Ríos in the memo as the person responsible for implementing the social network strategy. Ríos is a fervent follower of the presidential couple. His fidelity has situated him as one of the national leaders of the Sandinista Youth, the arm of the party obedient to the Vice President. Ríos describes himself in Twitter as a “philologist and communication theorist, Digital Marketing and Neuro Marketing, information technologies”; at the same time that he directs the “Redvolución” propaganda initiative.

“We are going to work with Compañero Erick Ríos, so that with the Communication Secretaries  we might continue implementing all the Plans that mark and multiply our active and proactive presence in Networks”, orders Murillo´s memo.

A Goebbelian style manual

After presenting Ríos as the person responsible to the National Political Secretaries, the Cabinet of her husband, her sons Daniel Edmundo, Juan Carlos and Maurice – directors of television channels 4, 8 and 13 respectively – the Vice President got to the point with the manual for the strategy, contained in another attached document.

The manual replicates the Goebbelian technique that orders repeating and repeating key messages, whose thematic focuses can be appreciated in the hashtags that they used: #TrabajoyPaz [WorkandPeace]. #NoalaViolencia [NotoViolence] and #AmorNicaragua [LoveNicaragua].

“Activate all the Sandinista militancy who have their accounts in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and those who do not, create them around our message with the following hashtags (previously mentioned)”, states the manual.

The manual of Murillo for the social networks consists of five points. The second reads: “create a unique communications channel through WhatsApp with the communication compañeros of the FSLN through number 8720-1455 in order to facilitate and make all our strategy operational on Social Networks.”

Create more laboratories of virtual trolls

The third point of the manual of Murillo confirms what many social network specialists denounced for years: That the Government has “troll farms”, in other words troll factories that work exclusively on the creation and propagation of content favorable to the regime, but also disinformation content and to discredit those considered opponents.

The term “troll farm” is recently coined and means: “an organization whose employees or members try to create conflict and turmoil in an online community through the publication of deliberately incendiary or provocative comments”. In the incipient social and political crisis of April. Vice President Murillo ordered: “Equip more laboratories in all the provinces and municipalities of the country.”

The purpose of these “laboratories” is divided into 10 precise actions: “Position our message, denounce the vandalism of minuscule groups, prepare memes, create audiovisual materials around the content offered by our Sandinista media, designs with our labels, comment on live transmissions with our message, denounce false news, block and denounce accounts with offensive messages, create infographs, canvas, etc, audios and videos for WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram”.

Sandinista sources told CONFIDENCIAL that the largest “troll laboratory” was installed in the Nicaraguan Youth Institute (INJUVE), an installation populated by baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer stadiums, and track and field tracks, where Álvaro Conrado aspired to run as an athlete in the 400 and 800 meter races. The staff for the laboratories came from public institutions;: “The youngest employees, natural users of social networks, were taken there to work full time.” (The information was corroborated by another email that the Vice President sent on April 22nd. She justified the absence of the employees in their places of work under the following argument: “the compañeros who have been accompanying the process of the defense of our project will remain in that same task”).

The fourth point of the manual indicated that all the interviews and materials of the communication media of the regime should be shared by the militancy, as well as “ensuring our comments within the publication”. The fifth and last point demands “ensuring data plans for the coverage of social media and live transmissions of our walks, festivals and general activities”

Order to take Managua unleashes massacre in the UNI

After sending the email with guidelines on social networks, in another communication the Vice President ordered immediately taking over “the iconic points of Managua” on the afternoon of April 20th. “With directions from our National leadership, we must ensure the immediate presence of all of our institutional militancy in 61 iconic points of our city, as well as all the needed logistics, in coordination with our District Political Secretaries, we will be in possession of these points indefinitely”, mandated the email.

Based on that order the offensive of armed gangs was unleashed, who joined the repression that the Police maintained in the sector of the UNI and the Metropolitan Cathedral, even after the bullet that shot Álvaro Conrado. That email arrived at 4:05pm to more than 200 addresses of individual emails of the members of the Agatón Sandinista Leadership Council  (CLS), organized in all the public institutions, as well as closed lists of territorial political secretaries and members of the Cabinet.

“Finally, between 4:30 and 5:00pm the pro-governmental groups who had remained in the Stadium entered into the UNI”, revealed the final report of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), convened by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to investigate the massacre between April 18th and May 30, 2018.

At that moment, when the gangs entered the UNI, Marlon Manases Martínez Ramírez, 20 years old, was with the demonstrators in the northern part of the UNI and received an impact from a firearm in the cranium.

“He died that day in the Hospital. According to the legal medical report, before dying Marlon had received different blows to the head, one of them in the mouth that knocked out three teeth. One person who accompanied him, who observed the moment in which he fell wounded, indicated that he suffered the impact at the moment in which people from shock troops accompanied by the Police entered the UNI shooting”, reflected the GIEI report. “The moment and place where Marlon Manases Martínez Ramírez fell reveal that he was wounded by the actions of a group who invaded the UNI, composed of parastatal shock troops and the National Police”.

At 4:30pm, Harlinton Raúl López García, 18 years old, received two impacts from firearms, one in the anterior thorax and another in the right tibia. The gangs engulfed the cathedral of Managua as well.

Journalists from CONFIDENCIAL were providing coverage at that hour, in the zone of the University Avenue on April 20th. Within the church, horrified youth were crying and painting their names on their arms, afraid that the gangs would burn the cathedral down. When the team of journalists were able to flee from the gangs, who also beat and attacked the journalists, it began to be broadcast on the radio that Álvaro Conrado had died in the Baptist Hospital.

More emails from Murillo

Other emails from the Vice President leaked to CONFIDENCIAL are dated April 23. On that day she  categorically prohibited public employees from participating in the march called by the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP).

“No worker from our institutions has permission to participate in any march, our militancy will be demonstrating in favor of Peace in our institutions. Confirm that you received this orientation at the email clsinstitucional@agaton.ni”, reads the email sent at 11:53am.

That same day, less than one hour later, at 12:41 pm, another email was sent of an “urgent” nature giving a new orientation on the march called by the business sector: “The institutions who are in the perimeter and path of the March called by COSEP, stay within the installations, those who are far away we will be demonstrating with placards in favor of Peace”.

On April 24 the Vice President sent another memo demanding “be more active in the social networks” with the message of “recovering peace”. Likewise, she ordered the municipal and provincial CLSs to “strengthen the unity of Sandinism”. By that date protests had already broken out in the historic neighborhood of Monimbó, in Masaya, Estelí and León, and other Sandinista bastions, who rebelled against the dictatorship and were repressed with a toll of more than a dozen deaths.

 

[1] JS = Sandinista Youth organization

Nicaragua: The Popular Insurrection and Its Prospects

It is customary at the end of the year or decade to do an assessment of the past. This article by an anonymous Nicaraguan author does a review of the events since April 2018, but within the context of Sandinism since its beginnings. The article provides valuable perspective to events that we experience day to day.

Nicaragua: The Popular Insurrection and Its Prospects

By “Netzahuatl”[1] published in “sinpermiso” December 21. 2019

[original Spanish]

The FSLN was founded as a Marxist political military organization in the 1960s. At some moment in the fight against Somoza, the dictator at the service of the United States empire in Nicaragua, the organization divided into tendencies, related to a strategy for taking power. On one side was the “Prolonged Popular War” tendency that proposed guerrilla work in the countryside, and the development of peasant organizations. On the other side was the “Proletarian” tendency, that proposed the development of the organization of workers and urban guerrillas.

Finally the “Third Way” tendency was added, led by the brothers Humberto and Daniel Ortega, which proposed the insurrectional thesis, in my judgement and seen in retrospective, without an ideological justification, simply sought taking power for power´s sake.

With the triumph of the Revolution in 1979 the Marxist discourse was maintained, and it inserted Nicaragua into the Soviet orbit, but the specific economic policies were more social democratic, and “radicals on the left” were persecuted. On the political plane the façade of representative democracy was maintained, with a dominant political party, the FSLN.

In 1990 the FSLN lost the elections as a consequence of the imperialist war of aggression and the economic, political and moral deviations of the leadership. In the face of this loss, the FSLN abandoned any appearance of a revolutionary organization, and perpetrated the largest theft of public goods in the history of Nicaragua, which is known as “the piñata”, with the purported purpose of “ensuring resources so the party could deal with the new stage”. In reality, the stolen assets were the basis for a now economic group, the “Sandinista” bourgeoise.

From 1990 to 2000 the FSLN, under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, turned into an electoral organization, under the iron hand of its secretary general, and where the democratic decision- making structure, like the party Assembly or Congress disappeared in practice, concentrating effective power in the strong man, Daniel Ortega.

Ortega presented himself as the candidate to the presidency, and lost the elections of 1990, 1996, and 2001. In that period he entered into mafia-like negotiations with the Nicaraguan bourgeoise, and turned over piecemeal the popular organization of the Revolution and State enterprises (allowing for their privatization), in exchange for the recognition of the ownership by the FSLN leadership of the assets stolen in 1990 and improving their political situation, negotiating access to some posts in the State.

In 2006 Ortega returned to the presidency of Nicaragua, after a pact with the strong man from the liberal party, Arnoldo Alemán, one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of Nicaragua, only surpassed by Ortega himself. Ortega won the elections of 2006 without increasing his percentage of votes. His triumph was based on two pillars: the decrease in the percentage of votes needed to win thanks to a reform in the electoral law, and on assuring the US, local bourgeoise and the Catholic Church that they had nothing to fear, that his government would ensure the interests of those 3 actors.

The Presidencies of Ortega (2006-2018)

The last 12 years of Ortega´s government have had the principal objective of ensuring the continuity of the strong man in power: for that purpose Ortega took the following measures:

-Ensuring the interests of transnational capital allowed for foreign investment without taxes, with the cheapest and most docile labor force in Central America (thanks to yellow-dog unions), and allowing unrestricted repatriation of capital and profits.

-Turning over a large percentage of the national territory to transnational mining companies concessions for exploration and exploitation of minerals.

-Promoting an alliance with the most reactionary sectors of the Catholic and Evangelical Churches with measures like the criminalization of abortion under any circumstances (therapeutic abortion had been legal in Nicaragua since 1891).

-Renting out the National Army of Nicaragua and the National Police to the government of the United States to work to stop the flow of drugs toward that country, as well as the flow of “illegal” migrants to the same destination.

-Subjecting the branches of the State (Legislative, Judicial and Electoral) to the Executive Branch. Using the Judicial Branch to interpret the law (declaring “unconstitutional” the article of the Constitution that prohibited reelection), subjecting their enemies to criminal trials and freeing their friends with acquittals. Using the Legislative Branch to change the Constitution (eliminating the article that prohibited reelection), and laws to their liking. Using the Electoral Branch to “win” all the elections with the margin that Ortega might decide.

-Violently repressing political parties when they protested over the electoral frauds, making use principally of criminal youth gangs and, when necessary, party sympathizers and the police.

-Promoting a strategic alliance with national capital through the incorporation of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise into the  national economic decision making body, and allowing them in practice  the initiative on economic matters, at the same time that they were incorporated into the leadership councils of all State institutions whose tasks are outside of economic interests.

-Subjecting the country in an absolute way to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund. The social, economic and political damages of these actions were prevented by clientalistic social programs financed by a small percentage of the economic aid from Venezuela. According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua between 2007 and 2017 Ortega received $3,852,600,000 (three billion, eight hundred and fifty-two million, six hundred thousand dollars).

That money came into Nicaragua as a private donation, and therefore did not form part of the national budget, nor was its use subject to public scrutiny.

Starting in 2014 the flow of petrodollars began to decline. Ortega was working on an alternative source of financing for some years, and in 2013 sold the sovereignty and a non-specified strip of national territory to a Chinese investor to build a Great Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua, which supposedly would compete with the Panama Canal.

The Canal law talked about the expropriation of the land that the concessionary company thought necessary for the work, and talked about the monetary compensation based on the book value of the land (always less than the market value).

The Canal law provoked an important sector of the peasants who live in the zone potentially affected by the canal to organize, and they declared themselves in rebellion against the Ortega government, in the “Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty”. The peasant organization, in spite of the repression, jailings and murders unleashed by Ortega, has not stopped fighting the government in a peaceful way, joining the feminists who since 2006, when Ortega criminalized therapeutic abortion, are fighting him as well.

The construction of the ill-fated canal never happened, and lacking fresh resources, Ortega had to start to decrease the clientalistic social programs, which made their beneficiaries begin to be concerned about their future. In these circumstances we began year 2018.

The Spark is ignited

In the first third of the month of April a forest fire started in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, in southeastern Nicaragua.

Three days after the fire began, the Ortega government had not moved a finger to put it out. It is known that one of the businesses of the Ortega bourgeoise has been the sale of precious woods, and environmental groups for years have been concerned about the ongoing assault on the forests of the country.

The fire roused fear in the environmental movements and even in sectors not connected to the ecological struggle. The April 10th ecological and social movements held a press conference in the Central American University in Managua (Jesuit) to denounce the indolence of the government to the fire. The students announced a march for April 12th that would wind up at the seat of the National Assembly (Congress) demanding that the government move to put it out.

It was at that moment, in my mind, that the Ortega government decided on a substantive change in its methods of social and political control, a change which led us to where we are today. Until that moment Ortega managed social protests through repression with beatings, and the occupation of public spaces with people hired for those purposes (with streets and plazas already occupied by its employees, the protests did not have a place to occur).

This time  Ortega resorted to his traditional tactics, but he added a new one: a noticeable deployment of police with shotguns and crossing bandoliers (Pancho Villa style) along the entire route that the students had to follow to reach the National Assembly (Congress), in addition to small groups of  motorcyclists within the reach of the police, to pursue the students?

The students were not able to march in Managua and were repressed throughout the entire country. The situation did not lead to generalized violence, because a providential downpour put out the fire. 55 million square meters of forest were burned. The quantity of animals that perished is unknown.

In April Nicaragua exploded

The students were repressed, but still on April 15th in the city of Matagalpa a group of young people tried to do cleanup work on the river that bears the same name. They were intercepted by the police and were prevented from doing the cleanup work. The Ortega repression was reaching those levels of absurdity.

On April 18th Ortega published decree 03-2018 which increased the monthly payment of employees and employers into social security, and decreased pensions for the retired.

Governments of the last 29 years have used the National Social Security Institute (INSS) as their petty cash box. Successive governments of Ortega have not been the exception. In addition, it has had a poor investment policy for the money of the workers, and several of the loans made to friends and employees of Ortega remain unpaid, or had to have their collateral impounded. On the other hand, Ortega increased the payroll of the workers exponentially, with many unnecessary titles but which provide political benefits.

INSS is on the verge of bankruptcy because of fraud, and poor management of the money of the workers on the part of governments, principally Ortega´s government. Instead of collecting the portfolio in arrears and the stolen money, analyzing the structure of responsibilities, improving the administration, Ortega decided that we workers, businesspeople and retired people would pay the bill.

That same day the association of retired people came out in small demonstrations against the measure, in León (the second largest city in the country), Chinandega (northwest), Managua (the capital) and Boaco (central part of the country).   Ortega lambasted the elderly with his shock troops composed of young gang members and thugs from the professional structures of the party. The anti-riot police were deployed to break up the demonstrations and protect the thugs.

The students came out to support the elderly and protest against the government. There is a history to the fact that the insurance of the elderly is a delicate issue that generates immediate action from the students.  Already in 2013 there was repression against elder adults and that gave rise to the #OcupaINSS movement (see http://ocupainss.com/ ). The government beat the elderly, the students who supported them, stole their vehicles, cameras, cell phones, but in that case, eventually ceded.

In spite of this recent history, the government decided on April 18, 2018 that it had to repress in an exemplary way to cut off the protest uprising at is roots. In my judgement, Ortega and Murillo thought that the resources that they had available were getting smaller, and decided that it had to stop the rot and provide an example to discourage later attempts at rebellion.

They began to beat with pipes, bats, stones everyone who was in front of them. They stole from protestors and journalists. It was 9pm that day and the repression continued. The youth took refuge in the university campuses and took them over.

On the 19th the youth woke up protesting in their universities. Ortega continued repressing indiscriminatingly, and in a meeting with the principal leaders of the party in power and the territories, at noon, transmitted his orders to them, through one of his principal operators, “ we are going all out” (against those who protested).

That day there were several people wounded by the repression and the first three deaths. The students, far from withdrawing, took over their campuses and called the people throughout the country to support them. The population responded, and the first barricades appeared in the neighborhoods close to the universities. In an action of tremendous symbolism, in Masaya, the legendary indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, a Sandinista bastion, they raised up barricades in support of the students and against Ortega, and began to battle the police and the shock troops of the party.

In the following days Ortega brought out into the street his hired gang members and looted businesses, burned down homes and offices, under the complacent gaze of the police. The propaganda apparatus of Ortega said that the looters and arsonists were the students.

Ortega grovels before his owners of transnational capital

On Sunday April 22nd, transnational capital that operates in the country forced Ortega to read a letter from them on national TV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9bQeDFiBIY ) to abolish the decree that modified the social security payments and pensions and to call for a national dialogue. In the letter the foreign companies said to Ortega: you told us that we could come to earn money, but this is a mess. It is important that you pacify this, and as soon as possible. Repeal the decree, call those protesting to a dialogue, and make it so we can produce in peace. Ortega groveled before the feet of his foreign owners, thanked them, and agreed to everything, but warned that he was not going to allow “disorder nor illegal activities”. One thing was his duty to submit himself to the will of his owners, and another very different thing was to allow Nicaraguan citizens, who he considered his personal livestock, to rise up and challenge his power.

At the moment of Ortega´s TV conference there were already 30 killed by the repression. The protestors said that their objective was no longer the INSS decree, but the ouster of Ortega, and a large majority of us Nicaraguans agreed that it was a just goal. Ortega had to leave. After that repression he could not continue governing.

The tyrant maneuvers to bolt himself to the throne

The decree caused protests in several cities of the country, but the excessive repression gave way to a true popular insurrection, which was responded to with fire and sword by Ortega and his henchmen. At the time of the popular uprising Ortega was paralyzed. He never expected it. He went through several explanations before reaching the most preposterous one, that the problem was a “failed coup attempt financed by drug-traffickers, local bourgeoise and US politicians in Florida in reprisal for Ortega having been the leader of the opposition to the US in the 80´s” !?!?

In Nicaragua there is no opposition from political parties worth talking about. The political parties are the most discredited institutions of liberal democracy in the country. They have no popular appeal. Orteguism has taken over the student organizations in the secondary schools and public universities. But that Orteguista youth organization is as discredited as the political parties. The students were forming their new organization in the heat of the struggle in the barricades.

Ortega infiltrated the barricades throughout the country, in cities and highways, which was not difficult for him, considering that the uprising was not planned, nor was there a central command, nor security measures worth noting. Once infiltrated, they began to take actions against the population for the purpose of discrediting the protest movement.

Ortega asked the Archbishop of Managua to organize the national dialogue and requested that the episcopal conference would serve as mediator and guarantor. The priests accepted the former request, to mediate. The first ones that the Cardinal Archbishop of Managua invited to the negotiation table, in representation of the insurrectional forces, were the business owners-the same people who were Ortega´s partners for the last 11 years and who, based on the decree that increased their burden of social security, according to appearances, divorced him unilaterally!

In the first edition of the national dialogue Ortega had to put up with the presence of the students, the anti-canal peasants and the feminists. There was no way to marginalize them. Precisely for that reason the dialogue did not make progress: the people asked for his resignation and he asked for the subjection of the people. These basic proposals have not changed from May 2018 to now: the people continue asking for Ortega´s resignation and he continues doing everything that he can to avoid it.

Likewise, in the first week of the dialogue, Ortega accepted the entry of the IACHR in Nicaragua and the formation of a International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) to collaborate with the investigations of the government of Ortega on the events of April and May. The IACHR created a Special Follow up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) which installed itself in Managua on May 24th.

Contrary to what might be expected of OAS bodies whose Secretary General, Almagro, showed himself favorable to Ortega, the IACHR and the GIEI issued reports that revealed the serious human rights violations carried out by the tyrant, and even what could be considered crimes against humanity.

A short time after having started, the dialogue was broken. Ortega used this time to approach the ex-combatants of the war of the 80s who he had abandoned since 1990. Most rejected him, but he found some receptive ears, and used them to form a body of mercenary paramilitaries. With this body of paramilitaries he started operation cleanup.

The popular forces had barricades in the principal cities and highways of the country. The country was paralyzed. Ortega sent special forces from the police and his paramilitaries with military weaponry, which included even armor-piercing grenades, heavy machine guns and AKAs, to demolish one by one the barricades throughout the country.

Using sharp-shooters they killed the principal leaders who emerged from the struggle. A good part of the people killed were shot in the head or torso. The intention was to kill them. The great majority of them were unarmed or had homemade weapons.

Once operation cleanup was ended, the mortal victims were more than 300 people. The repression had sent into exile more than 70,000 people. Most of the leaders emerged from the heat of the insurrection are dead, in jail, in exile or are clandestine.

In the midst of operation cleanup Ortega renewed the dialogue. There was no end to hostilities. The “dialogue” was held with the sound of machine guns and rifles shooting at the people. Something that did not seem to bother the delegates of either side.

Initially the OAS, through its Secretary General, supported Ortega. It was not until the government of the US announced the need for early elections that Almagro began to follow that line. It appears that the US had reached the conclusion that Ortega was no longer viable as a manager of the country in Nicaragua, and offered him a soft landing.

The representatives of the business owners in the organization that negotiated in the name of the “opposition” jointed the chorus of the US and the OAS, and proposed that the solution to the conflict was electoral reforms that would ensure “competitive elections” and move up the date of the elections. The popular clamor for the ousting of the tyrant was lost amidst the shouting of the powerful.

Soon the European Union joined the chorus. Elections with Ortega for a fourth consecutive period. Meanwhile the repression, now selective, continued being applied and peasant opponents appeared dead, strewn throughout the mountains of Nicaragua.

Ortega had to release many of the more than 700 political prisoners. He made the lives of those “freed” impossible, he accused them of new common crimes. The idea is to terrorize and immobilize them,  or send them into exile. Several of those 700 political prisoners suffered torture and rape while they were in the hands of the repressive forces. At the moment of writing this, more than 150 political prisoners are suffering in the dungeons of Orteguism.

Ortega intends to govern forever and ever, on mountains of cadavers if necessary, in a type of tropical “Reich of a thousand years.”

The US and its vassals and allies want to remove him by elections in 2021, so that the status quo might remain intact. They want Orteguism without Ortega (or with Ortega, because the possible “democratic” candidates are capable of losing the elections).

We the popular sectors demand that the tyrant be ousted through peaceful civil disobedience, and the popular clamor appears to want to begin to be the dominant voice.

The characteristics of the conflict have determined that a large amount of people have had more than enough time and suffering to reflect and arrive at the conclusion that the only way out is popular organization and power. Anarchistic approaches and proposals have bloomed on the social networks. Even though we are still in darkness, the future is promising.

 

[1] Psuedonym of one of the correspondents of “El Socialista Centroamericano” in Nicaragua

Zayda Hernández: “If they do not hold a national strike the easy way, it will be done the hard way”

The crisis of April 2018 was led by students, but the frequency of their  appearance in the media do not reflect their importance. This interview  provides an analysis of the process since 2018 from the perspective of one of those leaders., a perspective generally not easily available.

Zayda Hernández: “If they do not hold a national strike the easy way, it will be done the hard way”

By Abixael Mogollón in La Prensa, December 21, 2019

[see original Spanish]

In this interview she talks about the differences within the opposition, accusations of being anti-feminist, a national strike, sanctions against the regime, and the possibility of a large national coalition against Daniel Ortega.

Before the protests exploded, she was living a life completely removed from politics. She passed through university movements, the Civic Alliance and now at times we see her embarking on a protest alone in the streets, like a “kamikaze”.

In this interview she talks about the differences within the opposition, the accusations against her of being anti-feminist, and how she went from being in the streets protesting with other youth, to being part of the start of the national dialogue on May 16, 2018.

How did you get involved in this activism?

I don´t even believe it myself. Prior to this I had a super calm life. I think that the large majority of the youth population of Nicaragua was apathetic, and very comfortable with everything that was going on. I thought that political issues didn´t suit me. Nevertheless, I was disturbed about the Indio Maíz issue[1], but had not been able to protest because I was outside of Managua. I returned precisely on April 19th. My entire life I have detested the Sandinista Youth (SY), I have always been clear about that. Because of what they represent, they are not anything positive neither for the country nor for the youth. I saw the SY in pickup trucks and masked in the UNI, and I went at noon to take a look, and the police showed up shooting. It was the only day that they shot at us with blanks.

Later you were in the national dialogue. How did you end up being part of that?

That has a lot to do with my personality. The first days of the protests I was a super active person and I took on responsibility. At that moment I did not know what I was getting myself into. Public denouncements began to be made, I did not want to appear before the media, but I was always calling people from the media. We spent the days throwing stones, going to leave food in the UPOLI, to seeing myself on the famous third floor establishing a university movement. The April 19th Movement started, and it was to give shape to the demands. Then a group of youth sent by the Episcopal Conference came to organize us, and the University Coalition was formed. They told us that there would be a dialogue, and that “the private sector was ready”, obviously the government was ready and civil society was, and we were missing. In that way I became part of the first dialogue.

They criticized you a lot for some gestures that you made during that first encounter.

That is super fun (she laughs), because I do not know how they created that story that I am a leader of the MRS, when I do not even know their founders. I am always used to the fact that if something happens, I am going to look for a way to tackle it. That day we all agreed that the order that Daniel Ortega brings to meetings had to be broken up. We said that someone had to take the floor from him, and we decided that, because of his stature and his voice, that it had to be Lesther Alemán, but at that moment they could not handle the pressure of the emotions that were there, not even Daniel, Rosario and company. It was a high, and they turned off our microphones. Now the moderator was going to sing the national anthem and we were going to be left censored. I was behind the priests and I was the only student who was standing, and I was signaling Medardo Mairena to get him to speak. So I started to say that if they did not turn on our microphones, we would shout, but that was the reason, because I did not believe that a sector as important as the peasantry should be left without speaking.

Later a lot of people left the Alliance. What happened in your case?

It was not something that I myself wanted. But one suffers mistreatment and there are things that have not been said because of the circumstances and prudence. The biggest problem for the business sector of the Alliance was the trip that I made in June 2018 with two other students to lobby in the United States in favor of the Nica Act and the Magnitsky sanctions. At the same time there was a commission of business people, and another one from civil society that were there. That trip was our own proposal with a US NGO that helped us with everything that had to do with the trip and the schedule. The business sector was upset because they were not part of the schedule, and the congress people and senators did not want to receive them. They told us that “they only want to deal with direct victims, like students and peasants.” In those meetings we were able to get them to revoke the visas of many of the Sandinista Youth, Police, children of elites, and afterwards the Nica-Act was approved, because we talked with Republicans and Democrats, and later the Magnitsky sanctions were approved.

What happened when you returned to Nicaragua?

The president of COSEP (José Adán Aguerri) and the president of AMCHAM (María Nelly Rivas), while presenting the results of the work that we had done, told us that we were crazy and “that it was insanity to be asking for sanctions”. In the trip that was in June 2018 I could see people from big capital who were there the same time we were. While we were lobbying in favor of the Nica-Act, they were lobbying against the Nica-Act.

And who sent those people?

The bankers, and with that I am telling you all you need to know. They were the same ones who later promoted dialogue 2.0. Then they published some articles about that fact that we had met with the ultra-right in the United States, and that was when I pulled out of the Alliance. In addition, we always asked for a national strike, but we were never listened to, and they told us that we were banned for talking in the name of the Alliance. But here I am and I am going to continue being the uncomfortable voice for many, and I believe that I have always spoken the truth.

So different messages are being sent from the opposition?

As long as some speak one message in Washington, and others take a different one, we are going to be screwed. We blamed Luís Almagro, but we did not understand that 10 different commissions showed up to talk about 10 different versions of gibberish. Then they said that the international community was not doing anything, but If we ourselves are not doing anything, much less will they. We went and said that the repressive arm had to be sanctioned by name, and then the private sector showed up and said, “no, no sanctions now because they affect all Nicaraguans”. Then another commission arrived and said that the democratic charter had to be applied, and then another arrived who said the opposite. This is what is happening.

You are saying that the regime is allied with big capital?

Of course. Even Daniel himself says that they bit the hand that helped them rise up, and that he has evidence of the business that they did with the Venezuelan money. Those who have been able to sustain this dictatorship in these years have been the businesspeople. Not all of them.

But Ortega attacks the business sector and has publicly threatened them, for example he sent people to take over some properties.

It cannot be generalized to the private sector, nor to big capital. Although most of the private sector wants a democratic change, there are some who do not want to, and refuse to modify the system of privileges. Sandinism does not forgive betrayal, and that is what happened with many of those who have taken advantage of and enriched themselves with Sandinism. In general, the fiscal reforms and the crisis obviously affects everyone equally, but many are still betting on a Sandinism without Daniel.

Before you left the Alliance, who was pressuring for a national strike?

At that time the youth sector and the peasant sector. We were saying to them that if the country was already deadlocked, if the boys were in trenches, what was the reason for the lack of motivation for the business sector to hold a strike? It was absurd. In June 2018 the country was partially paralyzed. But they have always been interested in maintaining their macroeconomy, their businesses and their interests.

What were they saying to you?

They came to us saying “What the heck, they are not letting my trucks through” and that was a typical discussion. If they were already fighting for a truck to get through, now imagine how they are going to evaluate a proposal for a strike. It was absurd.

Do you think there will ever be an indefinite strike?

If they do not do it the easy way, at some moment they are going to have to do it the hard way. I am talking about an economy that is going under more every day. It is ironic and uncomfortable that for more the dictator says explicitly that he is afraid of a strike, and the business sector continues saying that it is an activity that they are going to evaluate and that is on the table. As long as this dictator is here, Nicaragua is going to continue suffering extreme poverty, chaos, destruction, there will be no national investment and much less foreign investment, either they close the easy way, or they close the hard way. In the face of a strike the regime says that it has legal tools, but that is a lie, what it has are weapons.

Let us suppose that this “strike the hard way” is done. What other actions need to be taken?

We have been talking about this with several people. If there is an indefinite strike, for the first days we would have to be off the streets, but the second option is to retake the streets again until they leave.

Ortega would order them to shoot again?

I am completely certain. He is a murderer. We can never forget that Daniel Ortega and all his leadership are an organized band of criminals, willing to kill to stay in power.

Would a second bloodbath be worth it?

I insist that the point is that the bloodbath is always there.  Every day there is a death, every day there is a person tortured. Yesterday it was a boy, tomorrow it could be me, and we are going to die in an absurd manner, hiding ourselves when we could be confronting this murderer who is afraid. We ourselves are scared in large measure, of course, but he is more afraid because we are the majority.

Where do these accusations come from that you are anti-feminist?

It comes from 2018 when they invited me to a feminist forum. For me it was a pretty uncomfortable situation to begin to hear that “the revolution will be feminist or it will not happen”.  Another person said that we women were taught to protect our lives and I said “but the lives of men also count and also have value”. They were talking about statistics and percentages, and I asked why don´t we study and evaluate the percentage of deaths and prisoners to see what gender they were. To conclude, I said that the revolution was going to be of everyone or it was not going to happen. That is why they say I am anti-feminist, because I believe that right now is not the moment to be sectorizing ourselves more than we already are. We are super polarized. I think that they are important issues of course, but now it not the moment. Right now we are in something macro which is the departure of that man, the liberation of the political prisoners who are men and women. This belongs to everyone. It is not peasants, students, feminists, it is not LGTB, nor business. This belongs to Nicaraguans and this is how we have to continue seeing it.

 What do you think about those accusations?

I do not think that you have to abolish the system as many radical feminists think. I am not anti-feminist, I have read a lot about feminism and I am very thankful to the suffragists because I can vote because of them. Nevertheless, I am against radicalism. I do believe in liberal feminism in the current that started in the 60s, and I am a promoter of equity. What I believe in is equality before the law. I am not interested in whether you believe you are a plant, and I am Queen Elizabeth, if both of us are equal before the law, I have nothing to discuss.

I have seen you in the street nearly alone protesting in front of the police. Are you a Kamikazi?

There is a mixture of things behind all that (laughs). What motivates me is sending a message, and the message is that they cannot control everything. We are all over. We are millions of Nicaraguans against them. One day we can be inside El Carmen and they are not going to realize it. That is the true message. It is not that I want to be provocative, but that they realize, and it works as a slap in the face, that in five minutes you can throw out that damn Chávez.

Are you already taking action to create a large national coalition?

That is not a message that they have wanted to transmit. It is a compelled message.

By whom?

By the United States. They clearly said that if we did not find a way to form this large coalition there was not going to be more access to financing for the civic struggle. Nevertheless, I do not see it as bad, I think that all the efforts for unity that are not repetitive and exhausting for the population are necessary. All of us sectors should pass through a process of union.

On what basis do you say this about the United States?

With the pressure from the United States, it is only managed by sources, because they are topics that are talked about solely in meetings where nothing is written down.

Will this large coalition be achieved?

Currently, and in this scenario, I see it as complicated. I see it as difficult because later another unity emerges, then a multisectoral group, and tomorrow another one, and the day after tomorrow another yet. I think that until we get close to an electoral process where there is no other way out, we are going to be forced to form that large coalition. As long as one person wants to take power for being in the media and another for having money, and others because they believe that they deserve it, we are not going to be able to converge. Until all of us leave behind our personal interests and put together a country agenda and not a sector agenda, until then we are not going to see the sun shine.

[1] Refers to forest fires in the Indio Maíz reserve area in early April 2018 where students protested for lack of government response.

Yesterday and Today, Reflection December 2019, General Humberto Ortega

Daniel Ortega´s brother and chief strategist of the war against Somoza, and the founding general of the Sandinista Army, took out a full page ad in the La Prensa newspaper on Dec 11, 2019 in which he asks his brother to release the political prisoners before Christmas. This is within a context where two weeks ago the Mothers of Political Prisoners were harassed by the Police while holding a  hunger strike in the San Miguel Church  for the release of their loved ones. Ironically in December 1972 other mothers of political prisoners back then, which included  Daniel Ortega, took over the atrium of the Cathedral in Managua with similar demands. The translation of Humberto Ortega´s full page ad follows.

Yesterday and Today, Reflection December 2019

General Humberto Ortega Saavedra

Paid ad in La Prensa, December 11, 2019

[original Spanish]

Fifty years ago in 1969, led by Carlos Fonseca, we arrived in Costa Rica to do an assessment of the course of the decade since 1959 when the FSLN germinated. Veterans met, like the Mexican Victor Tirado and young people, clandestine and persecuted by agents of Somoza and Costa Rican authorities, several of us taken prisoners, among them the second in command of the FSLN Oscar Turcios and Tomás Borge, both were deported to different countries, while the legendary “Danto” Germán Pomares and I evaded the Central Penitentiary.

With the leadership of Fonseca, in that hectic year we were able to do an assessment of the struggle, and were able to take a political, legal, and organizational leap, we approved the political-military strategic directions, the Historic Program, the statutes and for the first time the leadership of the FSLN was structured with the name of the National Directorate, in which Fonseca and Turcios included me.

The leader Julio Buitrago contributed his own arguments and those of our fellow fighters, prisoners in Managua, among them Daniel Ortega; a little later Buitrago died heroically fighting dozens of National Guard troops of Somoza.

In August Carlos Fonseca accused of assaulting a bank, is taken by surprise in his refuge, and incarcerated in the Third Company in San José, where Dr. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro visits him in solidarity, later as a prisoner in Alajuela published in December “Nicaragua, Zero Hour”, an essay of an historical-political nature, where he set out the oath of the FSLN concerning its creation inspired in the thinking of August César Sandino and Ernesto Ché Guevara.

On midnight on December 23rd, I commanded a group of idealistic militants and we attacked the Garrison of Alajuela, freeing Carlos Fonseca. It was the first action of this type for the FSLN; pursued by the police, I begged Carlos to leave me and escape, he responded: “We never abandon a wounded fellow fighter”. One hour later in search of a hospital our car was surrounded by 13 patrol cars.

In those moments Fonseca was helping to keep me from drowning in my own blood, that was gushing from the wounds from bullets that I had received. Plutarco Hernández, a Costa Rican, braked the vehicle, pulled out his pistol, and said to Carlos, “on your orders”, but Fonseca in silence lowered his pistol and Plutarco then did the same, when by then the submachine guns of the authorities were aimed at and touched our heads. We were captured there, and the rest of our group were able to escape, among them Germán Pomares, but the young Rufo Marín was taken wounded when he fled on foot close to the Garrison. Unfortunately, in the dramatic action Costa Ricans ended up dead and wounded, and as part of the plan, three internationalists hijacked a plane to Cuba.

A year later Carlos Agüero commanded a guerrilla group, hijacked a LACSA plane and carried out an exchange with which the freedom of Carlos Fonseca and his fellow fighters was obtained, including myself, now with lifetime paralysis in my arms and hands. The Nicaraguan participants in both guerrilla squads later died in the fight in Nicaragua, among them Germán Pomares and Carlos Agüero.

Ten years later in 1979, with titanic efforts, deeply committed morally and ethically to have our actions be guided by our oath, we were able to put ourselves in front of the people who gave dozens of thousands of lives to overthrow forever the cruel dynastic dictatorship of the Somozas, thus closing the “historical military dictatorship insurrection cycle” of 1934-1979.

We, the leaders of the revolution, were not capable of maintaining the great national patriotic alliance that we promoted from flexible positions since 1977 to defeat Somocism. Our society quickly polarized, and the devastating unjust war of external aggression came, external for being directed by the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, but also a civil war, for being we Nicaraguans the forces in combat.

A decade later in 1989 we achieved the implementation of the political-constitutional steps to put an end to the immense bloodletting of the youth, who in any war bear the fundamental weight of the sacrifice, steps made possible by the Central American agreements of Esquipulas and particularly by the Sapoá Agreement, that obliged us leaders in the war to negotiate face to face, full of hate and with our rifles still hot, achieving a connection with our penetrating gazes, while feeling ourselves above everything, as human beings, which allowed us to talk, discuss, negotiate, knowing that only Nicaragua and its youth, children, mothers, fathers, elderly, women, men were the winners, because debating with respect we were able to put together in Esquipulas-Sapoá free elections to secure the Peace, which we all so much desired.

With the free elections of February 1990 we entered into a stage of Peace, and forged the democracy of the “historical revolution-democracy cycle” that began in 1979. I have insisted on the need of doing an assessment since 1990, to enhance the accomplishments and correct the mistakes, being clear that we do not have a democratic culture, our history demonstrates that we have lived more at war than in peace-democracy.

Today requires wise and firm, fair steps that overcome the very painful crisis that since last April we all have suffered, the first one being, in the heat of these Christmas days of so much Christian fervor, that the government would appeal to legitimate mechanisms that would permit the prisoners of this political crisis to be freed, melting into the heart of their homes in embraces with their loved ones. This just decision will provide encouragement to the civic and electoral struggle, far from the violence and destruction, full freedom to criticize the established powers, authoritarianism, to enable the economy to recover, and in this way whoever wins the free elections can more easily call for a National Accord that would properly sustain their program of government.

Over more than six thousand years ago the Sumerians started writing hieroglyphs on clay tablets, emerging later written testimony, in other words, history, which since then has compiled the behavior of human beings with values and anti-values, some create and others destroy, and now fully in the XXI century the dramatic reality persists of civilization at the service of barbarity, a complex association that has brutalized nature, its most disadvantaged human beings, animals, plants, the climate, sickening our planet.

In these moments, your government, President Ortega, has the opportunity for a profoundly humanistic, just gesture, expediting the process for the freedom of those incarcerated.

General Humberto Ortega Saavedra, member of the Academy of Geography and History of Nicaragua.

 

 

 

“If the Police enter, or I die, ring the bells”. The order of Fr. Edwin Román during the abduction of the Church of San Miguel

This article interviews the participants in the recent eight-day hunger strike for the release of political prisoners in the San Miguel Church in Masaya. In response to the strike, the Police cut off access to the Church, and cut off the electricity and water. In the end the International Red Cross were permitted to evacuate the participants. 16 young people who tried to pass water to the women were promptly arrested and the government has charged them with illegal possession of weapons.

“If the Police enter, or I die, ring the bells”. The order of Fr. Edwin Román during the abduction of the Church of San Miguel

By Abixael Mogollón in La Prensa, Sunday Nov 30, 2019

[see original Spanish]

In this way the mothers of political prisoners survived the police siege in the St. Michael the Archangel Church in Masaya. Those abducted tell the details of those days of “hell.”

In the kitchen of the priest´s house in the San Miguel Arcángel Church in Masaya, the lawyer Yonarqui Martínez, looked at a bag of dog food, and thought about what she could do to cook it with a little rice and some spices. It is the last thing left in the small cupboard of Fr. Edwin Román. Hunger and above all dehydration had the 14 people who had spent more than a week under siege inside the Church on the verge of collapse.

In the end, Martínez abandoned her attempt to mix the little rice she had with the food of Patches, the dog who accompanied them in the closure. She left the bag of concentrate stored as a final alternative.

“Fr. Román was very weak and in the desperation we were at the point of eating dog food”, the human rights defender now recounts, who a few days ago was released from the hospital, but who still has serious impacts on her physical and psychological health after suffering the siege of the combined forces of the police and Orteguista mobs and paramilitaries.

“I was not going to participate in the strike”

In the morning of November 14th, they called Yonarqui Martínez to tell her that a group of mothers of political prisoners had started a hunger strike in the San Miguel church. The human rights defender was in Tipitapa , doing some errands. In the afternoon she went to Masaya as a show of solidarity with the women who were protesting.

From the first moment she noticed that across from the church there was a large deployment of police. Thanks to the fact that she could communicate with Fr. Román, he let her into the priest´s residence of the church.

At 3:00pm the priest celebrated mass nearly in the atrium, because several faithful tried to enter the church to participate in the Eucharist, but the police blocked them. After the celebration Martínez said good-by to the women who had started their strike. She tried to leave through the same back door of the priest´s house, but there were now police stationed outside there.

It was 5:00pm in the afternoon when the lawyer received a call from a local journalist who told her that she was not going to be able to leave the church because of the large deployment of police. The lawyer tried through the front door, and she faced the police.

“If you leave, you are going directly to jail or we are going to shoot you in the head”, one of the officers told her. So it was that she realized that there was no turning back, and that she had just been abducted by the Orteguita Police. Since October 20 Martínez had been receiving medical treatment for several illnesses. It did not matter.

Around 6:30pm they cut off the electric to the San Miguel Church. Out of instinct, the mothers ran to gather water as soon as the crew showed up. That same afternoon they also cut off the water service.

“It was the moment they cut the light. We ran to fill a barrel, buckets, pots and jugs of water. We were able to collect a little, which is what kept us alive for the first days”, recalled Diana Lacayo, one of the mothers who participated in the protest.

The First Night

No one slept inside the San Miguel Church November 14th. Once night fell, the police began to beat and scratch on the doors, insulting the people who were inside and threatening them with death.

“When you smell the stench, it is because all these whores have died”, shouted the police. Left abducted inside the Church were Fr. Edwin Román, the lawyer Yonarqui Martínez, the former prisoner Marlon Powell, Flor Ramírez, Martha Alvarado, Wilber Calero, Cinthya López, Flor Rivera, Hazel Palacios, Karen Lacayo, Suleyka Sánchez, Diana Lacayo, María Gómez and Luisa Guevara.

Powell was the first one who heard when a group of members of the White and Blue National Unity arrived, along with several human rights activists, to try to leave them water. It was nearly impossible.

There were only a few bottles and they were able to pass them through the windows of the church. The mothers and Fr. Román himself insisted that the youth should leave the surrounding area of the Church, due to the fact that they ran the risk of being detained by the paramilitaries or the police.

At last the youth left the recipients of water outside the church, water that later was dumped out by the Police in front of the church, as a sign of derision. That night 16 of those young people were arrested, those who now are accused of illegal possession of weapons, among other supposed crimes.

The siege continued the entire night. Within the church, Fr. Román told the mothers that the only thing left was to hope and pray.

Rationing

By dawn on November 15th, San Miguel was surrounded by police who had cordoned off the surrounding blocks. The mothers now had spent 12 hours fasting. But Fr. Román, his sacristan, the lawyer Martínez and Marlon Powell were not part of the hunger strike. Which is why they decided to see what food was available.

From the beginning the priest clarified for them that he did not have a large amount of provisions in his cupboard, but that the little he had, he was going to share with them. A couple bags of rice, some spaghetti, a pineapple, some cans of sardines, oil, spices, an egg, some flour and sugar. The essentials for a single man to survive for several days.

After counting up what they had, the lawyer Martínez offered to ration the food. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the food of Patches, the dog who accompanied Fr. Román in the priest´s house.

The diet of those days consisted in those few foods. Yonarqui managed to make a fruit drink with the only pineapple that the priest had; she made a pineapple chicha by soaking the rind, and with the leftover, she made rice with pineapple.

“I do not know how I did it, but one day with half a pound of flour and one egg I made manuelitas[1] for the priest and the boys”, commented the lawyer. When there was only some rice left, she decided to join the hunger strike so that Fr. Román might have something to eat.

With the water it was worse. The three men used one of the bathrooms of the priest´s house, while the women used another one close to the church. The bathrooms were used all day and night. Not until the following morning would they dump some water in them to partially flush them.

The afternoon went fast that second day in San Miguel. The siege was less in the hours when the sun was the hottest, but by nightfall they knew the worst was coming.

By order of the priest they placed the benches against the principal door of the church, and they blocked the entrance to the priest´s house with the little car of the priest. The same car where they were able to partly charge the cell phones, to try to maintain contact with the outside world.

The sacristan climbed up the bell tower and tied a rope that he dropped to the area close to the tabernacle, where the mothers slept on the floor. “If the Police enter, or I die, ring the bells”, Fr. Román told them.

The Police took over the homes around the church and from there began to try to enter San Miguel. The owner of the house that is up against the back wall of the church, an 80 year old woman, began screaming in terror when uniformed police entered by force. They assigned an officer to follow her everywhere. They put up a ladder next to the church and from there spied on the mothers.

“Patches alerted us each time the masked men peeked in, the poor thing would bark and get desperate”, said Martha Alvarado, the mother of a political prisoner. She ran to put up curtains in that area of the patio of the priest´s house, so that the uniformed police were not able to see inside the church.

“They sent drones in on us at night, we would see and hear them”, stated Diana Lacayo.

The shouts in the middle of the night

It was a hard weekend for Fr. Edwin Román and the mothers, but they were on the verge of experiencing something even worse. In the morning of Monday, November 18th they opened the windows for a moment to see how things were in the street. The panorama was desolate. Only police and some people who dared to pass by the police line on foot. Masayans tried to get food, water, oral rehydration fluids to them, but it was impossible.

“A woman tried to bring ice with the priest´s insulin, but they took it away from her. Other young people shouted at us to continue resisting, that they would bring food, but they were not able to. Others brought drums and encouraged us from afar”, recounted Marlon Powell about that day that hours later would leave him profoundly affected.

The afternoon came. The inside of the San Miguel church seemed like a monastery. Those who were not on the hunger strike were fasting, when they ate, it was the minimum necessary, and they prayed the entire day.

On the advice of the priest they did the canonical hours or prayers. Laudes at dawn, Nones or holy hour at 3pm, Vespers at sundown and Complin before the evening harassment.

At midnight exactly loud shouting could be heard at the entrance to San Miguel. There were several people there.

“I am your wife! Leave the church. They are not going to do nothing to you. Let´s go home”, was heard. And the same pleading shout was repeated, but on the part of a mother to her son. The Orteguista Police had taken by force several family members of the people in the San Miguel church to try to get them to open the doors of the church. One of those people was the wife of Powell.

Inside, Fr. Román calmed the relatives. “Do not answer them, it is a trap”, he told them while the crying relatives hugged one another. They spent their time like this until the early morning when finally the police, that had deployed and were awaiting to arrest them, went back to their siege.

“The priest is going to die”

By November 20th there was no longer anything to eat, and almost no water. Some nights before a heavy rain had fallen that served to gather some water and also to partially bathe.

“That was a gift from heaven. All of us ran to gather water and bathe”, said Martha Alvarado, smiling. After the downpour the priest opened up some boxes of donated clothing that he had received, and told them to take what they want, in addition in order to encourage them, he opened another box where days before he had received toys for the children of his parish, and he told the women to take something to their grandchildren and their small children.

“Fr. Edwin Román is a good man. It was not possible that he would die on us in those circumstances. He fed us, he clothed us, he opened the doors of the church and he took care of us”, said Yonarqui Martínez nearly murmuring, with her voice breaking.

November 21st and 22nd no one ate no drank in San Miguel Church. The day before was when Yonarqui Martínez thought about cooking the last handful of rice that was left, combined with the food of the watchdog. The priest spent those two days in bed; which is why the mothers, on seeing him so weak, decided to talk to him and suspend the protest. Even though in the beginning he resisted, they finally ended up convincing him.

After a couple of calls to several priests, among them Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, two ambulances and two pickup trucks were sent to San Miguel to remove the mothers of the political prisoners and the priest.

Tears took over all the people inside the church when they saw the ambulances arrive. The Police withdrew, the mobs quit the siege, and even the very commissioner himself, Ramón Avellán, who was in charge of the operation  the entire time, left the surroundings of the church.

“Are we going to do this again? Of course, and we are going to continue holding protests until we see our children in freedom”, stated firmly Martha Alvarado.

Hunger strike in La Modelo

This past November 14th in the morning, after the group of mothers began their hunger strike demanding the freedom of their children, they transferred the political prisoner Melkissedex López to isolation in the La Modelo jail. Inside the San Miguel Church were his spouse Luisa Guevara and his mother Martha Alvarado.

“The guards told me that they were going to move me from the cell in case there was an uprising”, Melkissedex told his mother, referring to the more than one hundred political prisoners who are still in La Modelo.

The issue of experiencing hunger is not new for Martha. She is about to have spent a year feeling every day that heavy sensation of emptiness in her stomach that is produced by lack of food.

“I was accustomed to it. Since they kidnapped my son in December of last year, I walk around in the street broke, in meetings, picketing, protests and at times I did not even have bus fare”, she confessed one day after leaving the Vivian Pellas Hospital.

She realized that her son was in isolation when she left San Miguel and went to visit him in La Modelo. She found him emaciated and more concerned than ever.

When Melkissedex became aware that his mother and wife were surrounded by riot police in a church in Masaya on a hunger strike, he decided that he too would quit eating. It was the way in which he could feel closer to them while being cut off from communication with the outside world.

Melkissedex asked his mother to quit protesting and to work on taking care of her health. “Don´t ask that of me”, she responded.

In La Modelo she had time to tell him about some of the details of her ordeal in the church, which was the focus of the world for several days, and how prepared psychologically these women were for what would become eight nights of terror.

[1] Nicaraguan dish similar to pancake, sprinkled with cinnamon and cheese, then rolled up and served.