On June 25 seven opposition organizations united to form the National Coalition in an attempt to unify all the sectors opposing the Ortega government, currently including: Civic Alliance, White and Blue National Unity, the Peasant Movement, the Democratic Restoration Party, Liberal Constitutional Party, Nicaraguan Democratic Force and the Yatama Party. Different youth and university organizations have not joined the group, due to disputes over the number of their representatives in relation to other sectors.
This document addresses a key issue for the opposition: electoral reform. Here they commit to insisting on a unified approach to electoral reform, significant because Ortega has said that electoral reforms will only be negotiated with political parties.
Electoral reforms with a broad consensus and without bilateral negotiations
The National Coalition has established as one of its most important missions ensuring the transition from the dictatorship to democracy through the celebration of free, transparent and observed elections, that would allow the change to be achieved that the Nicaraguan population is demanding in order to build a just, democratic and inclusive nation.
For this purpose we, the organizations belonging to the National Coalition along with the PRO-REFORMAS group, have arrived at a consensus about a proposal of profound reforms on electoral matters, that would allow for the recovery of citizen trust in the electoral system, the transparency of the process, and give Nicaraguans back the right to choose.
Electoral reforms are not an end in themselves, they are needed to achieve the big objective of the departure of the Ortega Murillos by peaceful means, as an immediate and urgent step to advance in the democratization of the entire State, including the electoral and political party system itself.
We, the social and political party organizations who are uniting to work for a better country, with the signing on June 25th have committed ourselves to promote and propel jointly on national and international levels the common position on electoral matters on which we are agreeing.
The electoral reforms must be done with the broad consensus of the different actors of society hence we ratify the decision of all the organizations of the National Coalition to not accept bilateral, secret negotiations, or negotiations just with political parties. Our commitment is unbreakable and is accepted as speaking with one voice with the majority of the people of Nicaragua in favor of democratic rules, with elections under international standards.
True electoral reform requires, as a prelude, the full enjoyment of a prior environment of freedom and safety for all of the Nicaraguan citizenry, that includes the end to the ongoing harassment and dismantling of the forces of repression and the parapolice.
Mons. Silvio Báez is the person with the largest number of twitter followers in Nicaragua. He is also the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Managua. He was asked by Pope Francis to leave Nicaragua in April 2019 because of the amount of death threats from government supporters against him. This interview provides insights into his departure, current situation and his analysis of the current reality of the country.
Mons. Silvio Báez: “No one can believe themselves to be more important than Nicaragua”
Mons. Silvio Báez hopes for an opposition coalition that reaches out to the people. “In other words, getting your shoes dirty. Being present in neighborhoods, in markets, in hamlets, in the countryside. Listening to the people. More than press releases, the people need to be heard.”
Last March 8th, Mons. Silvio Báez arrived in Miami to visit some relatives and since then is staying in that US city. The closing of the borders around the world, the quarantines, and the “stay at home” that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, trapped him there.
Báez left Nicaragua on April 23, 2019 by decision of Pope Francis, and since then has lived within the ranks of his religious family, the Carmelites, and moved between Italy, Ireland, Peru and Spain. He insists that he does not speak as a politician.
In this interview he speaks about the origins of the current opposition organization, Civic Alliance, a group that the bishops of Nicaragua chose to “put before Daniel Ortega an opposition on the other side of the table” during the national dialogue that began on May 16, 2018. “The opposition was absolutely destroyed!”, says Báez. “It was a dictatorship that asked to dialogue with the opposition, when there was no opposition. We had to urgently build an opposition because it did not exist.”
In spite of the fact that his sudden departure happened more than a year ago, he clarifies that he never has worked in the Vatican, as was persistently reported, nor has he ceased being the auxiliary bishop of Managua.
There were those who interpreted your departure from Nicaragua as if the regime twisted the arm of the Vatican. You were a stone in the shoes of Ortega, and he was able to get Pope Francis to pull you out of the country.
In terms of my particular situation, they have not put any conditions on me at all, because, even though I have not physically been in Nicaragua, I continue present in my heart, mind and with my voice. The Pope never has asked me to keep quiet, nor has he ever made one correction to my ministry. I would have seen it as a twisting of arms if they would have removed me and said, “look, I am pulling you out, but do not speak out, do not get involved.”
What do you do in the Vatican?
I am going to clarify. The Holy Father asked me to leave Nicaragua to protect my life, because there were explicit death threats that were more than sufficiently verified. He asked me, nearly begged me, to leave. That he did not want another martyr bishop in Central America. This is the reason why I left the country. The Pope never offered me an alternative mission, nor asked me to go to the Vatican. He simply asked me to leave Nicaragua. And the alternative that he gave me was to live in a community of my religious family, the Carmelites. I have not quit being the auxiliary bishop of Managua. And the Pope has never wanted me to leave this title and this responsibility. That is why he has not given me another responsibility, nor has he given me another mission.
Have you talked with the Pope about Nicaragua? What does he say about what is happening here?
Three days ago, I talked by phone from here, in Miami, with the Pope. He is aware that the situation in Nicaragua is dangerous, not just for me as a pastor, but for the great majority of the people. He has asked me some questions about matters that, perhaps, he is not completely clear about. He has told me clearly, “I do not want you to return to Nicaragua as long as this regime is there, because you expose yourself to them shutting you down morally with slander and smear campaigns, or they wipe you out physically with an assassination.”” I believe”, he told me, “that they would do the former, because with the latter they would turn you into a hero.”
Is there no date for your possible return to Nicaragua? Has this possibility been evaluated?
There is no set date. The last thing that I remember that I asked the Holy Father was that whether my return depended on the fall of Daniel Ortega “At least that this regime be pretty weakened,” he told me. He thinks that it is not going to last very long.
How have you experienced these months of the pandemic?
I am in Miami. I came to visit some relatives on March 8th, and I was no longer able to return to Italy. From the beginning I was scandalized and irritated by the response that existed in Nicaragua. Marches of love in times of COVID, and all that craziness. We should not be surprised how this dictatorship has dealt with the pandemic. They have faced it with their same political style as always. Politicizing everything in their favor. Ideological fanaticism even above science. Arrogance. Irrationality. Irresponsibility. Secrecy and lies.
What would be your diagnosis of the regime of Daniel Ortega in these times?
I see him desperate to survive. He has been progressively losing legitimacy, moral authority, respect. I think that it is a regime that has nothing to offer. The only thing that he can offer is lies and repression. This means that it is a delicate moment, because when one is fighting to survive, one is capable of anything.
You continue being mentioned as a presidential candidate to face Ortega in possible elections. Does the possibility exist that Mons. Silvio Báez at some time would leave the cassock and take on a commitment of that nature?
No, absolutely not. Nor do I consider it as a possibility, nor do I feel called to that, nor do I believe that I am capable. It is an option that remains completely discarded. Nicaragua has enough people prepared to deal with the change. I do not see it possible for very personal reasons. What is in play is my coherence before God. The Lord called me to be a pastor of the people, as a witness to the Gospel, and I am not going to renounce this grace that God has granted me.
Technically it is possible. It has already happened.
I would have to leave the ministry. It has already happened. There was a bishop in Paraguay (Fernando Lugo) who resigned, launched his candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic, and won. I respect those decisions, but in my case, I am not considering it at all.
In Nicaragua the opposition is still not able to present itself as united to face Daniel Ortega.
One of the great deficiencies of Nicaragua at this moment is leadership. There is a great void. We need leaders who show the pain of the people. Who instead of talking to the communications media, speak to the people. With the truth, with compassion, emotion. I see Nicaragua like a very powerful phrase from the Gospel, “Jesus saw the crowds, felt compassion for them, because they were sheep without a shepherd.”
There is a lot of disqualification among the opposition. At time the impression is left that it is Daniel Ortega who is pulling the strings.
I think the time has arrived not just for changing a government, but of radically changing the way power is exercised and the way partisan politics is practiced. But this also accompanies a change, and this is for the entire population, concerning exercising the right to citizenship. Leaders have to learn to practice politics in a different way, but the population also have to learn to exercise their rights and obligations. It concerns me, as it does all Nicaraguans, that type of reciprocal distrust that exists among the different opposition leaders. But, curiously, and this is very serious, is the fact that this reciprocal distrust, this fierce suspiciousness, is not due to ideological projects, proposed national policies, but to fights over electoral posts, over who decides first, who makes the decisions.
After April 2018, the Catholic Church was given the responsibility to negotiate a dialogue between the Government and the dissidents. You did not find an organized opposition, and you chose a group as the counterpart. In this way the Civic Alliance was born. What criteria did you use to choose those people?
It is important to locate oneself in the very difficult context in which that decision had to be made. The idea of the dialogue came from the dictatorship. We, on accepting the proposal, had to commit ourselves to placing before them someone with whom they could dialogue. The opposition was absolutely destroyed! It was a dictatorship that asked to dialogue with the opposition, when there was no opposition. We had to urgently build an opposition, because it did not exist. At that time when people were dying, it had to be done in the shortest time possible, without the possibility of doing much consultation; the bishops, without a lot of political experience, the best that we could do was create a group of a sectorial nature that would face the Government. That it would be a bit representative of all the sectors of the country. There were peasants, students, large actors, universities, private sector, civil society organizations, different sectors there…The curious thing is that it did not occur to us to think of the political parties, because we were clear that the existing political parties have been accomplices of the dictatorship. At that moment an authentic opposition had to be chosen. In this way the Civic Alliance was born.
Do you recognize in the current Civic Alliance that group that you formed?
No. That group that we formed to be at the other side of the table from the dictatorship is not the current group that calls itself the Civic Alliance. I believe that it has been largely dismantled. It has lost its charismatic spirit, its national representation. I no longer see them representing all the sectors that were there at that time. It has changed. I do not judge whether it is better or worse. But the current Civic Alliance is not the one of May 2018.
And the National Coalition, do you see its possibility of successfully confronting Daniel Ortega?
The Coalition is a historical event that should not be minimized. It has to be evaluated within the context in which we are, with all its limitations, but also with the possibilities that it opens. But the excessive importance that they have given to the signing of its statutes is noteworthy, this type of bureaucratic concern. Another step has to be taken, where the concern would be the wellbeing of the people, social projects that imply a radical change in the way of building the country. The book of Exodus in the Bible is the history of the liberation of a people submitted to repression, slavery, forced labor, the will of a Pharaoh who is nearly a god who imposes himself on the people. The great leader of Exodus is Moses, and Moses not only wins the confidence of the people, but he works so that the people might have confidence in themselves. This is something that the opposition, or leader in Nicaragua, should have on their agenda. Ceding protagonism to the people. I get the impression that many leaders see the people only as a mass for votes.
What would Mons. Silvio Báez expect from an opposing coalition?
A priority should be reaching out to the people. In other words, getting your shoes dirty. Being present in the neighborhoods, markets, hamlets, in the countryside. Listening to the people. More than press releases, the people need to be heard. The future of the Coalition is not imposing a path and a strategy on the people, but listening to the people, so that, based on that, be marking out the path. They have to forget about sterile discussions that at this point the only thing they cause is popular rejection: ballot posts, electoral alliances, candidates… Let everyone renounce the current ballot posts. The fact is I do not see a current electoral ballot post that does not have a murky history. I do not see a current ballot position that is safe for some future elections.
There is also distrust in the elections.
There is a phrase that is repeated a lot in Nicaragua, “There are no conditions for elections in 2021.” And I think that we are all in agreement with that. The great work of a coalition that wants to be the spokesperson for the desires of the people is creating those conditions. Demanding. Facilitating the path for fair and transparent elections. Overcoming reciprocal distrust, the desire to be in the limelight. No one can believe themselves to be more important than Nicaragua. Overcoming as well a type of inferiority complex with the dictatorship. They have to realize that the dictatorship is a project that is in the process of decomposition. There is no need to have an inferiority complex in the face of a political project that is about to die.
Do you see an electoral outcome for the crisis in Nicaragua?
I see it as very difficult. For the dictatorship power meaning surviving. Putting power into play is handing yourself over to death. Handing over power is leaving yourself unprotected in the face of justice. I do not see this dictatorship agreeing to free, honest and democratic elections. I think that that should be the outcome. The path has to be promoted, doing the electoral reforms needed to save democracy in Nicaragua, and above all, for a constitutional and peaceful outcome, which is the outcome which is sustainable.
So, what sense does it make to promote fair elections that we know will not happen because Ortega knows that they would be his death?
An opposition along these lines is going to be an opposition with authority to demand on the international level new measures in light of this situation that you mention. An opposition that it not content with the crumbs that they might give it, an opposition that is there to change the country, and not to be left in second place. In these moments the great dilemma is: Nicaragua or the dictatorship. It is not an economic, social or political problem. It is not even an issue of winning the elections. It is a matter of saving Nicaragua. There is a people that has been abducted, forsaken, and disrespected. The worst thing that could happen is that we get accustomed to this. That we accept this type of normality that they want to impose on us with lies and weapons.
The Nicaraguan government has been widely criticized for its lack of transparency concerning the impact of the COVID epidemic in the country. Unlike other countries, it has not revealed the amount of testing it has done, nor made tests widely available, nor given clear figures of test results. Numerous family members of those who have died report that the result of their relatives´ tests were frequently classified as “indeterminate”. The Social Security Administration (INSS) has said they will not state that sick leave is for COVID-19, and medical staff report that they have been indicated to give diagnoses of “atypical pneumonia” instead of COVID-19.
In light of this situation, a Citizen Observatory of COVID-19 was established. It is a “collaborative effort of an interdisciplinary team with information provided by organizations, networks, and the general citizenry who want to contribute to filling the vacuum of information on the COVID-19 situation in Nicaragua…We report on suspected cases of COVID-19 and irregularities that violate human rights, especially the right to health care. The Citizen Observatory receives numerous reports, nevertheless we only publish information that has been verified by our sources. We reflect the perception of the citizenry about the development of the epidemic in their territories, contributing in this way to filling the existing information gap. We only consider information verified if we confirm the authenticity of the report with the same or other sources. The network of informants are recognized community leaders in their territory, which allows them to verify the information.
… A person reported as a suspected COVID-19 case has to fulfill one or more of these requirements:
Presents symptoms associated or presumptive of COVID-19; or
In addition to symptoms, the person has a history of travel; or
In addition to symptoms, the person has been in contact with a case confirmed by MINSA
The Observatory does not do laboratory tests nor clinic diagnoses to determine whether a case is suspect.
The translation of their report for the week of June 18-26, 2020 follows. Note that the report also includes the official government count for the same week.
In this stage where the number of people with the disease continues to rise, it is the moment for increasing individual, family and community protection. We exhort the population to continue taking all the preventive measures like physical distancing, hand washing and the use of masks.
Yes you can, stay at home and let´s save lives!
On June 24th a cumulative total is reported of 6,775 suspicious cases, verified by the Citizen Observatory in all the provinces and autonomous regions, in 134 municipalities (87% of the municipalities of the country). 694 new cases were recorded this week, which represents an 11% increase in the period.
Managua (2,918), Matagalpa (687), Masaya (552), León (399), Estelí (325), Chinandega (272), Jinotega (208), Madriz (184), Granada (180), Carazo (169) and RACCS (153) are the provinces or regions that report the largest number of suspected cases.
Up until June 23 MINSA reported 2,170 confirmed cases, 607 active cases, 1,489 recovered and 74 deaths (death rate of 3.4%). This mortality rate reaffirms the urgent need that the government take measures to prevent infection, and that it have more detailed information that would allow directing decision making to deal with the situation.
Of the 70 irregularities [i.e. violations of human right to health care] reported this week, 22 refer to the exposure of people in activities or crowds, 17 to inadequate responses of MINSA and 10 to threats and reprisals.
Up until June 24th 1,878 deaths have been reported and verified, of which 129 (7%) are categorized as deaths due to pneumonia, and 1,749 (93%) as suspected deaths of COVID-19. These deaths have taken place in all of the 17 provinces and autonomous regions of the country. Managua (772), Masaya (224), León (140), and Matagalpa (118) report the largest number of deaths. In this week we have verified information of 189 new deaths, which represents an 11% increase in the number of deaths from the previous week.
These deaths are reported from 17 provinces and autonomous regions, 110 municipalities (72% of the total number of municipalities in the country). The province of Managua records 39% of all the deaths, Masaya 12%, León 7%, Chinandega and Matagalpa 6% respectively; Granada, Estelí and RACCN 4% respectively.
Of those 1,878 deaths, 212 (11%) took place in their homes and 18 (1%) during their transfer to a health unit.
Up to June 24th the Observatory received reports of 652 health workers with symptoms associated with or presumptive of COVID-19. This week ALL the provinces or autonomous regions reported cases (principally Managua, León and Matagalpa) and 67 municipalities.
On June 24th 78 suspected deaths of COVID were reported of health care personnel. 34 doctors, 21 nurses, 11 administrative staff, 3 medical visitors, 2 laboratory staff, and 7 categorized as “other” (technical or ETV staff, for example).
From 7 provinces or autonomous regions reports were received of inadequate response in different health units, the reports indicate:
Lack of supply of potable water
Scarcity of ventilators
Rejection of donations in health units where a need for these inputs exist
Lack of communication on the health status of the patients with their families
Lack of electric generators needed for the functioning of essential medical apparatus for patients in a critical status during the ongoing cuts of electric energy.
Little or no medical attention to hospitalized patients.
Diagnosis of pneumonia for patients who present symptoms of COVID-19
Use of neonatal ventilators for COVID-19 patients, which puts at risk babies who present respiratory difficulties.
Lack of follow up on the part of MINSA of contacts of people who present COVID-19 symptoms. Nor have the homes of the relatives of these patients been sanitized.
Sending home the majority of suspected patients of COVID-19 with treatment. A report was received of a patient who died hours after having been released from the hospital
Yes, you can, stay at home and let´s save lives!
Attached you can find the report for June 18-24, 2020 generated by the Observatory:
Suspected cases by the Observatory*: 6775
Deaths by pneumonia and suspected COVID-19 deaths reported by Observatory: 1878
Cases confirmed by MINSA: 2170
Deaths reported by MINSA: 74
*People reported as suspected cases by the Observatory, deaths by pneumonia and suspected COVID-19 deaths have been verified by the local source of information.
On Thursday June 18, 2020 writers and intellectuals from around the world published in La Prensa this following open letter to the President of Nicaragua and his Vice President wife, criticizing the government´s recent actions dismissing several key doctors in hospitals around the country for their criticisms of the government´s management of the pandemic. The signatures include many intellectuals known for their historic support for the Sandinista revolution.
Writers and Intellectuals of the world demand the Government reinstate the doctors fired and respect for the freedom of expression
With real bewilderment and concern we have heard about the decision of your government to fire doctors and hospital workers, just for expressing their critical opinion about the management of the COVID 19 pandemic in your country.
More than fifteen doctors, all first line professionals, with ample experience and years of service in your public hospitals, have been fired in recent weeks without explanation and in an unjustified manner, after signing with many other doctors the request to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Panamerican Health Organization for the management of the pandemic, recommendations that your government has ignored. We think that politicizing medicine and science is a crime. Scientific knowledge should prevail over politics.
While throughout the world doctors have been recognized for their heroic work and the risks they have taken in their courageous treatment of the sick with COVID 19, in Nicaragua your government has put your health care personnel at risk by not providing adequate protective equipment and even rejecting donations of that equipment.
Your country, with forty deaths, has the highest record of deaths of doctors and nurses in Central America. Even with this high risk, the health care personnel continue providing service in spite of the inadequate conditions. The fact that, instead of thanks, they receive unjustified letters of dismissal, obliges us to raise our voice to be in solidarity with them and the people of Nicaragua.
As the rulers and public servants that you are, we ask that you support, respect and protect your health care personnel, that you join the worldwide recognition for the praiseworthy work that these brave and valuable professionals are performing.
We who sign here condemn the dismissals of doctors and any other act that might weaken even more the precarious health care system of Nicaragua. We categorically reject your government´s way of proceeding, which constitutes a dark legacy for the respect and freedom of expression of the medical profession.
We demand that the persecution end, and that the doctors be reinstated to their posts. Politicizing medicine is a crime, even more in the midst of this terrible pandemic. The Nicaraguan people should not continue getting sick and dying because of the infection of a virus which, following the appropriate measures, can be prevented. In the midst of this pandemic, saving the lives of your people should be more important than any other interest and consideration.
Since October 2018 three key officials in the mayor´s office in Wiwilí, Jinotega have been murdered – Legal Advisor, Director of Municipal Services, and Director of Acquisitions. In spite of these unresolved crimes, the mayor, a woman – one of the few Liberal mayors left in the country – has strongly denounced these crimes as an attack against her administration. This article updates her situation and provides another example of the manipulation of the justice system for political purposes. In violation of municipal law, the Treasury did not transfer her assignment of funds from the Central Government, forcing her to lay off municipal workers, most of whom were Sandinistas. They then sued her government for an impossible amount of compensation. In spite of the fact that she worked out a payment arrangement, the local judge called her to a contempt of court hearing for not paying the total amount. When her lawyer showed up for the hearing, he was told the hearing was cancelled, and then the judge ordered her arrest.
Ortega judge orders the suspension of the Mayor of Wiwilí from her post
By Martha Vásquez Larios in La Prensa, June 13, 2020
The request for contempt of court charges and an arrest warrant was made by the Prosecutor Marlon Rolando Leiva Flores, the same person who requested the suspension from the office of mayor without any legal argument.
The Ortega judge Diana Isabel Jarquín Valle, from the Local Penal Court of Jinotega, this Friday ordered that Reyna Hernández Mairena be suspended from performing her post as mayor of the municipality of Wiwilí, as an interim measure, which is why she is left inhibited from exercising her functions as such. This is a sign of how the Orteguista regime through legal pretexts attempts to snatch away another municipal government that it lost in popular elections.
This arbitrary blow to the law and penal process the judge did after the fact that this past Wednesday June 10, she declared the mayor in contempt because she did not appear for a hearing where they illegally accused her of alleged disobedience or disregard for authority and detrimental to the administration of justice.
The request for contempt of court charges and arrest warrant was made by the prosecutor Marlon Rolando Leiva Flores, the same judge who requested the suspension of the mayor from her post without any legal argument. That request was presented by the Public Ministry at 1:20pm on Friday June 12, and the judge issued her ruling the same day at 2:15pm, in other words within 55 minutes.
Nevertheless, the defense attorney presented a motion for dismissal on June 9, 2020 at 3:02pm, and the judge still has not ruled on that motion.
The operator is from the Sandinista Front
“The speed and way in which the judge has acted in the case show that she is an operator of the Sandinista Front to obtain the mayorship of Wiwilí-Jinotega in an illegal way,” said the defense lawyer of the mayor, Maynor Curtis.
The mayor Hernández Mairena was known for her steadfastness and courage in denouncing incidents of extrajudicial executions in the zone against opponents of the dictatorship, which are ignored and not investigated by the Orteguista Police
Repressive and non-interim measures
The judge clothed the stripping of the mayor from her post with ostensible legality, arguing the application of interim measures, when she already ordered her arrest, which is contradictory. “In effect, with the purpose of the interim measures being to ensure the effectiveness of the process, ensuring the presence of the accused and regulating the acquisition of the sources of evidence as articles 166 and 167, number 1, subsection j, 169 of the Penal Processing Code, and based on the principles of proportionality, appropriateness, and need, in addition the interim suspension of the accused is ruled in the performance of the post as Mayor of the municipality of Wiwilí, jurisdiction of the province of Jinotega: Reyna Esmeralda Hernández Mairena, likewise the accused is left inhibited from exercising functions, attributions and competencies unique to the post, conferred by Law 40 of the Municipal Law—” reads the official notification.
“Article 166 of the Penal Processing Code concerning the purpose of interim measures says that the purpose of the measures is to ensure the effectiveness of the process, ensuring the presence of the accused and the normal acquisition of the sources of evidence. While determining the interim measures the judge will take into account the appropriateness of each one of them in relation to the punishment that could end up being imposed, the nature of the crime, and magnitude of the damage caused, and the danger of evasion or obstruction of justice. In no case can the interim measures be used as a means to obtain the confession of the accused or as a plea bargain, and this is what the judge is doing,” explained Curtis.
For the mayor, Reyna Esmeralda Hernández Mairena, this has always been a matter of political persecution, because since she was inaugurated they have killed three of her officials, reduced the budget assigned to the municipal government transferred from the Ministry of the Treasury and Public Credit to just 800,000 córdobas, which is why they are practically operating with their own funds.
Then 43 Sandinista former municipal workers sued for compensation of millions of córdobas with unpayable and unbelievable salaries for such a small municipal government, but the Ministry of Labor and Orteguista judges have ruled in their favor, establishing a payment of nearly 16 million córdobas.
“That amount is unpayable for the municipal government with the paltry budget that they assigned it, nevertheless the Municipal Council ruled in February 2020 to pay 800,000 córdobas annually until it is paid, but the workers directed by the Party accused the mayor through the penal process in May 2020. The only reason I see is that they want to remove her from the mayor´s office through legal artifices. If they find her guilty, put her In jail, a Sandinista from the Council would assume the administration, maintains Curtis.
This trial is the one that would have begun on June 10th, but staff from the judicial complex took on the task of telling the lawyers that there was no hearing in that court, and then the judge ruled illegal absence and contempt of court against mayor Hernández. Before that the judge should have ruled on a motion promoted by Curtis for the rescheduling of the hearing of the trial, which the lawyer argues the judge did not address.
The demonstrations in hundreds of cities in the US over the police killing of George Floyd have been followed by Nicaraguans, and have resulted in discussions about race in Nicaragua. This interview appeared in Sunday supplement of La Prensa.
Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”
Juliet Hooker, professor at Brown University, analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which, in her judgement, exists in Nicaragua.
Juliet Hooker is a Nicaraguan academic who works at Brown University in Rhode Island, and has dedicated many years to the study of race and racism, issues that are on the minds of the world since a violent white policeman killed George Floyd, an Afro-American, in the United States.
Hooker was born in Bluefield 47 years ago and maintains that we live in a racist country. For her, phrases like “the race has to be improved” are not innocent, nor can the word “chele” [common nickname for a white skinned person in Nicaragua] be compared to the words “black” or “Indian”, in spite of the fact that the three are used as nicknames.
In this interview she analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which exists in Nicaragua, according to her. Are you racist?
Are we racist in Nicaragua? Many say we are not.
That is very common in Latin America, that people think that racism is something that happens in the United States, that it occurred in South Africa, that it does not happen in Latin America. But a common pattern throughout the region is that they are societies ordered according to pigmentocracy. In Nicaragua, specifically, there are two ways in which racism happens. One is social hierarchy. If you look at who are the people represented in the upper class, those who are in political positions, those who appear in television dramas, those who have the most visible posts and most of the economic, political and social power, they are the people who are the whitest. And the closer you get to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in this racial hierarchy, in terms of access to economic power, political power, to representation. Another way in which racism is manifested in that we think there are no blacks in Nicaragua, or that they are only in the Atlantic Coast, or that the indigenous were something that happened in the colonial times, but that they no longer exist. It is the racialization of space, of the geography of the country.
That which you are mentioning, about the white elite, does it have to do with historical reasons?
Of course! Who were the big families that dominated Nicaraguan politics in the XIX century? They are the families that identified as descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. There is an entire Nicaraguan nationalism that recognizes that there is an indigenous presence, but the legacy that is emphasized is the Spanish. In the XIX century there was a change in the sense that other people began to be part of those political elites, and maybe did not come from those families, but there is a historical legacy of who has had economic and political power in the country, and that is being reproduced.
If it were reversed, if the brown and short people or the Afro-descendants made up that elite, would it be thought that it was better to be brown or black than white?
We do not live in an isolated society, we live in a society inserted in global processes, and on a global level we have the fact that the colonizers have been Europeans and that has an impact. It is possible that in countries like Haiti there might be less racism, but that does not mean that it disappears. These processes and these ideas even have an impact on us Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples ourselves. At times they also value people of their group who have finer features, who have straighter hair. All this is part of that question of colorism that at times is internalized even by the groups who suffer due to racial hierarchies.
Is there a “Europeanized” idea of beauty?
Definitely. I believe that this is clear. Think about Miss Nicaragua. What is the pattern of the women who supposedly are the most beautiful in Nicaragua? It is a person with very European features who, to a certain extent, does not look very much like the typical Nicaraguan woman. The inverse of this is that maybe, for example, black women are appreciated; but in a very exotic way, as a person who is seen as hyper-sexualized, but not valued as someone who can be the ideal of beauty in the country.
But personal preferences also exist, what is the difference between racism and having a personal preference?
Obviously as individuals we make decisions like with whom we want to marry, with whom we want to relate, and so it is true that on an individual level one looks at these matters as if they were simply your personal preferences. But personal preferences are, partly, a reflection of the ideas that exist in society. Your surroundings have an impact on you. One has to think about why I have that preference, is it because I simply like cheles or whatever it is, or because I have internalized that idea about what is more beautiful or desirable. It is also important to look at what impact this has on interpersonal relationships. For example, if your personal preference are cheles and then you get married and have children, are you going to make a preference for the one that is the whitest, because that is simply what you see as more beautiful? This is something that I think many people have seen in their own families, these patterns that are reproduced in who is valued and who is not.
So we should not have preferences?
(Laughs). I do not know what we should do in our personal relationships, what I do think that we can do is think about why we have those preferences. And ask ourselves: “If I do not want to reproduce these racist patterns, how can I do things differently?”
But if, for example, someone likes a Chinese person, they have that right, no?
Well of course! (laughs). The problem is not the fact that you like a Chinese person, it is that you like them for being Chinese, because you have that idea that it is exotic and you might not be able to see them as a person in their totality, beyond the fact that they are Chinese.
Is there racism in phrases like “you are black, and you do not know how to dance?”
I would say that that type of phrases what they reflect are our racial stereotypes. They reflect the way in which we attribute to certain groups certain characteristics, like as if all the members of that group would have them. This is part of racism. Under those phrases is this idea: “Blacks are good in sports, music and dance”, but part of the problem with this is that we do not see them as capable of doing other things, like we are reducing them: “In this yes you are good, but don´t get involved in trying to be a businessman.”
Is racism calling a black person black?
There are a lot of people in Latin America and in Nicaragua who tell you that “black” is used in a supposedly affectionate way. In general people see it as an affectionate term, without a racist intention; but what has to be seen is what is it that you are trying to say. There are many Afro-descendants who do not want to use the work “black” because they perceive it as having a negative connotation, like saying to someone “black” is trying to belittle them. Now people are using the word more and say, “Yes, I am black.” What one has to see is how the word is used in society, what is the intention. The worst thing that can be done is simply say, “No, this word means this for me, and I am going to use it.” If you call a black person black and they tell you that they do not like it, do not use it again and offer an apology. There could be another person who it does not bother who might say, “that word is not an insult, I use it with pride.” The problem is when people who are in a dominant position decide that they can use the word because they “know what it means.”
In Nicaragua it is customary to call your friends “chele” and “black”, why is one thing fine and the other bad? Thinking that the word black has a pejorative meaning is assuming that being black is bad.
This is the difficulty. Because it is not equivalent. Saying to someone “chele” does not have a negative connotation, it can be that people might say, what is bad about being chele? While if you say “Indian” to someone, if you say “black” to someone, there is a history behind that, the fact that those terms were used in a derogatory manner. Maybe what has to be done is to ask, but it is very difficult because it can be uncomfortable and a burden for the person who always has to be explaining what racism is.
A little while ago a white, mestiza woman, told me that once she received insults referring to the color of her skin. Can you talk about racism when whites are discriminated against because of their color?
There are people that perceive this, but we cannot talk about inverse racism when racial hierarchies exist in society where white mestizos are above. You cannot see any country in Latin America where this issue of pigmentocracy does not exist, where these racial inequalities do not exist. It is a mistake to think that we are in societies where there are white, mestizo people who are being oppressed. In none of our societies are these people the ones who have less access to education. In general, they are the most privileged, even though there are always exceptions and differences within these dominant groups. And there are also people from the discriminated groups who have gotten to very high posts, but they are an exception. To talk about inverse racism is to ignore all the historical and contemporaneous inequalities that continue to be reproduced.
But if an insult directed at a white person because of the color of their skin is not racism, then what would it be?
What I can tell you is that there are interpersonal situations where people are going to say things to other people that maybe hurts them. But I am looking at it on the level of society. Who are the groups who have these experiences on a daily basis, routinely? And not only do they have these experiences, but they have material effects on their lives.
Have you suffered personally some form of racism?
How has that racism been manifested?
Look… I have suffered racism, but I have also been very lucky, in the sense that I had access to education. But I am going to give you an example. Once returning to Managua, there were other Nicas in that flight, and I do not know whether they knew that I was a Nica or not, but they began to talk, and one of them said that they were going to the Coast, and the others said to him, “Why do you want to go there if it is full of drug traffickers and AIDS?” And what I thought at that moment was, “Well, welcome back to Nicaragua.” Another experience I had was when at the beginning of my career (in the United States) professors and colleagues would tell me that issues of race and racism were not central in the study of political science or the history of Nicaragua or Central America. Obviously, there have been changes in that way of thinking, especially in moments like this one, but it is still true that issues like racism or Afro and Indigenous studies continue being seen as marginal in many academic spaces.
Have you experienced more racism in the United States or in Nicaragua?
(Laughs). I would say that the racism is different, but it exists in both places and I have experienced it in both places.
So, can it be said that we are racist in Nicaragua, even though we deny it?
Unfortunately, yes. It is not something that one wants to say about one´s country, but it simply is a fact.
This global discussion after the death of George Floyd, could it make a change in Nicaragua?
I hope that it also has an effect in Nicaragua. The fact that we are doing this interview suggests that people are thinking about these topics. This is important.
What do you think of the phrase “you have to improve the race?”
That is a way in which racism is manifested, it is the idea that you should marry a whiter person than you are, so that you don´t have brown children, in order to have whiter children. It is one of the most daily ways in which we reproduce racism, within the family.
In the end, is not this a way of disparaging who we are?
Of course. It is a way in which we internalize racism and reproduce it, that racial hierarchy that says that white is better, more attractive, what we have to aspire to. Instead of saying, “most of us Nicaraguans are not white, why don´t we accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are?” There are many white, mestizo Latinos, who do not know that racism exists until they go to the United States and realize that they are not seen as white here. For the first time they experience being seen as a racialized person. That is when they face themselves as being seen as inferior people, especially now that there is a lot of racism against Latinos and immigrants in the United States.
Is it racism to say that you are “proud” of belonging to a race?
I think that it is something positive, because it has always been seen as something negative. It is a revindication. To say, “I am not ashamed” is not racism, because what you are doing is trying to respond to historic racism, saying “I am not going to feel less for being this.” It is an affirmation of an anti-racist feeling. To say I feel proud of being black or Miskito does not mean that I see people who are not as less. It is saying “I am not going to accept that negative concept that they have tried to impose on me.”
Do you feel proud of being Afro-descendent?
Yes, of course. Being a Creole woman has been fundamental for me. A lot of what I have learned, of what is important for me, comes from being part of that community, having that history, those values that have been preserved with a lot of struggle and effort, in spite of everything that we have had to deal with.
Juliet Hooker is originally from Bluefield and is 47 years old. Currently she works in the Political Science department of Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, as a professor and researcher.
She is the author of Race the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Theorizing Race in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2017), works where she juxtaposes stories about race formulated by outstanding academics in the United States in the XIX and XX centuries, and Afro American and Latin American thinkers. This year she is working on a third book.
She likes to cook as a way of reducing stress, and because it is an activity that takes her away from what she normally does as an academic. She also likes to dance reggae, soca and salsa, and above all when she goes out with her friends. She enjoys series and movies about crimes and detectives. But she saw Uncorked not too long ago, about a boy who wants to be a wine expert, and she liked it a lot.
Another of her pastimes is reading. She consumes academic material for her research and then, for balance, reads poetry.
She lives with her partner in Rhode Island and among the two of them are raising a little girl. Her favorite color is red, she has no pets, and misses eating vigorón.
This call for a National Quarantine by 34 Medical Associations in Nicaragua is in response to the exponential growth of infections, and increasing national and international criticism of the Nicaraguan government for its response. It was published as nearly a half page ad in La Prensa June 2, 2020. The same day the announcement was released COSEP announced their full support for this call.
In the face of the unstoppable advance of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nicaragua, we the different Medical Associations of the Country, address today the Nicaraguan people and the International Community, to once again warn about the dramatic situation that our country is going through, and that threatens to worsen in the next days and weeks with terrible and fatal consequences for Nicaraguan homes.
As had been warned by International Centers for disease control and different National Medical and Epidemiological Specialists, the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases has caused a collapse in the public and private health care system of Nicaragua: saturated hospitals, lack of beds, lack of medicine and such essential products like oxygen are added to the fact that dozens of doctors and health care workers are infected by COVID-19, with the result of an important number of deceased Doctors, nurses and technicians. Which is reducing the number of medical and paramedical resources in different institutions, causing overtime workloads, physical and emotional exhaustion on the part of health workers.
Nicaragua finds itself currently in the phase of accelerated expansion and community transmission, which will continue worsening with greater loss of life, if the corresponding authorities continue denying the situation, and anti-epidemic measures are not taken urgently and at a large scale to try to contain the advance of the pandemic.
With the moral, academic and workforce authority that the fact of being in the front lines in treating this dramatic health crisis confers on us as doctors, we the Medical Associations of Nicaragua call on the people to urgently begin a voluntary NATIONAL QUARANTINE, that might help reduce the impact of this disease with the reduction of Contagion, transmission and death among the population. This NATIONAL QUARANTINE consists in staying at home for at least 3-4 weeks, doing food purchasing once a week, ensuring distancing of at least 1.5 meters between people, using face masks or protective screens outside of the home, and constant hand washing.
We demand that the private sector take strong measures in the face of the propagation of the virus and protect life, instituting actions that might reduce the risk of exposure and transmission, not just with personal hygiene measures, but with actions like the temporary closing of non-essential businesses until the growing number of those infected be reduced.
As of today, all of us are potential sources of contagion and transmission of the disease; which is why we reiterate the call to the Nicaraguan population, private enterprise and public institutions to stay at home. We are capable of controlling the pandemic with your decisive support and the power that you have to avoid the spread of the virus. This is the only way that has demonstrated the control of the disease based on the experiences of other countries who have mitigated and diminished the transmission, obtaining the flattening of the curve and control of the Pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic came to the world without anyone expecting it, even more, without anyone being prepared to confront it.
Also, the pandemic came to our beloved Nicaragua, an impoverished country with the aggravating circumstance of a social and political crisis.
We note that all of our faithful people are aware of the fragility and vulnerability in which the health care system finds itself, the speed at which the infection is spreading, the truth about the number of those infected and deaths caused by the virus. With our people we are suffering their uncertainty, grief and death. The grief and impotence lead to desperation, families who are mourning their dead without saying good-by, the fear and insecurity that the population is suffering in light of the silence of the State, and the disinformation about the progress of the epidemic, the fear or impossibility of visiting hospitals, suffering diseases in the silence of their homes, the manipulation of consciences, coercion and political opportunism in the management of the pandemic.
We reiterate our prayers for all the sick, those who have passed away and the families affected by the virus.
We are happy and grateful for the effort of the doctors and nurses of our country, and we encourage them to be faithful to their vocation and mission.
The contagion of COVID-19 in Nicaragua coincides with the liturgical seasons: Lent and Easter, privileged times of grace and blessing, that for the common good of our faithful and the entire country we have celebrated in empty churches, masses without the presence of faithful but – we give thanks to God – strengthening the faith of many Catholic families as domestic churches, celebrating in the intimacy of the home the passion of the Lord and his glorious resurrection.
Let us take care of life.
In the face of this global, national and family tragedy that threatens our lives, what is our response? What can we do? We are afraid of losing our own lives and the lives of those we love, but, life is a gift of God, it is in his hands, like we also are also in his hands, as all of humanity is in the hands of their Creator.
Nothing is more important than life, “life is above all else”, the problems that come after the pandemic are many, the challenges very big, and just remaining alive and united will we be able to face them; many of us have maintained social distancing, and we have done it out of responsibility and love; we should continue doing so, when contamination is local and the risk of contagion is greater; the most important thing now is protecting life, and that each one does what is necessary and possible to preserve and protect the lives of others, those who are stronger, generous and compassionate carrying those who are weaker; those who have wealth, may they multiply their works of mercy to share with those who do not have anything, may they take diligent care to protect men and women who are working in enterprises of production and institutions of administration and services; that all of us without exception prioritize the care of life, life above the economy, life above ideological and political interests, we repeat, life above all else. This implies the urgency of strengthening citizen solidarity. Taking care of one another and caring for others, following all the measures of precaution, prevention and mitigation.
We exhort the rulers and all sectors of the country to open themselves to alliances and consensus to seek and find alternatives and joint solutions that would prevent us from a larger human catastrophe.
During the storm, the beating of the waves threatened to sink the boat, Jesus was asleep in the stern which is the first part to go under in a shipwreck, sleeping in the most dangerous place and the storm did not disturb his sleep, because Jesus slept trusting in the hands of his Father. His disciples were afraid and shouted to him, in addition to their fear they had doubts, were men of little faith (cf Mt 8: 23-27). For us the time has come to shout, Lord, save us because we are going to drown! And of recognizing our little faith. We implore the Holy Spirit to give us the strength of faith, Christ has power, but do we have faith? More than once Jesus said to those who were tormented that “let it be done according to your faith” (Mt 9:29); “your faith has saved you” (Mt 15:28) “I did not find as much faith even in Israel” (Lk 7:1-10); let us be strong in faith and let us not doubt the love of God for us and, given that we are weak, let us implore the Lord to increase our faith (Mk 9:24).
Jesus loves us, “the greatest value of life is love.” In the face of this situation, we turn our eyes again to Jesus, we Christians should have present a response motivated by our faith. Faith implies hope. Faith without hope turns lukewarm and dies, it will not be any more than a sterile knowledge. We human beings, we are such fragile people that crises undermine our emotions and thoughts, that is why faith and hope must take their place in the face of threats, in this way we also are careful about our actions.
In this crisis and throughout our lives Jesus comes to encounter us, He, conqueror of death, leaves the empty tomb and comes to the encounter with his disciples, “let us open the doors of our hearts wide open” (St John Paul II) so that Jesus might enter, live in us and we live in Him (cf Jn 14:20).
St Paul encourages us with these words: “Because in hope we were saved; but the hope that is seen is not hope; because who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we cannot see, with patience we await it. And, likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; because we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:24-26). Do not give in to the night: remember that the first enemy to defeat is not outside of you: it is within. Therefore, do not give way to bitter, dark thoughts. “Trust in God and trust also in me” (Jn 14:1) – Jesus says – God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to destroy it with ongoing frustrations. Everything is born to flower in an eternal spring. God also made us to bloom” (Pope Francis).
“Do not listen to the voice of the person who spreads hate and division. Do not listen to those voices. Human beings, as different as they may be from one another, have been created to live together. Love people, Jesus gave us a light that shines in the darkness: defend it, protect it. This light is the greatest wealth entrusted to your life. And above all, dream! Do not be afraid to dream. Dream! Dream about a world that cannot yet be seen, but that certainly will come. Live, love, dream, believe. And, with the grace of God, never lose hope” (Pope Francis).
Follow the path of love.
The pandemic will end, “because everything has its time under the sun.” Once the crisis is overcome, it will be up to us to ask ourselves, what lessons have we learned? What meaning will God continue to have for my life? What will be my attitudes toward others from now on?
We are called to have an attitude of conversion about our way of thinking, living, and acting, in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ, being docile to his teachings under the action of the Holy Spirit who was bestowed on us from our baptism. “Love one another” that commandment of the path of salvation, expressing that love in works, in actions of social and labor justice, in larger investments to strengthen health care systems, in the construction of an economy where the common good of humanity prevails above all else.
Certainly poverty is increasing, unemployment is worsening the economy of families, we need to take on this challenge as a society, the needed changes must happen, and technical, economic, scientific etc. solutions are not enough. Political speeches empty of responsibility and content do not work to solve the problem, it is important to recover the direction of human life, give it back its dignity, its sanctity, from its conception to its natural extinction; it is necessary to follow the path of love.
Life of prayer
“When the sadness and bitterness of life try to crush our gratitude and praise to God, the contemplation of the marvels of his creation ignite, again, in the heart the gift of prayer, which is the principal force of hope. And hope is what shows us that life, even with its trials and difficulties, is full of a grace that makes it worthy of being lived, protected and defended” (Pope Francis).
This crisis strains all of us, demands of us more effort, the task may seem overwhelming, nevertheless, “nothing is impossible for God” (Lk 1:37). Stress causes fatigue, anxiety and irritability, even anger, it reduces the time for rest and drains energy, “the flesh is weak”, and let us strengthen the spirit persevering in prayer (cf Mt 26:41). The humble and trusting prayer: “My God have mercy on me” (cf. Lk 18:9-14), will give us back the joy of salvation” (cf. Psalm 50), and our voices will proclaim his praises, prayer will give us peace and strength to turn the stress into the energy that we need to resolve this situation.
We implore Mary Help of Christians, that “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, crowned with twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12:1), she is “the one that appears as the dawn, fair as the full moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession” (SS 10:6), Mary Help of the Christians will crush the head of the serpent, and will cover us with light “like a mantle, stretching out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:2).
Issued in the Office of the Episcopal Conference on the 24th day of May 2020, the feast of Mary Help of Christians.
[Signature] [SEAL of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua]