Category Archives: Nicaragua Unrest

This is how they massacred the Mayangna Indigenous in the Bosawas Reserve

At the end of January Nicaragua and the international community were shocked to learn of a massacre of Mayangna indigenous on their own lands by 80 heavily armed settlers. This is the latest – and one of the deadliest – of several attacks in recent years. The constant complaint of these indigenous communities is they receive no protection from the Police and Army. Even though they finally do have title to their ancestral land, their pleas for the government to take the required next step in the titling process – dealing with non-indigenous populations on the land –  has fallen on deaf ears. This incident shows once again that in the absence of government action, the title becomes a meaningless piece of paper, and the goodwill the titling created is quickly dissipated.

This is how they massacred the Mayangna Indigenous in the Bosawas Reserve

By Amalia del Cid, La Prensa, Sunday February 9, 2020

[original Spanish article with pictures]

On January 29th four Mayangna indigenous were attacked when they were in a river, looking for fish for the thanksgiving feast of their community. This was the massacre of Alal.

In the silence of Bosawas it is possible to hear the cry of a person, or the barking of a dog, from far away. If someone wants to find the origin of the sound, they have to walk for ten or fifteen minutes to find it, or instead stay very quiet and listen very carefully. Three women who were fishing in the Kikulang river on the afternoon this past January 29th did that, when they heard steps running toward them.

First, they thought that someone was coming to sound the alarm, as tends to happen in these lands when a person has an unfortunate encounter with a poisonous snake. But a little later they saw a breathless young man appear who could not utter a sound; followed by another boy, with a bullet wound. Behind them ran a third young man, who shouted from a distance, “they killed my Dad!”

The one who was in front was Centeno Indalecio, and the wounded boy, Marcony Jarquín. The last boy was Becker, the son of the best fisherman of the community of Alal, Juan Emilio Devis Gutiérrez. They came fleeing from the Kun Kun river, located an hour and a half walk from the Kikulang river, and they went to the village to alert the rest of its inhabitants. They had to warn them that armed settlers were attacking.

Throughout the previous day and the morning of the 29th itself, a dozen men had left from Alal to fish in the Kun Kun River, and hunt agoutis and deer in the Waktah mountain. Their mission was to get meat so the church could sell it on January 30th, thanksgiving day, recounted a community leader, who has asked that his name be omitted. He is afraid that some settler might recognize him.

Some years ago, before 2015, for the inhabitants of this Mayangna community it was still possible to go out to hunt or fish for three or four days without causing any concern among their relatives. “Now no,” says the indigenous leader. “Now you cannot leave the house. Crossing the Kaska River (which runs through the community) is now dangerous.”

Since the attacks from the settlers began to multiply in the indigenous territory to which Alal belongs, the community members took on the custom of returning early from their plots of land, and letting their relatives know exactly where they were going and when they would return.

Those who left on January 28th said that they were going to return the next day, but they did not return.

The silent “war”

The Mayangna Sauni As territory, or territory one, is found in the heart of the Bosawas Reserve, 25 kilometers from Bonanza in the Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast. It extends for some 2,000 square kilometers, and has a population of approximately 7,000 people. The Alal community is one of 23 that make up this territory and is found “on the edge of the Reserve.”

After Alal there is only forest “up to three days of forest” before reaching another community. Walking straight forward it is possible to get lost and never get out of there. The closest communities are found several hours away, and the land is grooved by several rivers and naturals waterways. On that vastness for many years now an unequal “war” has been experienced between indigenous and invading settlers, a drama that affects nearly all the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples settled on the 23 territories that legally and ancestrally belong to them.

With all that, Alal had never suffered a direct attack. In 2017 the neighboring community of Wilu was attacked by armed settlers, and in 2019, also the communities of Suniwas and Betlehem, even though in none of those attacks were people killed. Forgotten by all the State institutions, the indigenous have maintained their own patrols, armed with homemade harpoons and one or another hunting rifle, to discover in time the presence of “third parties” who come in to occupy by force the land of the reserve. But none of that helped on January 29th.

The first to leave were Marcony Jarquín, Centeno Indalecio and Arly Samuel Gutiérrez. They left on the morning of January 28th, in the direction of the Kun Kun river, located a two and a half hour walk from the community. A little later, Amaru Rener Hernández and Cristino López Ortiz followed their steps. And later, that same day, a group of men left to hunt in the mountains, above the Kun Kun river.

Among these last ones were Víctor Díaz Tránsito Meza Bruno, Econías Miguel, Carlos Bruno and Navarro Miguel. All forest rangers, responsible for patrolling the plots that the inhabitants of the community work close to the Kaska river.

The next day, on the morning of the 29th, Juan Emilio Devis Gutiérrez and his son Becker also went to Kun Kun for the purpose of collaborating in the collection for the day of thanksgiving. After all, no one fished better in Alal than Juan, 40 years of age. It was known that when he went out to swim under water with his harpoon, he would bring in enough fish to supply a good part of the community. In addition, he was a forest ranger and one of those most concerned about the destructive movement of the settlers into the Reserve.

Like him, the other indigenous that left to fish and hunt were those who did not complain when the church would mention their names to commit them to some task.

Arly Samuel, 19 years old, and Amaru Rene, 24, were working in the plots from Monday to Friday, and Saturdays they would go to high school. Cristino, 25 years old, also would plant the land, and on Fridays would travel to Bonanza, more than four hours by foot and more than two hours by bus, for university classes. He was about to begin his third year of Language and Literature.

At 4:00 in the afternoon that tragic Wednesday no one had returned to Alal, and the community members began to get really concerned.

A cry in the jungle

“They killed my Dad!”, shouted the son of Juan Emilio Devis. And the women who were fishing in the Kikulang began to run along with the three boys who came from the Kun Kun river. On arriving at Alal, Centeno Indalecio and Marcony Jarquín alerted the people, and the community leaders took charge of spreading the word, “they are attacking the community!”

“They told the women and children to leave first,” relates an indigenous leader. “They left without grabbing clothing, without anything. My Mom is a nurse and she got to work to take care of the wounds of Marcony, she just finished doing that, and in five minutes the armed men attacked the community.”

In a few minutes almost all of the nearly 500 inhabitants of the community abandoned their homes and went into the forest to find refuge in neighboring hamlets, above all in Musawas, the capital of the territory, located two hours away.

Alal was left empty. And around 5:20 pm some eighty armed men charged into the village; they burned 16 homes, including the pastoral center; they damaged the church, the school and the health post; they burned the school snacks and killed all the cows that they found: around twenty.

They also wounded a young man named Will Fernández, who received a bullet in the head, but still had the strength to go into the forest to hide, where he spent the entire early morning.

On dawn January 30th the attackers had now left, and the sun lit up the scene of the wooden homes reduced to ruins and ashes. Some inhabitants of Alal returned to confirm the disaster, and they began to look for the disappeared.

Will they found in the forest. He was not speaking, could not see, was barely breathing, but he was alive. The “smell of death” that began to be perceived in the air was the biggest concern, because it was not the stench of the cows; it was coming from a waterway on the banks of the Kaska. There was the body of Juan Emilio, still dressed in the clothing that he used to go fishing. Cream colored pants, threadbare and ripped; rubber boots and an old grey t-shirt with the words “Las Vegas”.

The fisherman was found face up, covered by some leaves that fell from the trees in the early morning. He had his hands tied behind his back, the head showed signs of having been beaten with shovels, various bullet holes and there are those who state that, on taking off his boots, they discovered that his toes had been severed.

Becker was mistaken when, on fleeing from the river, he thought his father was dead. The invaders had brought him in alive from Kun Kun to kill him in the community of Alal itself.

Another three dead

Of all the men who did not return home on the afternoon of the 29th, four were dead. On the 30th those who had gone out to hunt in the mountains were taken to be disappeared, and their names were mentioned in the first denouncements issued by the leaders of Alal. Nevertheless, that same afternoon it was known that, deep in the forest, the hunters did not even know about the attack of the settlers, because the sound of the river drowned out the sound of the gunfire.

It was precisely they who found the bodies of Cristino and Amaru on the banks of the Kun Kun, when they came down off the mountain, the afternoon of Thursday January 30. They saw from far away two men who seemed asleep, and at first, they were alarmed, thinking they were settlers, but on seeing that they were not moving, they went to see what was going on. There they recognized the two boys.

Cristino and Amaru were buried on the morning of Friday January 31, in the small cemetery that is located 300 meters from the church. The previous afternoon the community buried Juan Emilio and Arly Samuel, who they found on the path between Kun Kun and Kikulang. The bullets got him when he was running, and later the attackers struck him until they nearly cut his head off.

That Friday, when now the dead of Alal were buried, the Police issued a press release stating that there was no evidence in the zone that people had died. It was not until Saturday, three days after the massacre, and in the face of the overwhelming evidence that was already circulating on social networks, that the institution was forced to recognize the murder of the four Mayangna indigenous.

Life in the community, nevertheless, has not returned to normal. And it may never return, as long as the conflict with the settlers persists, who are invading indigenous territories. For now, the community members have not even finished returning, and those who returned, do not have anything to eat, because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they go beyond the Kaska river.

A little more than a month ago Cristino receive a medal for being the best goalkeeper in the soccer league of the Mayangna Sauni As territory, and less than two weeks ago was preparing to start a new year of classes in the university. Now he is dead, and the fear is that no one will pay for this.

From 2015 to now, at least forty indigenous have been murdered for resisting the illegal occupation of their lands, states Lottie Cunningham, the president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN). All of those cases have gone unpunished.

“None have been investigated, there is no material or intellectual author punished or sentenced, and this impunity is going to encourage this invasion even more,” she maintains.

For the indigenous who have lost friends and relatives at the hands of the settlers, the feeling of injustice and vulnerability is even greater. “They are violating the law on us”, says one of them. “If I see a dead horse in the street, I take a photo of it, put it on internet, its life has value. But we, it is like we are nothing…like we aren´t worth anything”.

Social impact of the invasion of the settlers

The problem of the invasion of the settlers is an old one. It has not been resolved by any government, and in recent years it has gotten exponentially worse. It is a matter of thousands of people who invade lands that by law belong to the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, a territory that encompasses about 54% of the Caribbean Coast.

There is every type of settler: from peasants who are deceived by sellers of land that does not belong to them, to former military and large landowners who have seized “farms” of up to 10,000 manzanas. They are people who show up with deeds signed by anyone.

There are 23 indigenous territories, within which there are 304 communities and 270 of them live “in distress, fear and crisis”, threatened with greater or lesser amounts of violence, “under intimidation, harassment and that massive illegal invasion of their territory,” points out Lottie Cunningham, president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

Twelve of those communities have protectionist measures from the IACHR, “but since 2015, at no moment have the State authorities demonstrated the willingness to implement those measures to protect the life and territory of the indigenous.”

For Cunningham there is no doubt that the tragedy that the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean are experiencing is the direct responsibility of the State. “The State authorities have been accomplices, because they have not carried out comprehensive actions to mitigate the threat, intimidation and harassment that the communities are experiencing. The Government has demonstrated that it has supported the settlers in a paternalistic way, many of them former military, because they are armed. Right now, most of the indigenous communities are on alert, they do not sleep. They are watchful so as to not be attacked,” she maintains.

Just in those twelve communities benefitted by protection measures, more than 1,000 people have been displaced from their crop lands, and more then 600 from their communities. 32,330 hectares of plots of land have been lost. And if a census could be done of the rest of the 270 threatened communities, the results would be even more overwhelming.

The people who have stayed in their communities are “dying of hunger”, surviving on bananas that grow in the jungle. Those who have left, have had to overcome daily difficulties in cities like Waspam, Puerto Cabezas and Bonanza, or in communities with larger populations. Some indigenous have migrated to Costa Rica and Panama, and many to Honduras.

The women are placed as poorly paid domestic workers, and the men have gone out to sea to work in deep diving, fishing lobster and shrimp, states Cunningham. But since they are not accustomed to that work in the high seas, several have drowned.

The tragedy of the indigenous in the face of the invasion of the settlers, who are looking for land for grazing cattle and mono-cropping, precious wood and gold, is profound. Its most visible and brutal face is that of the murders, but there is a deeper complex problem which no authority has wanted to resolve, even though, frequently the names of the invaders are known.

 

Roberto Courtney: “There will be early elections only if they are helpful to Ortega”

Some days ago, the Director of Ethics and Transparency (EyT), Roberto Courtney, caused a commotion in Nicaragua by offering to meet with the government on possible electoral reforms. Their organization is highly regarded both nationally and internationally for their expertise on electoral transparency, but given the extremely polarized political situation in Nicaragua, some suspected that EyT had sold out in some way to the government. This interview takes place within that context.

Roberto Courtney: “There will be early elections only if they are helpful to Ortega”

In La Prensa, Sunday, February 9, 2020 by Eduardo Cruz

[original Spanish]

Ortega is thinking about whether to allow the OAS to participate in the electoral reform process in Nicaragua, because for something less serious than what has occurred in Nicaragua, that international organization energetically intervened in Bolivia, states the expert in electoral issues.

Roberto Andrés Courtney Cerda, 55 years of age, leads one of the most important non-governmental electoral observation organizations in Nicaragua, but he does not have an office. “This is my office,” he says, pointing to his cell phone. That is why he received us in a hotel lounge in the capital.

Courtney, a lawyer by profession, brags about the fact that his organization, Etica y Transparencia, is not only “is very battle tested” on the topic of elections in Nicaragua, but that It is also “unscathed, with a lot of experience.”

In this interview, Courtney shares his vision of the current situation in Nicaragua, especially about how Daniel Ortega is maneuvering to stay in power and get to the elections in November 2021, in spite of the fact that with the crisis of April 2018 he is being demanded to move up the elections.

Passionate about the issue, Courtney explains what the process for electoral reforms should be, so needed to be able to be hold elections in Nicaragua.

What is Ethics and Transparency doing right now?

We are very involved in the situation of Nicaragua, looking at how to take to a safe port the issue of the electoral reforms and a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country.

Was the Conservative Party going to ask for the counsel of Ethics and Transparency?

Yes. I suppose that there should have been a flattering side to the fact that someone proposes that to you, but we, in general terms, like more the idea of thinking about electoral reforms particularly in the terrain of the consultation in the National Assembly, we have a preference to not be the particular advisor to anyone, and better to be a facilitator for all. It is not a disparagement. It is that we believe that there would be a better opportunity for a correct result in the National Assembly if, instead of coordinating in the name of a party, we coordinate  in the name of everyone.

What was happening prior to April 2018 and what has changed?

To begin with, the lack of electoral democracy in Nicaragua exploded in a very ugly way. If you would have had correct electoral processes, instead of fraudulent ones, April 18th would never have existed; because, what you want to be considered the culprit, the social security issues, instead of being treated by an Assembly that had lost its legitimacy because of being the captive of just one party, achieved in fraudulent elections, at the moment that this type of distrusted body would issues laws which are also questionable, now that is a lot of questioning for things to properly move ahead.

What changed with April 18th?

There has been a lot of evidence that the electoral system was obsolete, and that this country cannot have an electoral process similar to that of 2011 or 2016. That the epoch in which the official data are false, the electoral rolls slanted, the parties closed down by the electoral apparatus and by the other government bodies, the elimination of deputies, all that are excesses of fraud that in some way were happening, and that, if we add to that, for example, the case of Bolivia, it becomes clear that in Nicaragua things in electoral matters happened a thousand times worse than the improper use of a server, which is what derailed the elections in Bolivia. The standard of what constitutes an acceptable election has gone up, while the Nicaraguan electoral system increasingly delivered poorer and more corrupt results.

The OAS has not acted the same in Nicaragua as in Bolivia…

Very true. That might explain a bit the reluctance of the government to get it [the OAS] involved again. The OAS issued some reports very similar to those of Ethics and Transparency during the elections, in the sense that they addressed all the shortcomings, mistakes, fraudulent elements, but they arrived at the conclusion that the government was legitimate anyway, and that what had to be done was to sit down with this government to fix the problems; which is why they did the memorandum of understanding, to fix it gradually, because a lot had to be fixed, but accepting that a legitimate government had come out of that fraud. The report, concerning the problems and the weaknesses, the irregularities because of the fraudulent elements, was the same as that of Ethics and Transparency, but it arrived at a different conclusion, the conclusion that the government was legitimate in any event, and that it was going to work with that government to fix the electoral system. Ethics and Transparency, with those same elements, declared a fraud, the need to do the elections over, and take the issue of the electoral reforms seriously instead of slowly …Ortega recognized that the OAS that jumped up over the improper use of a server, probably is no longer the same OAS as the one that signed a memorandum of understanding, in spite of the fact that the processes had been so fraudulent [in Nicaragua] as to make Bolivia seem like child´s play.

Here in Nicaragua the principal opposition party was eliminated, deputies were eliminated, there was no publication of the electoral results, oversight was not permitted, copies of official ballot counts were not provided, there were more votes than voters, the party in power provided voter IDs to whoever they wanted, and we can continue adding to this list. This was allowed to happen, and suddenly the government sees that for a lot less today the OAS is acting a lot more firmly, and this makes it realize that it is not the same organization with which the government signed the agreement that remains in force for another 20 days.[1]

 And if those 20 days pass by without anything happening?

It is not so much that in these 20 days there has to be a change in the electoral law. In these 20 days what should happen is that the government would renew the agreement with the OAS, get seriously involved in the issue of electoral reforms within a proper time frame, which is normally having the reform process concluded at least one entire year before the election day. Preferably before that, but definitely not any later. The best electoral reform, done very late, could be counterproductive. If the elections are in November 2021, by November of this year the reforms should be already completed.

What is the problem with the current law? Is it the law or a matter of attitude?

There are two defects. The principal problem is the arbitrator. The law does not make it neither easy nor hard to form a new political party. It is the Supreme Electoral Council, that depending on who is applying, either gives it away or makes it impossible. It is the Supreme Electoral Council that, depending on the order from the party who named the ten magistrates from their own lists of candidates, and with the votes of only their deputies in the National Assembly, in other words, it is a purely Sandinista electoral apparatus, without them even trying to hide it, and who, on having been named by the Sandinista Party, then treat the requests for legal status in accordance with what the Sandinista party recommends. The Supreme Electoral Council is full of political operatives from just one party, and that is not the way to construct arbitration. This event is indicative of another bunch of problems, in other words, a good part of the problem is this, that the arbitrators are unfaithful to what the law demands, they interpret it to the convenience of a political party, they jump over the crossbar when there is no way to interpret them in favor of that political party, and so on successively. To make a sports analogy, many times the opposition in Nicaragua, when it notes that the referee declares a penalty where there was none, begins to think that the key is changing the rule of the penalty, but in reality the key is fixing the arbitrator.

How willing do you see Ortega to change those authorities?

This is part of what we want to see in the process of discussing a reform, because yes there are some reasons why one could imagine that, like in 2011 and 2016, the last presidential elections, the government intentionally sent a message to the electorate that the process was going to be fraudulent. And that had the effect of promoting abstentionism, which benefitted the government, at the same time that it complemented that message with a ton of actions that affected the competitiveness of the opposition, and that artificially created advantages for the party in power. If that strategy was used in less troubled moments, less relevant times, like 2011 and 2016, now in 2021 one imagines naturally that the party in power would find it even more necessary to implement the strategy that was working for it when it had a little more space. Nevertheless, there is a new factor, there is a correlation of forces where a process of that nature, which used to generate at least international recognition and a certain dose of legitimacy, a process exactly the same to that one today would make the government, in the case of winning in a fraudulent process like the previous ones, would make the government move to the strange condition where it was more legitimate the day prior to the elections than the day after the elections. In a fraudulent process like that, you are more president the day before the elections than with that disgrace, and you have the example of Maduro there, who participated in some previously discredited elections, and not re-legitimized by the quality of the process itself, and so moves to being an illegitimate government, and half the world, three quarters of his neighbors in Latin America, declare him a usurper, and look for a figure to name president, who in this case was the president of the Assembly, but who in the case of Ortega could be a government in exile or anything.

Is it difficult for there to be early elections?

No. What is clear is that there would only be early elections if Ortega determines that they would be helpful for him. For example, if he turns to look at the money he has available, and notices that at some point he is going to have to have massive layoffs and things like that. Basic politics makes you think that at the moment of making those economic decisions that are very difficult to sell to an electorate, and that the electorate will make you pay for, it is better for you to have early elections, and that it be the new government that has to make all the difficult decisions. In that context we are clear that any early elections will only be if they are helpful to Ortega. If you were to say to me, what do you think is going to happen? I would tell you that I am 99% sure that the elections will be in November 2021, above all if an agreement on electoral matters is reached during this year.

What are the minimal changes that should be made in the electoral system?

The Electoral Law at this time still has disqualified and in limbo all the people who have not voted in the last two elections. These people right now are not automatic voters, they moved to a list of a passive electoral roll, who in theory do not have the right to vote, if they do not go through the process of re-qualifying themselves, when it is not even known where nor with whom that can be done. Principally all the people in the opposition who have abstained because of the fraudulent elections in recent years, today have ceased being Nicaraguans who can vote, automatically. Their status has to be restored.  On top of this, after so many years of the government manipulating the electoral roll and citizen IDs, it is important to audit the roll, because it is probable, in fact it has been confirmed, that there are many cases of double voting and double registration, in the case of the party in power and its faithful. Nevertheless, there are a lot of complaints from the side of its opponents that they do not appear on the rolls, that the government does not want them to get their citizen ID, that the ID center never opened. You also have the elements of transparency. Publishing the results is normal, it is what is in your interest, it is what is always done, but the Electoral Council, let us remember that it had a very ugly trauma, precisely induced by this organization Ethics and Transparency in the year 2008. The trauma was when the Council did not allow us access to the Voting Reception Boards to be witnesses in 2008. It was discovered, according to the official data itself, that in many Voting Reception Boards, principally those that were opposition bastions, a phenomenon occurred, and it is that there were more votes than voters. The official electoral roll of the Electoral Council was saying that there were 150 voters in that board, and on the following day the party in power had won 400 to 0. You cannot win 400 to 0 where you have 150 voters, and you were sent only 150 ballots. We are not talking about a mathematical difficulty, we are talking about a mathematical impossibility, in other words, an absolute fraud. What attitude did the Supreme Electoral Council take after this? It quit publishing the data. It no longer told you how much each roll had, it did not tell you what results each voting reception board had. They made oversight difficult for you, they blocked access to contrastable results for you, and the process begins to deteriorate even more. It is as if, so that you are not caught with your hands in the cookie jar, you start to take out everyone´s eyes. Imagine for example the lottery. The lottery, instead of doing the lottery drawing in view of everyone, with the little balls tumbling and everyone asking to be witness to the fact that the process is fair, you had a little fat man who comes out two or three days later saying that the winning number is the one that he had in his pocket. The electoral system had degraded more or less to this level. So, the mechanisms of transparency have to be strengthened and basically adopt best practices. In fact, the OAS, in this sense, is very clear, and in the previous electoral episodes their diagnosis of the problems was very on target, the therapy was what was incorrect. The therapy should have been pointing out the fraud, and that the things would have had the consequences that they had to have. The therapy that the OAS recommended was let us let this pass and let us work so that the next elections be better.

The ideal would have been that the last two presidential elections would be done over?

Something that obviously cannot be done, because that is dead and buried, but in fact the recommendation at that time would have been to do them over. Note, it is not a matter of burning the country down for it to sprout again. And partly that is why simply and candidly time goes by and you get to the next election. The OAS understands that, after having given Ortega the opportunity, of letting the fraud pass with the commitment of fixing things for the next election,  and that this has not happened, that instead things have gotten worse, the time has come to try to attempt another technique, which is calling things by their name, and that is what Ortega is afraid of.  It is very advisable that for the electoral reform process to reach a good end, that the OAS be here, but I have my doubts about whether Ortega does not have now a very big concern about the fact that the OAS could lead him to provide an electoral opening far beyond what he is willing to do, and maybe more than what would be strictly necessary for the different actors to decide to participate.

How do you see Rosario Murillo as a candidate?

The parties will have their process for naming their candidates. We always recommend democratic, open, participatory processes, primary elections, elements much better than designating the candidate. But beyond that, we recognize that the Electoral Law of Nicaragua allows the political parties to be a type of private association that end up having an owner, and it should not be that way, but that legally they have the right of ending up with the photo on the ballot of the person who wins the cleanest primary in the world, as well as the person who the party might designate.

Should the political prisoners be freed before there are elections?

There are two lines of thought. First, everyone is in favor of the fact that there be no political prisoners, that would be fundamental. In terms of how to get them out, and that they quit being part of an extortionist game, where I put them in prison again so that we have to talk about this again, instead of talking about other things, the recommendation there is very simple. If we resolve the political problem, the issue of the political prisoners is solved as well. If we resolve only the issue of the political prisoners, and we cannot resolve anything until we resolve that issue, we are going to continue having the causes of new political prisoners. Probably the definitive way of getting the current political prisoners out, and those who might come in the future, is resolving the political problem. To subordinate addressing the political problem until the prisoners are released has that little great logical defect, and that is that you cannot make progress on the real solution until you resolve the issue of the political parties, and you set up for yourself a vicious circle where you cannot address the substance because you cannot address a prerequisite, when addressing the substance resolves the prerequisite.

Personal Plane

Roberto Courtney was born September 11, 1964, the son of Roberto Courtney, a North American, and Rafaela Cerda, Nicaraguan. Courtney left Nicaragua in 1983 for academic purposes. In the United States he got a Bachelor´s degree in Economics at Loyola University and studied Law at Georgetown University.

He worked first in the legal department of the Psychiatric Hospital of Manhattan and later in a law office on Wall Street. Afterwards he opened his own law office in Los Angeles in 1993, and when he returned to Nicaragua in 1996 he had as a goal for his life to write movie scripts, possibly from there comes his interest in always being close to theatre events or concerts in the country.

He talks little about his family, but when he is asked about his interests, he points out that he has multiple interests and that he likes science, like his great-great grandfather Miguel Ramírez Goyena, a botanist by profession, the youngest principal of a secondary school in the country at the age of 22, and one of the greatest scientists in the history of Nicaragua. He is the brother of the former magistrate Rafael Solís.

He likes a phrase from one of his grandmothers: “Kindness is more lovely than beauty.”

He is married. He likes jazz and classical music. “The saxophone sounds very nice in classical music, almost like a flute, I should acknowledge that I play it with more enthusiasm than skill, but it makes me happy,” he says.

 

 

[1] On February 28, 2017 the Nicaraguan government signed a memorandum of understanding with the OAS to advise the government on electoral reforms for the next election (2021). That memorandum expires on February 28, 2020.

The UNAN held a “black mass” to order to expel students

This is the second part to the previous article dealing with the expulsion of over 110 students from public universities by the Government. 

The UNAN held a “black mass” to order to expel students

By Keyling T. Romero/Franklin Villavicencio in REVISTA NIÚ January, 2020

II and last part

[original Spanish]

A “Security Commission” decreed their “academic death”. Members of the UNEN turned in a list of “coup supporting” university students.

The verdict of “academic death” against at least 110 students from the campuses of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) came out of a “black mass” with the participation of members of the National Union of University Students (UNEN). Three weeks before the University finalized the expulsion in August 2018, the University Council authorized the creation of a Special Extraordinary Commission that would analyze the consequences for university students critical of the regime, many of them barricaded and even political prisoners of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

University students confirmed for REVISTA NIÚ that since the beginning of August 2018 the University Council held emergency meetings in the Center for Research on Aquatic Resources of Nicaragua (CIRA-UNAN). The Special Commission there analyzed case by case the list of “coup supporting students” provided by the UNEN itself. The result was the first massive expulsion of students in the history of Nicaragua, in a process that violated the internal regulations of the university itself, and curtailed the right to education for more than a hundred university students.

None of the students that were expelled on August 17, 2018 knew that a process against them existed, as the internal regulations of the UNAN require. Nor did they receive notification in writing for the reasons or the final resolution, nor did they have the possibilities for appeal.

The Special Commission, also known as the Security Commission, was created apart from the two disciplinary commissions that were already established in the academic rules of the UNAN. And in those they created sub-commissions for each school, but not all had to do with the academic lives of the accused students. There was one whose task was the revision of the social networks of each university student.

Authorities are silent about the expulsions

This new commission was a closed commission. It was just called the Special Commission. It was never revealed who they were. “Another process that is completely illegitimate because you have to know who is judging you,” denounced the student Elthon Rivera, a member of University Action, the student movement that has gathered information about this case.

“That commission,” adds Rivera, “had the mission of spying and doing follow up to identify those who were criticizing the Government, and based on that, to do the expulsions.”

This month of January 2020 will be 17 months since these massive expulsions, and the UNAN had not publicly recognized how many students were sanctioned, what campuses they were from, what the proof was that resulted in that decision, why the students were not notified either of the process nor of the decision, and who formed the Special Commission that issued the decision against the students.

The only official communication that alludes to the expulsions is a document leaked in September, but dated August 20, 2018. In the document Luis Alfredo Lobato, General Secretary of the UNAN writes to César Rodríguez Lara, Director of Registration.  Lobato mentions the Extraordinary Session No. 13-2018, carried out on August 17th. That day a “report” was presented prepared by the Special Commission, along with the resolution of the University Council. The annex: the names, majors, schools and identification numbers of 82 expelled students.

According to figures from the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in the UNAN 144 expulsions were carried out, recorded by University Action. The movement argued to REVISTA NIÚ that they could not share the details of those figures, because the information was provided in confidence. Nevertheless, it provided a list of 55 students expelled with their personal data and identities protected.

The “crimes” of the students

The commission and sub commissions that banished the university students from their campuses, started with the approval of the University Council, the highest body of the UNAN. The Council is composed of seven members under the responsibility of the President Ramona Rodríguez. In addition, ten deans of schools, three secretaries and twelve presidents of the UNEN, led by Allan Daniel Martínez, and Iris Valeria Cruz Martínez, the student president of the Ruben Darío campus in Managua.

“The decision to expel the students was made in the University Council, but it had to pass through a disciplinary commission. That commission never existed,” complains Alejandra Centeno, a young woman expelled in spite of her academic excellence, and a member of University Action. Centeno also criticizes the fact that a Security Commission was created that did not exist in the University Council. “We do not know exactly who got the idea to expel the students, we think that the UNEN made the list and turned it in,” she denounced. The UNEN, she clarifies, is a member with voice and vote in the University Council.

Among the reasons to justify the expulsion of the students, the Special Commission alleged “having participated in barricades, use of devices for physical aggression, allowing the entry of people from outside the university, vandalistic behavior, calls for academic disobedience and inciting hate and violence.”

In addition, it prohibited those expelled from entering the campus again, threatening to file charges against them “in court.” At the end of the leaked sheet of paper is the detail: “cc (copy to): Ramona Rodríguez Pérez”, the President of the UNAN, who later was named president of the National University Council (CNU), the umbrella organization of higher education in Nicaragua.

“Publicly accepting that she expelled students who are opponents is openly accepting that you violated a human right, and that the State is not capable of ensuring education,” denounced Centeno.

Ramona Rodríguez, the key element within the UNAN.

If the repression against the students came to expulsions, the principal person responsible for allowing it – assess the students – is the President, Ramona Rodríguez, who in August 2019 was  named the new president of the National University Council (CNU).

“She goes into history as the worst president that the UNAN has had. There are videos where she appeared haranguing and threatening the students with taking away their scholarships if they participated in marches (…) and since then, some questions have been raised as to whether her nomination followed the criteria established by law to name or elect the president of the CNU. Her academic qualifications have been questioned, because the president of a university should be an academic par excellence, and she did not have the best academic attributes to be the president”, assesses Jorge Mendoza, President of the Forum on Education and Human Development (FEDH).

According to her academic profile published on the web site of the UNAN-Managua, Ramona Rodríguez has a Masters in Environment and Natural Resources, a specialization in Scientific Research Methodology, and a licentiate in Education Sciences. In addition, she was the Director of the Regional School of Estelí from 1994 to 2010. Then she was chosen as the General Vice President on the Managua campus, and since March 2015 has been the President of that campus.

REVISTA NIÚ requested an interview with the President of the UNAN and President of the CNU, Ramona Rodríguez, to get to know the official version of the university, but she has not responded to communications.

The academic and former President of the UNAN-León, and American University (UAM), Ernesto Medina, commented, “I do not know whether that woman sleeps peacefully, because of everything that is happening in her university and the CNU, because it is also a body that has lost the little prestige that it might have.” In his judgement Rodríguez “does not play any role in being concerned about higher education,” but rather in administering the 6% of the General Budget of the Republic that is shared among the universities as a reward or punishment, depending on their positions in respect to the Government. “In recent years – Medina criticizes – that has been her only concern.”

They violated procedures

The Student Discipline Regulations of the UNAN-Managua establish that when a student commits a serious offense – all the expulsions were justified in this way – the case should be taken to the Facultative Disciplinary Commission, which must notify the student in a period of three days, with the purpose of starting the investigation. Then, the case is taken to the Higher Disciplinary Commission, that has between 10-15 days to investigate and listen to the version of the student. And finally, both commissions deliberate and issue their verdict.

The student, adds the regulations, has the power to appeal to the President. Nevertheless, this procedure was not followed in the massive expulsion decided in August 2018 against more than a hundred university students, and none of them were notified of the accusation, nor of the verdict.

The youth denounced that in addition to being expelled, they lost the opportunity to take up their studies in other universities, because the authorities also refused to give them their certified academic records which even, in some cases, were completely erased from the records.

The takeover of campuses in protest

The takeover of universities, schools, churches and public buildings as a form of protest and resistance has been recorded for more than sixty years in Nicaragua. The ruling Sandinista Front, which through the control of the UNEN and the authorities of the UNAN in August 2018 pushed for the expulsion of at least 110 students after the protests that erupted in April of that year, also used the takeover of institutions and campuses.

“When I was a student (in the seventies) we did it several times to protest for the freedom of the political prisoners and, at that time, that was beautiful, marvelous, we were heroic; now we are vandals and coup supporters for doing what the youth have always done,” criticizes the academic Ernesto Medina, who was student and president of UNAN-León, and until November 2018, the president of the American University (UAM).

At that time, Medina recalls, the only expulsion was against two leaders of the University Center of the Autonomous University of Nicaragua (CUUN) in the León campus. In protest, the students took over the campus again, and the president was forced to allow them to return. Then, he adds, there was other takeovers, but there were no expulsions.

“In the times of university autonomy there were never expulsions for reasons of a political nature,” maintains the professor, former president of UNAN León, and ex Minister of Education, Carlos Tunnermann. “It did not even occur to either Dr. Mariano Fiallos (considered the father of university autonomy), nor to  I, to expel anyone,” he states.

Medina and Tunnermann agree today in the Civic Alliance opposition group, and while talking about the current expulsions against university students, they compared their own experience when they coincided in the León campus, Medina as a student and Tunnermann as the President.

In those years, Nicaragua was under another dictatorship, the Somoza one. Nevertheless, they state that in the universities the students had freedom of thought, and that was where they organized, protested and even raised money to send to the Sandinista Front.

On one occasion, remembers Medina, the students protested over a book. “In that book there was a chapter on the American Embassy, and that is why we ended up taking over the university. We went to sing a serenade to Dr. Tunnermann (then the President of the campus) and it never occurred to him to expel us. He knew who we were who were singing songs to him in front of his house. Even more, when there were problems within the university, we would pull out the benches and block the street. And the authorities would show up to talk to us,” he relates.

University autonomy, approved in 1958, is hamstrung with the new dictatorship that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo lead. The public universities are controlled from within by the tentacles of the regime: the UNEN, the Sandinista Workers Center, the Provincial Sandinista Committees and the university authorities who are strategically chosen by the party to follow their guidelines.

A researcher of educational issues, María Josefina Vijil, assesses that “education in Nicaragua is suffering” at all levels, because it has become partisan. “Many youth have told us that the public universities are like a big prison: you cannot come on a day when you do not have classes, they have lowered the amount of class hours to keep the students from meeting among themselves, and a ton of repressive measures to keep them from organizing. The University – she laments – has become a repressive institution for the youth.”

The University Students Expelled by the Dictatorship of Daniel Ortega

University students led the uprising in April 2018, but also, like peasants, are a group whose experience and perspectives receive less coverage in the media. This article, the first of two, appeared in the online magazine NIU. 

The University Students Expelled by the Dictatorship of Daniel Ortega

By Keyling T. Romero and Franklin Villavicencio, published in online journal “Niu”, January 2020

[original Spanish]

At least 110 students in Nicaragua were expelled from the UNAN[1] for protesting against Daniel Ortega. Four young people share their testimony to this “academic death”. In the UNA[2], another 43 were sanctioned.

Artiz Báez, 21 years of age, would be graduating this year. At the beginning of April 2018 he was in the fourth year majoring in English, in the Multidisciplinary Regional School of Chontales of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). But without notice he lost everything. At the end of August 2018, he got into the online system of the university to verify his academic status, and he found an unexpected message: “Expelled, Special Commission, Gross Misconduct”.

Báez cannot appeal that verdict of “academic death” to which another hundred students from the UNAN campuses have been condemned, because the expulsion also includes a prohibition from entering the campus, nor does it seem safe for many students to try to get close to campus.

Elthon Rivera, a fourth-year medical student, who this year would be doing his internship, is another one of those expelled from the UNAN, and he cannot even attempt to continue his major in another alma mater. “You cannot get your academic record personally. You might be able to do it through an intermediary or through a power of attorney. I and other people were able to get it that way. But recently they told several students that they are not providing them. And even though in my case they did give me my grades, they did not want to give me other documents, like the breakdown of all the classes. And to be able to study in other universities they ask you for that. In fact, I had applied to another university in Honduras, but the UNAN was closed to providing any type of information,” he lamented.

NIU Magazine built its own database on those expelled from the different campuses of the UNAN in Nicaragua. Testimonial information was used which some expelled students provided, as well as records from student movements and the opposition group Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which were verified with the students and information from journalistic sources. The database confirms that at least 110 university students were expelled, most from the campus of Managua where Economic Science majors study.

The investigation confirmed that 61% of the expelled students were in the fourth and fifth year in their majors. In other words, in 2020 they would be graduating or writing their senior theses. Another 21% of the students were in their third year, and now would be in the last year of their studies. Most of those expelled, at least 75%, were students from the Managua campus, 16% were from the León campus, and another 9% were studying in the Regional Schools of Matagalpa, Carazo, Chontales and Estelí.

The first massive expulsion in the academic history of Nicaragua

The expelled students who have organized still have not been able to make progress  in their return to the university. One group started a judicial process against the UNAN, but it did not succeed. In the beginning of 2019, there was an approach made to members of the UNEN[3] who participated in the Negotiation Table, between February and March, but there were no agreements.

“Our idea was to present this list (of the expelled) to Luis Andino (national president of the UNEN) in order to get the grades of these young people, because many of them do not have their grades”, said Alejandra Centeno, an expelled student from the UNAN, in spite of having academic excellence. Andino, said Centeno, told them that he already had the list, except for the data from León, but the next day he suspended the negotiating table and, says Centeno, “broke off any communication channel with the UNEN.”

Students expelled and sanctioned in the Agrarian University

The wave of massive expulsions that occurred in the UNAN was replicated some weeks later in the National Agrarian University (UNA), another house of studies that expelled four students, suspended nine for a year, and punished 23 students who rebelled during the elections of the UNEN in that campus with the cancelation of their scholarship for one year, at the end of November in 2019, according to Darry Hernández, a former student of the UNA who has the records of 36 students.

The “crime” of the youth was denouncing that the UNEN did not represent them, and that they were not in agreement with the fact that their representatives were perpetuated in their posts. The students received the news through some letters which mentioned the cause and the punishment. Nevertheless, like in the UNAN, there were not notified during the case analysis process.

“The punishment was based on cases of very serious indiscipline on Tuesday the 26th and Wednesday the 27th of November of that year (2019), in which you actively participated. A call for reflection is made to you as a professional of the agricultural sector, to take advantage of the opportunity that you are being given in this educational institution,” quoted the letter.

University attrition

  Also, in 2018 there was large amount of academic attrition in the universities, because added to the expulsions were student disobedience and forced migration due to the violence that the State imposed on the students.

“In terms of student attrition, the withdrawal of 22 students per each 100 is evident in 2018, a lot higher than the 7 students per each 100 of the final registration in 2017,” admitted the management report for 2018 of the UNAN-Managua, which only dedicated these lines to the increase in the percentage of inter-annual student attrition.

A figure which, in addition, would be larger if the data that was published in the National University Council (CNU) was analyzed in its accountability report for 2018. Because comparing initial registration to the final registration in the campuses of Managua and León, there was a 27% rate of academic attrition.

NIU MAGAZINE talked with four students banished from the UNAN campuses. Yaritza Rostrán, an undergraduate political science student and also a former political prisoner; Language and Literature student, Melkin Castillo; Social Work student Heyling Marenco; and Political Science and International Relations student Enrique Orozco, they recount how they experienced their “academic death” and the challenges they face to try to resume their studies.

Yaritza Rostrán: “It is difficult to think about the future when you don´t have anything.”

She lost her career, and her family circle was jailed for criticizing the regime. As a student she wanted to create youth dialogue tables, which she ended up cobbling together in the April protests.

Before the April protests and being expelled from her university, Yaritza Rostrán had her project for finishing her studies clear: she would create a youth organization capable of getting involved in politics and having an impact on the decisions of the Government. Essentially it would be a dialogue table of youth from different parts of Nicaragua.

But that university project to get her degree in Political Science turned into a real necessity, that started in the streets and under fire.

Yaritza has not been able to graduate, because they expelled her from the UNAN, Managua, and she spent seven months in prison. The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo accused her of terrorism and illegal possession of weapons. In reality, she reflects, she formed student tables, organized movements and worked on an agenda to demand attention to university demands. In essence she did her project, carried along by the circumstances of a country in crisis where the students were barricaded in their campuses, to deal with the system of their universities and the State itself.

“From the 21st (of April, 2018) I was out in the streets trying to organize the students. The boys had a certain amount of reticence, because at that time there was so much commotion that they did not think about organizing for a referendum within the UNAN, but about protesting,” she remembers. While the youth protested and were barricaded in the campuses in reaction to the massacre ordered by the regime, on April 26 the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice (CUDJ) was created, one of the student movements that unites different university movements. Likewise, the face of Yaritza became public with the CUDJ. She was frequently seen on TV, reading press releases, or being a spokesperson for those barricaded in the UNAN. Thinking about a referendum to challenge the UNEN gave meaning to her struggle, and for that reason the students had to be in the classrooms.

On May 7th Yaritza called for the university students to sign the referendum against the UNEN, but the students decided to barricade themselves.

The day that she swore to never get involved in politics

The career of Political Science came into Yaritza´s life by accident. She wanted to study International Trade, but we not able to pay for a private education. The word “political” bothered her, and she even swore not to get involved in it.

She was in the third year of high school and was a member of the Sandinista Youth, when she learned that the party would impose one of her fellow students as the president of the Federation of Secondary Students (FES). Yaritza was opposed, and for expressing her discontent, was accused of betrayal, expelled from the movement, and was forever disillusioned.

“I felt completely disillusioned. Not just because of the corruption, but because of the intolerance that they practiced, issues that went against what I believed. I distanced myself from everything, and I said that I would never get close to politics,” she remembers.

She broke that oath on April 19th when the student protests against the regime of Daniel Ortega  broke out, and the National Agrarian University, and the National Engineering University, joined the protests.

“For me it was the straw that broke the camel´s back. I could not remain indifferent, I had to take to the streets. It was shocking, because I never thought that the Police were going to shoot like that,” she relates, ten months after being released from jail.

Imprisonment

August 25, 2018 Yaritza was leaving a march in León along with students Nahiroby Olivas, Byron Estrada, Luis Quiroz, Levi Rugama and Victoria Obando, when the National Police detained all of them. For three days they accused them of terrorism, possession of weapons, and burning the University Center of the National University (CUUN), where Christian Emilio Cadenas was burned to death on April 20.

“After the abduction we did not know about anything,” she explains. The role that Yaritza had within the movement, which was continuing with the student organization, was put on pause on being imprisoned. She was an important pillar.

The days that Yaritza spent in cell number four of “La Esperanza” women´s prison were “hardly bearable”. The inhumane treatment and the lack of medical attention are the worst memories that she has about that place. Under those circumstances, in December she received upsetting news. Her mother, in one of the visits to the prison, told her that she had been able to verify in the system that she was expelled.

“They never clarified the reason for my expulsion,” she states.

She was released on March 15, 2019 and rejoined the CUDJ and University Action. She is prohibited from setting foot in the UNAN, but she is clear that her contribution to the organization has been key for the grassroots of the university movement.

“It is difficult to think about the future when you have nothing. I lost my university major…the possibility of going back to my family, my circle,” she laments. “The only thing that I have clear is that I am resisting, and as much as I can in the way that I can,” she adds.

Yaritza demands that the university clarify for her and the dozens of expelled students the unexplained reasons for their expulsion.

“It would be a form of justice, at least,” she pronounced. This is the other personal struggle that Yaritza is just beginning.

Melkin Castillo: “I was going to be the first graduate from my family”

She was in the last year of Language and Literature when they expelled her from her university. The insecurity and lack of opportunities in Nicaragua forced her to go into exile.

Asking a student of Language and Literature about their favorite book can be complicated terrain. But Melkin Castillo is clear about it. “One hundred years of solitude”, he instantly responds, without hesitation, as if he had the response ready to an almost existential doubt for a student of Literature.

-There is a part when Aureliano went to war that he says “from now on do not call me Aurelito, now I am Colonel Aureliano Buendía”, quotes Melkin on the phone call from Tijuana, Mexico- To a certain extent I identify with that.

It is the last phrase of the fifth chapter of the work of Gabriel García Márquez, one of the many Latin American authors that he read before being expelled from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in August 2018.

He identifies with the quote, not because he is a colonel, or because he has won some war – rather he has already lost a lot – nearly 4,000 kilometers away he feels like he as aged “four years” in a matter of months.

A dream in Mulukukú

When Melkin was 14 years old, he dreamt about studying Medicine in Managua. He was the first in his family that could dream that. He lived in Mulukukú, a territory that in the end of the 80s was marked by the war between Sandinistas and Contras.

The dream was fulfilled, in part. He did not stay in Medicine, because he did not pass the exam, but his second option, which was Language and Literature, captivated him along the way. Melkin states that he always was the best student in his high school, but the educational system had deficiencies that cost him at the university level.

In his fifth year, Melkin achieved academic excellence. His grades were above 90. That same year they also expelled him from his university without receiving any notification, and without the right to defend himself, without guarantees of a fair process. They expelled him because he joined the massive student protests of April 2018 against the regime of Daniel Ortega.

Melkin did not grow up with a favorable view of the Sandinista Front. Some of his relatives were counterrevolutionaries of the 80s, and that formed in him some historical distrust, marked by the stories of his parents and aunts and uncles. It was in his university years that he formed his own opinion. In those years he came face to face with student corruption, on seeing that one of his classmates, the representative of the National Union of Nicaraguan Students (UNEN), never showed up for classes, but always got good grades.

“I became aware of the corrupt structure that existed within the universities and the fraud that they represented,” he recounts.

And he experienced it first- hand on April 19. That afternoon, Melkin and a group of classmates planned a protest at the UNAN. They took everything for it. On leaving class, they met in one of the fields of the campus. There they pulled out signs with anti-government messages, but before they could shout the first slogan, a group from the Sandinista Youth (JS) pounced on them.  That day they were out with all the warnings. Winds of rebellion were in the air.

“Respect the university!”, said one of the JS to them.

“We are not showing disrespect, we have the right to protest!”, replied the insurgent students.

The presence of bats, mortars and rocks was the signal that made them react. The youth, under threats, left the campus.

“The intention was not just to remove us,  but attack us and do damage our physical safety. It looked like they were at war,” remembers Melkin. “On that day I came face to face with raw violence. I told myself there was no return from here.”

A decade of the Sandinista Government had been broken with vibrations from bullets on the night of April 19th. That day three people died: the policeman Hilton Manzanares, the worker Darwin Urbina, and the student Richard Pavón.

Melkin began to coordinate protests through Whatsapp and Telegram groups. The university students organized from night to morning to press for their own demands, and use university autonomy as their standard that, they maintain, fell into decline in the last decades under the mandate of Daniel Ortega.

“We spent two weeks organizing the entire student calendar. We formed commissions on communication, logistics, policy, in order to have a structure.”

Melkin went from Aurelito to Aureliano in a matter of months. From writing literary essays till daybreak, he went to writing press releases and political agendas. Fear was mixed with euphoria. “Being in the UNAN was living on borrowed time,” he says about those days.

Days that did not last long. The student movement received brutal blows. One of them was July 13, when para-police groups lashed out against the youth barricaded in the UNAN.

And then, if that was not enough punishment, a month later they expelled a hundred students. Melkin was one of them. He realized it in October, when he got into the web system and saw that his student record said “Grave Expulsion”.

“Seeing all that process thrown in the garbage hurt me, and the process of my entire family, because I was going to be the first to graduate,” he relates as his voice cracks unavoidably.

In the end he left Nicaragua on December 25, for his safety and in search of new opportunities. He arrived in Guatemala where he spent two weeks, crossed into Mexico by raft, and was in Chiapas for four months with a humanitarian visa. In Guadalajara he was supported by a friend and now remains in Tijuana.

But his journey has not ended. He thinks about continuing his path north, because he believes that this region is so troubled that it has nothing to offer.

“If I stay here, I am going to sink even lower. I have to continue moving ahead,” states Melkin from Tijuana, one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, but ironically safer for him than his own country.

Heyling Marenco: “The University was my life project”

The third- year student of Social Work in the FAREM-Matagalpa, way before April joined an alliance against  corruption in the UNEN. After the protests, she left her home and country because of threats she received.

The last time that Heyling Marenco saw her father was in May 2018, when he took her to the bus terminal in Matagalpa. It was a fleeting good-by. She had only two changes of clothing with her. And he, at that time, was not appraising the protests that were emerging daily in the country, and nor did he understand why they attacked his daughter so much, until she decided to leave the city of her birth.

“Have you done something bad?”, he asked her before she got on the bus.

“I haven´t done anything more than protest and denounce what is happening,” his daughter was able to say to him.

“Well, let me know when you get back”, he responded anxiously, but that has not happened.

Three weeks before Heyling, along with a group of students from the Multidisciplinary Regional School of Matagalpa, took over their university campus for two days, as a protest against the deaths and attacks of the National Police against students throughout the country. This was enough for her name and face to appear on the list of student enemies of the regime, that the leaders of the National Union of Nicaraguan Students (UNEN) prepared and presented, and in August 2018 that caused her expulsion from her university studies for a major offense.

“When the UNAN announced the people who were expelled, I fell into a depression. I felt that the whole world was falling in around me. I was discouraged. I became aware of it because when I saw on the social networks that they had expelled several students from Managua, I got into the system, and the first thing that I saw was a message that said “Expulsion for serious offense”. They did not give me any explanation. For me this is clear, it was because of the UNEN,” she relates as she drinks a cup of coffee in San José, Costa Rica, where she had to go into exile.

Allied against the corruption of the UNEN

Heyling´s struggle against  corruption and inequality started several years before. As an adolescent she joined several social movements that defended the right of sexual diversity and feminism. That is why when she had to choose what to study, she was attracted to social work, in spite of the fact that her family did not think it was a good idea.

“The university was my life project. It was everything that I had. I knew that I was going to do well, because I was and am in love with my major. I know that I can be a young woman creator of changes,” she explains.

In her first years, Heyling was completely focused on her major and her activism. In the mornings she studied, and in the afternoons she would go out with her group to carry out social projects in communities of Matagalpa. Her principal economic support was her family. And she would have continued in this way, if it was not because the corruption of the UNEN angered her so much, that she decided to cause a change in the system.

“In 2017 I made a request to get support for transportation, and I realized that it was very difficult for them to give you a scholarship. There was a lot of cronyism. Everything was distributed among the students from the UNEN. And in the university everyone knew that only if you are on the inside can you access support, and, well I was never going to belong to that space,” she says.

It was then that she allied with other university students who disavowed that student movement, and began to question the work of the UNEN, the Orteguista arm within the public universities.

“That year a group of us young people met, who today are those who were expelled, we worked on opening the eyes of the student population that there were other ways to participate within the university, and we were also preparing ourselves for 2018, given that there were elections of the UNEN and academic authorities.” Nevertheless, plans changed when the social explosion against the dictatorship occurred.

Into exile with empty hands

On August 4, 2018, after months of attacks and persecution against her and her family, Heyling Marenco left Nicaragua by trails. Without a passport. Without money. Without plans. She only had on a pair of shorts and a shirt in a backpack.

“In Matagalpa a printed photo of me began to circulate. A friend warned me that some paramilitaries were out asking about me in the market. And it was then that I decided to leave. I remember that the day before I cried the entire night because I did not know what I was going to do here. I have no family here. I had nothing,” she says.

Two weeks later, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) made a letter public where they stated that, after an investigation that the Special Commission of the University Council did from August 7-20, 2018, they decided to expel for very serious offenses those who participated in barricades and the take-over of the UNAN-Managua campus. Hours later, dozens of students from all the campuses of that university denounced more expulsions.

“I have thought about continuing to study, but to do so, I have to start from zero because universities ask for a certified copy of your grades, and I do not have them. Nor can I ask for a scholarship in another country, because I do not have a passport, and when I requested one before coming here, they did not want to give me one. So I cannot do anything. And I tell you I have one foot in Costa Rica and the other foot in Nicaragua. And that is hard -she states – because what is happening there does not let you concentrate on your survival here.”

Enrique Orozco: “Those responsible for my expulsion were from the UNEN”

He was in the second year of his second major, and on being expelled, lost all that he worked for. Now, in exile, he is trying to start another major, with the goal of returning to Nicaragua.

From one day to the next Enrique Orozco lost everything for which he had struggled. His university career, his freedom as a citizen, and the possibility of paying his Mom back for all the efforts she had made up to then so that he could study.

“I had made a promise to my Mom. I told her, ´you are going to have a son who is a professional. You are going to have a son who is going to graduate.´ She had made every effort for my brother and I. She has sold mangos, what has she not sold?! And that was what most motivated me when I entered the university,” he says.

And he was on the point of finishing. Because he graduated from high school as the second best student in the country, he earned a scholarship for academic excellence in the Central American University, where he began to study Law, and passed the admissions test to the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), where that same year, 2017, he started his second major in Political Science and International Relations.

Nevertheless, in April 2018 his plans fell apart, because of joining the student protests. His academic record was eliminated, and due to the threats and attacks against his family, he had to go into exile in Costa Rica, where he is attempting to start once again.

“Those responsible for my expulsion were from the UNEN. And I know, because in Facebook I had a discussion with the president of my school, and he put up a comment that said, “we are expelling you because you participated in the burning of the Arlen Siu preschool.” Afterwards they erased those comments, and I could no longer do a screen capture of them,” he denounced.

The dual struggle of Enrique

His university expulsion was the last blow that the party arm of the Government brought against him. Because Enrique had challenged them for some years now. First, he did it in secondary school, when he accused a high school teacher of sexual harassment, and later when he challenged the leaders of the UNEN.

“In spite of the fact that in 2016 I graduated as the second-best student in the country, the Ministry of Education said that I had carried out fraud in order to deny me my diploma. That was because I had denounced a professor for having abused a LGTB classmate. That professor was Sandinista. And I had to confront them, until in the end they gave me a letter that certified me as a graduate to be able to enter the university,” says Orozco, who is a sexual diversity activist.

In the university he had several confrontations with the UNEN leaders and Sandinista teachers. First, because they refused to give him food vouchers, and because he constantly criticized the political ideology that they also tried to impose on the students.

“During that time there were moments when I put up with hunger because I did not have any money. At times I would walk from the UCA to the UNAN to save bus fare. I spent hours in the library studying because I did not have money to buy books. It was very difficult and even so, they did not want to help me with food vouchers,” he says.

In 2018 his situation changed. When the student protests sprang up, Enrique decided to barricade himself in the Agrarian University, where he had a lot of friends and people he knew. There he was wounded in the arm by a rubber bullet.

“I felt safer in the university than I did in my home, because I knew that if I returned, the paramilitaries would arrest or kill me. I tell you that during this time they beat my brother on two occasions, and the Police detained my Mom for two days and asked her where I was. She had to tell them that she did not know anything about me, that months before she had run me out of the house for being a homosexual.”

“I lost years of my life”

From August 20, 2018 to now, Enrique Orozco has not received any communication from the UNAN-Managua, where they explained to him why he was expelled from his major. And nor has he approached the campus, because, according to the letter where they decided the expulsions, all were also prohibited from entering the campus, under the threat of filing charges against them.

“The expulsion affected me psychologically, because I feel that I lost something for which I had been fighting, I lost years of my life. And it also limits me a lot from looking for other universities here in exile, because I do not have my grades, and in addition I would need the academic curriculum, the course syllabi, and the UNAN refuses to give me that information,” he states.

Nevertheless, not everything is lost for him. A few weeks ago he was able to finish some exams that allowed him to receive a Costa Rican diploma. With that he plans to apply for a scholarship in a private university there.

“Now I am going to study systems engineering. Because I am completely disillusioned with politics. I could continue studying Law, but if I study it here, it will be Costa Rican law, and it won´t help me – he comments -because I plan on returning to Nicaragua.”

[1] UNAN = National Autonomous University of Nicaragua

[2] UNA = National Agrarian University

[3] UNEN = National Union of Students of Nicaragua

 Freddy Navas: “Arnoldo Alemán should be in jail”

The peasant and student movements are the principal movements behind the uprising, the peasant movement first starting in June 2013, when they organized against the canal project. They then decided to support the student movement in April 2018. Both of them have paid a heavy price for their opposition, yet their views receive less publicity in the media, and issues have been raised about their representation in opposition alliance bodies. This interview of a peasant leader, who also was a political prisoner, touches on these issues.

 Freddy Navas: “Arnoldo Alemán should be in jail”

By Ana Cruz in La Prensa, Sunday January 25, 2020

[original article in Spanish]

The leader of the Peasant Anti-Canal Movement reveals the origins of the internal conflicts of the group, the discontent with the groups that compose the National Coalition, and the strategies that they are implementing to confront the regime of Daniel Ortega.

Before the April 2018 protests started, Freddy Navas had a peaceful life in the countryside. He planted watermelons, rice and beans on Ometepe Island, Rivas, and on some rented land in Malacatoya, Granada. His experience with social protests comes from more than 90 marches that the Peasant Anti-Canal Movement held since 2014. He supported the demonstrations of 2018, and that is why he spent 7 months in jail, where he was tortured and treated poorly.

In this interview he talks about his participation in the peasant struggle for the repeal of Law 840, the Canal Law, the problems that emerged within this entire struggle of the Peasant Movement, the difficulties that he experienced after supporting the April protests, and the perception he has about the new National Coalition, which he states he will not be a part of until they finish consulting their bases. He states, nevertheless, that the former president Arnoldo Alemán “has nothing to do” with a Coalition, because he should “be investigated and pass his last days in jail.”

How did the Peasant Anti-Canal Movement come to be formed?

The first marches happened first in Tolesmaida and Ometepe Island, in Rivas, in which I participated. Almost immediately they were replicated in El Tule and Nueva Guinea. Small marches took place, small ones, but each in their own place, in their communities. I only went to the ones in Rivas. On November 26, 2014 the Fundación del Río called the leaders from nearly all the zones together, and we met in a hotel in Managua. In that meeting we talked about uniting into one movement, and from there came the name National Council in Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty. Lombardo Madríz proposed that, from Juigalpa, Chontales.

Who at that moment represented the Peasant Movement?

There were 23 of us. Octavio Ortega Arana was elected as coordinator of the Council.

Were Francisca Ramírez and Medardo Mairena part of that National Council?

Yes. There were Octavio Ortega, Medardo Mairena, Pedro Meno, Nemesio Mejía and myself in that founding moment at that time. Doña Francisca Ramírez also was within that National Council.

In terms of the members of the Peasant Movement, were there former members of the Nicaraguan Contras or Resistance among your members?

Yes. Gilberto Gadea, from La Fonseca, we know that he was part of the Contras back then. I know that in the territories, yes there were many peasants who were from the Contras and they joined this struggle against the expropriation of our lands.

How did it help, the fact that people with this type of experience in the fight against the Sandinista Front joined the Peasant Anti-Canal Movement?

It was not something premeditated that they were with us in this fight for our lands. What happened is that they also saw themselves affected by what Law 840 stipulates, so among us peasants we do not have any problem, because one problem united us, one struggle.

What united you then to the struggle that was triggered in April 2018? How is it that you decided to participate?

At that time, we had scheduled holding a march in a place called Punta Gorda (in the Southern Caribbean of Nicaragua), and we were doing all the planning for the costs of the demonstration. So, when April 18 and 19 happened, we began to call one another, and we talked about what was happening. April 21 was a decisive day, and we agreed that we would call the communities to inform them that we were going to get ready to join the current protests where university students were being killed.

What was the first march that the peasants supported?

The one what we came to in mass (in Managua) was the one called by the Church (April 26, 2018) to ask for peace in Nicaragua. We went in trucks, and we even stayed and slept in Managua to leave the next morning. Then we joined all of them, many from their territories. Even though in our more than 90 marches they had not supported us, we felt the obligation to support them in their demands for respect for the same rights that the government was denying us.

What was the hardest thing you experienced as a Peasant Movement in those years that you indicated you were not supported by the population that was not affected by Law 840?

One of the hardest events for our members happened on December 21, 2014 when they inaugurated the Interoceanic Canal project, and we decided to put up the first roadblocks. We put up barricades in El Tule, in Nueva Guinea and in Rivas. Those actions had as a consequence that we had several people wounded, beaten and several were detained and taken to El Chipote (Judicial Support Office in Managua), but all were freed.

Did those peasants who were detained and taken to El Chipote suffer any type of torture?

Yes, I remember that one of the members of the Council in Rivas had their whole family detained. Octavio Ortega, who was the coordinator, came out with a broken arm and swollen eyes. One of the peasants from El Tule had to resign, because he suffered serious consequences from the beating they gave him, and we gave up Lener Fonseca for dead, who was not part of the Council but was already in the protests against the Canal.

The peasants seem to be united in these years of struggle, but now several discrepancies have emerged between leaders like Medardo Mairena and Francisca Ramírez. What is your opinion of each of them?

In the case of Doña Francisca Ramírez, we undeniably elected her. Octavio Ortega finished his period, and we elected her. We did a tremendous work, but those who went out to the terrain to organize was another team that she was not a part of, and it was not just in the canal strip, but included northern Nicaragua. Time went by and there had to be a change. We elected Medardo Mairena, and since he was a man, we put in two women as coordinators, but then the first problem emerged.

What problem?

The problem was that Monica López said that she was not an advisor to the Peasant Movement, but that she was the adviser to Doña Francisca Ramírez, so the differences began. Through the Articulation of Movements began a media attack against the new leadership of the Council. An entire smear campaign happened against several from the Council.

The problem started then, when Monica López withdrew, and said that she was not an advisor to the Peasant Movement, but to Francisca Ramírez?

Yes. She (Monica) did not like the change that was made from Doña Francisca to Medardo, because she said that he came from the liberal tendency, that supported the pact, that we were followers of Arnoldo Alemán.

Besides Ramírez and López, did the members of the Peasant Movement at some occasion show a certain distrust over the political currents that Medardo Mairena supported at one time, who ended up being a regional councilperson of the PLC?

No. The truth is that when Medardo Mairena entered the Peasant Movement he was already a regional councilperson, given that up until very recently he was unknown by Nicaraguans. Medardo was noticed when he became a leader of the National Council. A media campaign began through communications media that was promoted by Monica López. It was a dirty campaign against us, they accused us of being Liberals, of supporting Arnoldo Alemán, but it did not work.

You said that Francisca Ramírez, consciously or unconsciously, tried to dismantle the Peasant Movement. Is Francisca Ramírez part of the Movement or not, after what you think she tried to do?

We cannot say that she ceases to be a peasant. She was a great leader, and the work that the people coordinate in the territories is not noticed much. She now says that she is an environmentalist and, well, we cannot say anything about that.

Do you have contact with her?

The truth is very little. I do not have her [phone] number, but we know that she is in exile, and that she suffered a lot when she was out in the struggle.

Have you tried at some point to smooth things over between Mairena and Ramírez for the good of the Peasant Movement?

Yes, many times. Once, since they did not believe us that we were taking it to heart, we took two people from her place as witnesses and guarantors, to demonstrate that we were acting in good faith. It was in Nueva Guinea around the end of 2017, maybe a little before. We talked about the conflict, and we clarified that we were not, and are not, spies of Alemán, that we do not obey the PLC (Liberal Constitutionalist Party).

I notice that you included yourself when you referred to the fact that they accused Medardo Mairena of supporting Arnoldo Alemán. Were you a member of the PLC, or currently are a member of some party?

I include myself because they accused me as well of supporting the PLC, they said that I was the one who carried the messages. But I have never belonged to any party. I was not involved in politics, until now that I see myself immersed in this upheaval. I have never been immersed in politics or a political party.

You talked to me about pressure from Monica López on Francisca Ramírez, but did they feel at some time that Medardo Mairena was being pressured by the PLC? Did he at some time try to implant liberal ideas or ideas of Arnoldo?

Octavio Ortega, the first one who coordinated the Peasant Movement, was from the MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement) and never tried to take us to that party. When Francisca Ramírez was in that position, in spite of the fact that we had good relations with the movements of the Articulation of Monica López, she did not take us either to be a member of that. Medardo also did not try to take us or implant the ideas of the PLC, never ever. I am one of the most critical people of political parties, and I can assure you that they have not tried to impose on us the figure of Arnoldo Alemán.

By the way, what is your opinion of Arnoldo Alemán?

I think that he is a man who should be in jail for all the acts of corruption that he has committed.

Talking about jail, how was it for you the moment that they detained you?

I do not know how my [upcoming] detention leaked out. I just arrived home, and I received a call from someone who I completely trusted who said to me, “There is an arrest warrant against you, where are you? Come here where I am, because I am sure that they are going to come for you. Leave the country.” I responded that I had not done anything wrong, and twenty minutes later they came to take me. Police, paramilitaries came, and they say that they had the entire block surrounded.

Were you alone when the detention occurred? Did they beat you?

No. I was with my wife at home in Managua, and I said good-by to her. I broke the cellphone, while they were taking the padlocks off the principal gate. They came in and disputed everything. They beat me. There were so many punches that they broke my ribs and nose, I was left unconscious and that is how they got me into the patrol car. They took away a car that I had parked there, and took me directly to El Chipote.

How long were you in El Chipote?

Two and a half months, from November 17, 2018 to January 29, 2019.

Did they torture you in El Chipote?

Yes, they locked me up naked in a dark isolation cell that left me nearly blind. They took me out for interrogations on 15 occasions.

What did they ask you in those interrogations?

The same (questions) that they asked the others. They asked me who financed me, who gave us orders, who gave us money and that type of things. They asked me to record a video, and that I blame others in order to be freed, that if we did not do it, then we were going to rot there in jail. That was in the first days. Later they left me alone in the isolation cell until they moved me, the very day of my birthday (January 30), to La Modelo[1].

Did the conditions change in the Penitentiary System?

It was better because I had more accompaniment, even though there (in La Modelo) I realized that I was nearly blind. Now I cannot read without glasses because of the damage that it did to me to be in the dark for so long.

Did they torture you in La Modelo?

They did not beat me as such, but I was a witness to the suffering and beatings that the guards gave to other political prisoners.

What was the worst moment that you experienced in La Modelo?

That fatal May 16, when they killed Eddy Montes. I remember that with Don Eddy we used to play chess in the afternoons, but at 3pm we had a group that prayed the Divine Mercy, so, that day that they killed him, he stayed playing chess while I went to pray the Divine Mercy. I was in the quarters and I heard them shouting, “They shot one, they shot one!” The young people took off running to try to give medical assistance to Don Eddy. It was hard for all of us.

What happened after the death of Don Eddy Montes?

On May 20 they released the first political prisoners. We all began to “lower the gas” on protests, because we were fewer, and we began to believe that we could go free, but we continued to be filled with sadness, with grief.

When were you released?

I left on June 11. I left with the group which Medardo Mairena and Pedro Meno were in. They got us up at 3 am, they put us on little buses, and they left me in my home in Managua.

Are you harassed now that you are a former political prisoner? Is the harassment worse in the countryside?

The harassment is all the time. I go to church, and most of the time I know that they are watching me. I change churches, and I see them again there. Patrol cars pass by my house. I went to Radio Corporación, and they sent four patrol cards the moment that I left. The truth is that that affects you psychologically, even living in Managua, because in the countryside one suffers worse. As a member of the Peasant Movement I have known cases where the Army of Nicaragua has been used to harass peasant families who oppose this regime. In the countryside when they harass you, what you do is abandon the land, abandon the farms, because there is a lot of fear that they might come back and kill you.

How many deaths have you counted as a result of this harassment and persecution against peasant opponents of the regime of Daniel Ortega?

We have counted more than 100 peasants murdered in the context of this crisis that started in April 2018. Those who have been murdered in one way or another have been leaders or opponents of this Government, not just members of the Peasant Movement. We have cases that were not publicly disclosed but were reported to us as a Movement.

Do you have any data on the number of those in exile?

No, we have a record as such, but we know that the great majority of those exiled are peasants. I would dare to say that half of the total number of exiles are from peasant families. They are people who have fled because of the harassment, because in the countryside they do not pursue you to jail you, or interrogate you, no. In the countryside they look for you to eliminate you or rape you. This is difficult to document because many people do not publicly denounce it. Many choose to bury their dead quietly. It is because of these types of things that as peasants we are united, fighting for our rights.

In terms of unity, what is your opinion of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance? What is the relationship like between the Peasant Movement, and the recently announced National Coalition, which we know that you are not yet a part of?

When we were prisoners, we learned that the Civic Alliance and other groups came out with that National Unity. We understood how they (the Alliance) gave birth to, or created, the UNAB[2]. But then this group (UNAB) went above the Civic Alliance. We were released (former prisoners) and we saw that the UNAB was the renovated left of Nicaragua. Now, we were already part of the Civic Alliance, which has not been easy for us, because it is composed of several businessmen who applauded and were in China applauding the Great Canal Project, nevertheless, we accepted being there because we want a civic and peaceful solution to the crisis that the country is experiencing.

You refer to the fact that it has been difficult being within the Alliance. Do they not give you the spaces you want in decision making?

Yes, we have always said that, and it can be seen in the press conferences that they do. You never see a peasant in the principal seats, they only leave us at the end of the table, sometimes they do not fit and are left standing, or simply they have to stand with the public. Many times, we do not participate because of that lack of inclusion. Many times, we do not even know what it is that they propose be signed. So, it is not easy. We have wanted to have unity, but not how they predicate it or other people, who only say unity, unity.

Does this mean then that you do not intend to be within that great Coalition?

What we mean to say is that we are going to explain to our bases the options that they have. This foundational alliance that they want to put on whoever enters or leaves, when many have dark pasts, is not fully satisfactory for us. We are saying that we are open to all.

You say that as a Peasant Movement you are open to all, does this mean being open to accepting people who have been widely recognized for acts of corruption and alliances with Daniel Ortega himself?

We have always said that there is no saint without a past, nor sinner without a future, and from 2018 to now, I believe that this is a different Nicaragua. I believe that every organization has to be completely different to what it was given what has happened from 2018 to now.  The people know and recognize who is who. Here there are people who died, and others who are in exile or in prison for having provided a bag of water. Meanwhile there are many who say that they represent us, who were never in a barricade or participated in protests.

I want to insist, does this mean that you would accept as the Peasant Movement people like, for example, Arnoldo Alemán, within a proposal for a Coalition?

What has Arnoldo Alemán done from April 2018 to now? Nothing.

So do you see his presence acceptable because he was not in charge of repression?

No. I say that he has not done anything. I cannot judge people for their past, I can judge them for their present. But Arnoldo Alemán does not have anything to do in a National Coalition. What has to happen with him is that he should be investigated and go back to pass his final years to jail.

What does it mean then the “non-exclusion” that you propose as the Peasant Movement?

Not excluding the bases who were from “x” or “y” current. Not necessarily the leaders, because they must pay for their acts of corruption. That is why we are telling our people the options that they have.

What options are you presenting to them?

We are telling them that they have in the UNAB a renovated left or socialism, and in the Alliance professionalism, multi-linguists, people who speak several languages and representatives of big capital. We are telling them that if they decide for one, we are going there, but if they say that we as peasants should be leading, well, there we will see if the others will have the decency to let us lead.

If they tell you that they want the three of you in one joint effort?

We are going to accept whatever the people say.

When do you plan on finishing these consultations that will help you to decide whether to join the National Coalition?

We do not want to go beyond November without having the results of our consultations.

Before that, you will not be part of the National Coalition?

No. We are part of the Civic Alliance. We are autonomous and independent. We are going to wait to see what our bases from the Peasant Movement tell us. Until we see real and true love for country with respect to all Nicaraguans, until we see that they quit fighting over personal interests, we will continue doing our consultations with the bases of the Peasant Movement. For our part we are going to respect what the bases tell us.

Personal Plane

Freddy Navas, 55 years of age, was jailed for seven months for protesting against the Ortega regime.

He was born on January 30, 1965 in Ometepe Island, Rivas.  In the 80s he tried to study sociology, but he was required to do obligatory military service, which is why he was not able to attain his dream. He is the father of three children and has only been married once in his 55 years. Among his favorite foods are vigorón and gallopinto. He comes from a family of farmers and on the lands that he has on Ometepe Island, Rivas, he plants rice and beans. He likes to read. One of his favorite books is the Confessions of St. Augustine. One of his goals, when Nicaragua is free, is to have a hotel, plant his lands in Ometepe, and live for once in peace and tranquility.

[1] Name of the national penitentiary for men.

[2] =Blue and White National Unity

The Autumn of Patriachy

José Luis Rocha is a well known essayist in Nicaragua, has a Phd in sociology and is a very insightful social critic.

The Autumn of Patriachy

By José Luis Rocha, January 23, 2020 in Confidencial

[original article in Spanish]

Ortega is an agrarian patriarch. Maybe the last overlord of that species. Reflections from a Central America that is losing its agrarian nature.

The Somoza dictatorship was a sultanate, the sociologist Edelberto Torres-Rivas said many times. Somoza was the system of government. Once the sultan was dethroned, the entire edifice fell like a house of cards. His lieutenants fled, like rats jumping off a ship in the process of going under. It was easy to replace them, because in this country we have always had more than enough high officials to take their place, who seem to be extracted from Saruman – the perverse magician of the Lord of the Rings – from his reservoir of Orcs.

But Somoza was not the political culture and machismo. At most, he was their most visible representative, a strong man whose desires were orders, and whose whims were laws, and that is why he could show off his lover in official parties, where his ministers placed their Catholic convictions about marriage at his feet like fluffy carpet. Nine strong men replaced him. No one within the ranks of Sandinism questioned the fact that those nine were not even remotely representative of the national gender balance, and how much Nicaraguan women risked themselves and lost in the war. And if they did, they spoke with pressed lips out of fear, discipline and dissembling. Nor was there anyone who would advise them to suppress the slogan “National Directorate, give us your orders”, that for more than one German must have evoked the Nazi slogan “Führer befiehl, wir folgen Dir!” (Leaders, give you order, we follow you).

The faces changed, but the system continued. I am referring to the system of the strong man, the patriarch, he who could say “the State is me”, and who even though he did not say it, he acted as if that is how it was. It is a system that is linked to the Central America of the agrarian republics, that should be called agrarian autocracies. This system did not change one bit because of the fact that Nicaragua was the first country in the Central American isthmus to take a woman to the presidency. It soon returned to its habitual face: in the mayors of Managua a new strong man had been incubating, the farmer Arnoldo Alemán, who had the plan – but not the means – to keep himself in power, as Somoza had done, and later Ortega would do.

Daniel Ortega invited him to a negotiation of farm owners, the overlords of the two large parties. There he closed a deal with him where he took him for a fool: Alemán sold his political first born for a couple of jumbo nacatamales, and Ortega got the conditions that he needed to recover the throne, who in his second coming did not have to share it with the other commandantes. The strong men of finance, trade and haciendas did not bulk, and in that passivity – in addition to the obvious economic convenience – their tolerance also has to be read by the fact that the executive branch was taken over by someone accused of sexual abuse by his step daughter (why not, she was not his biological daughter, she sought him out and who can prove that is what happened, they have said), and someone who placed the red and black flag in all the state offices (why not, isn´t he the owner at the moment of the big farm “Nicaragua”?). Their inclination to pass over this minutiae springs from the acceptance that these cultural characteristics have which have been reproduced over centuries.

Ortega is an overlord of the same appearance as the protagonist of “El Otoño del patriarca”,  a sexual predator of child prostitutes that his subordinates would bring to him disguised as schoolgirls to satisfy his pedophilia. He is an agrarian patriarch. Maybe he is the last overlord of that species, the same species as Álvaro Arzú, who once was president of Guatemala and five times the mayor of its capital, Minister of Foreign Relations and Director of the Guatemalan Tourism Institute. An entire life in the scaffolding of power , like Ortega. What makes them most similar, nevertheless, is not their political longevity, but their condition of being men surrounded by thugs. One of the bodyguards of Arzú was Byron Lima, the murderer of Bishop Juan Gerardi, executed for having presented a report on the crimes during the war. The paramilitaries, soldiers and police of Ortega have given us a very precise idea about what the overlord understands as the art of governing. A cultural genealogical line can be traced that unites these strong men to be reckoned with, from Santa Ana and then Trujillo, passing through Castro and Pinochet, some with the gringos, others against them, all with weapons and the willingness to drown dissidents in blood. For them politics should and must be a reflection of the chain of command of the hacienda, where orders are not negotiated nor discussed.

All have been representatives of an agrarian patriarch. Ortega follows that agrarian tradition by his political approach and his recent options, in spite of the fact that he came to power on the haunches of a party that has had a mostly urban base. That support in the cities he harvested when many thought that this organization would lead to social progress, understood as a more egalitarian society. But in the 80s he devoted himself to creating agrarian white elephants, and in the cities, only those who were “connected” were able to get around the hunger. In this return to power, his proposal was for a huachicolero[1] socialism of Venezuelan oil, whose flow of funds were in large part channeled toward the pools of agrarian dreams: the Zero Hunger Program and its distribution of different types of cattle and farm inputs and credit; the fair parks for the producers – with high state subsidies – transacting directly with consumers; the construction of rural schools, without training teachers who breathe school life into them.

Symptomatic of the agrarian approach is the fact that the repression has brewed up – from before the rebellion of April to now – in the rural areas. This is happening because the repressive organs live in the agrarian Nicaragua of 1980, that had 1,600,000 inhabitants in the cities (barely half the population), and not so much in the Nicaragua of 2018, with nearly 4 million city slickers, 60% of the total population. The FSLN represents a conservatism that is not a peasant one – it is even an anti-peasant conservatism – but it is that of an agrarian-patriarchal Nation-State, that of the large hacienda.

That is why the protests of April 2018 exploded and were incubated in the cities, and are linked to problems that affect the urban population more; social security, whose coverage is overwhelmingly of city dwellers; the payment of taxes, that squeeze in a more constant manner the urban centers; the violation of civil rights that are principally exercised by urbanites (freedom of expression, freedom of mobilization, clean elections…).

There is a fact that has been treated lightly: the biggest protests were unleashed around social security and the retired people, a surprising fact because in this country the coverage of social security barely reaches a fifth part of the Economically Active Population. The coverage of all elderly people should be even less. But more than 90% of those who pay into it live in the cities, and that is where the uprising exploded. Also, more than 90% of the university students, who were the leaders of the rebellion, are urbanites. This urban concentration makes the struggle of #OcupaInss a demand of the inhabitants of the cities, who were the principal scenario for the protests, and above all, the initial point of ignition of the civic insurrection.

The peasants have also had a considerable role. They rose up when  the interoceanic canal project threatened to absorb their small and medium farms. The dichotomy “peasantism versus agrarian patriarchy” floated to the surface. The canal has been so far – and maybe it will be forever – the last Nicaragua utopia that sets the mastery of the earth as the pivot point for accumulation. It is the last agrarian utopia, conceived in a country where ranching, coffee growing and mining continue being the principal industry generators of foreign exchange. If we relook at the distinction that the social scientist William Robinson makes between extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism, we will see that Ortega´s model, and that of his predecessors, was committed to extensive expansion: in the canal, in the urban subdivisions and urban constructions, in the forestry exploitation and in many other areas. These land-grabs are connected to the violence, that at times the medium level ranchers carry out on the lands of the indigenous, and that the high hierarchs of the army and police organize on the national level.

In the Central American countries that are more advanced in the processes of urbanization and de-agrarianization, like Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador, the expansion of capital is done in large measure through an intensive way, incorporating goods and people into markets, in other words, turning into merchandise what previously was not:  panoramas whose beauty is rented out to tourists, family remittances that are banked, sale of services that previously were the object of exchanges, or provided by relatives and friends, etc. It is not by coincidence that Honduras and Nicaragua, that are the most agrarian and least urbanized countries, are the principal regional scenarios for the crudest dispossession and land grabbing. This particularity has political consequences that I want to examine in the next article.

In spite of the fact that Nicaragua is a country where agrarian patriarchy calls the shots, the tendency to urbanization and de-agrarianization is now a flagrant economic fact: the value of family remittances, which are a monumental non-agrarian income, surpasses by far any of the agrarian export crops (and also the non-agrarian ones, of course). Their weight in the economy is the work of the hand of globalized labor, that  is generated externally outside of agriculture, and internally maintained the economic growth in trade and services. This economic de-agrarianization has political expressions that have bloomed in this rebellion. In the two women leaders, Francisca Ramírez and Irlanda Jeres, the countryside and the city shook hands, but both are traders, even though one is a farmer and the other is a dentist. With the exception of Medardo Mairena, who represents the peasants opposed to the canal, the masculine names that are louder belong to people from the cities. Among the new faces, Juan Sebastián Chamorro y Félix Maradiaga stand out, who appear as opposed to Ortega: they are not men of weapons nor of farms, but of an educational level that is above the average. They confront a marriage of two high school graduates, who come from the Nicaragua where people made space in the public civil service outside of diplomas and educational levels. They won it through their last names or through their pistols.

The crisis of the Ortega dictatorship expresses the breakdown of the cultural and political structures of that time-worn agrarian patriarchy. The good news is that it is not possible to get in front of the train of historical tendencies without being run over. All resistance to change only complicates and prolongs the agony of the institutions, groups and people who oppose it. It could be possible that the patriarchal dinosaur might continue there, but we can be certain that the climatic conditions will make it unbearable. The bad news is that the transition process, that began decades ago and accelerated with globalization, takes an unpredictable amount of time, and generates a lot of violence, if the appropriate measures are not adopted. A comparison between the countries of the northern part of Central America can throw some light on this less agrarian Nicaragua that it not completely born, and on its consequences and symptoms in the political system.

 

[1] Term in Mexico for someone who steals or adulterates gas

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.”