The Nicaraguan Government´s lack of a public call for social distancing and instead, implementing measures to increase direct contact, befuddle many observers. This Nicaraguan economist makes a cogent economic policy argument that might explain such an approach, while also showing the seriousness of the economic impact of the crisis, that will make it significantly different from the April 2018 crisis.
Is the Government giving the same response to two different crises?
All the economic measures taken up by other Governments in economic matters terrify and outperform the Government of Nicaragua.
According to Mario Benedetti, on a mural in the city of Quito is the famous phrase “when we had all the answers, they changed the questions on us”. The president of Nicaragua should begin his speech with this quote. The responses of the Government of Ortega to deal with the economic crisis resulting from the social and political explosion of April 2018 left the governmental priority clear. Keeping intact the state apparatus was the central objective. This model assumed the subsistence of large businesses and the existence of an unchanging external world, with family remittances growing and the maquilas operating at 100%.
The Government responded to the first crisis with contractive measures and as expected, the recession worsened. The tax reforms and the reforms to Social Security weakened the production sector and made the basic basket of goods more expensive. The Government accomplished its objective, maintaining a payroll of 200,000 public employees, while the private sector laid off more than 150,000 workers. Another one of the government measures to delay the energy crisis, in times when each barrel of oil had to be paid in cash, was to increase three consecutive times the cost of energy. The increase in the rate charged to households added up to 17% (FUNIDES), reaching the highest rate in the Central American region. The cumulative result of the contractive policy in times of crisis lead to drop in GDP of 5.7% (IMF). In other words, since the beginning of the crisis GDP has lost 1.431 billion dollars, an amount nearly equal to family remittances received during an entire year.
The Government has still not reacted to the second crisis caused by coronavirus, and it has good reasons for not doing so. All the economic measures taken up by other Governments in economic matters terrify and outperform the Government of Nicaragua. The measures assumed by the paralysis of economic activity exactly undermine the revenue collection policy that has ensured the subsistence of the immense state apparatus. In Spain, France and Italy the governments decreed a moratorium for months for the payment of taxes for small and medium enterprises, it also suspended payments to Social Security. Argentina and Chile in the midst of their crisis also waived contributions to social security for businesses that have had an interruption of their operations, and deferred income tax payments. In Nicaragua the hunger of the Government for resources keeps it from limiting public life as a health measure, because it would paralyze economic activity which it cannot even moderately redress.
The Government of Nicaragua seems to be willing to provide the same contractive response to this new crisis. Tax relief or a significant reduction in the cost of energy are not in view. In addition to the indifference of the Government to the new panorama of the Nicaraguan economy, severe external changes compound the situation.
Family remittances that grew each year until surpassing $1.5 billion dollars are about to plummet. 700,000 families counted on this monthly salvation package. The pandemic has paralyzed all the countries where these remittances come from, such as the United States (56%), Costa Rica (17%), and Spain (13%). Calculating the blow from the fall in family remittances is a complex and terrifying task. How much are our compatriots earning from their apartments under quarantine? Do they have enough to survive? How do they get to the remittance agencies with the health measures? Are they in good health?
The businesses under the Free Trade Zone regime that generated 125,000 jobs also are directly affected by the world crisis of the pandemic. These jobs are linked to value chain gears in the international market, depend on specific orders from brands, and the existence of raw materials that they receive partly from other countries. The situation of these enterprises has to be critical, on March 24 after hours of discussion they were able to sign an emergency agreement with the authorities of the Free Trade Zone Commission and a dozen unions. The document justifies the measures, appealing to “the interest of mitigating the effects caused by the COVID-19 contagious disease, produced by the coronavirus.” This is an example of responsibility on the part of a state entity worthy of replication. With what appears to be a layoff letter with a ton of illegible signatures, the businesses are authorized to “carry out temporary suspensions of labor contracts”, naturally supported by article 38 of the Labor Code. Knowing how many of these enterprises will close operations and how many thousands of men and women will lose their jobs is a matter of days.
In Nicaragua two crises coexist, and a Government with the same objective, maintaining a huge and powerful State. The relief from remittances could remain as a good family memory, the large job creators are packing their bags. Public life and business dynamics are being paralyzed, adapting to the fears of contagion that the rest of the planet is suffering. The Government has to assume its responsibility and revise its responses, even though it is not because of its decrees that the population and the private sector are dedicating all their efforts to “mitigate the effects caused by the COVID-19 contagious disease.”
Nicaragua, like the rest of the world, is experiencing the coronavirus pandemic. The apathy with which the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship is acting while hiding information and wanting to impose on the Nicaraguan citizenry an environment of safety and normality contradicts any logic or protocol for attention to this issue.
The dictatorship has shown that it does not have a prevention strategy, nor a treatment strategy in the face of coronavirus. The precariousness of the public health system that we have, and the discretional nature of state information does not allow one to know clearly the level of preparation of the Ministry of Health (MINSA). A minimum of preventive actions have been seen on the part of the State.
The regime continues calling for massive activities and gatherings of people, borders are not closed, very little information is provided about the basic measures to prevent the spread to the population, and the medical personnel are not provided the material needed for their protection. A call to society to stay in their homes is needed to contain the pandemic. The schools continue receiving hundreds of children, and the universities and the rest of the public institutions of the country are not applying preventive measures.
The National Coalition demands the following actions of the regime, in agreement with the recommendations made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the measures taken by the rest of the countries in the world and that have had important results:
Suspend massive events or crowds of people, of any nature (political, cultural and social).
Send home on paid leave public and private employees older than 60 years of age, pregnant women and people with chronic or immunological depressive diseases.
Create a special Program to prevent contagion in State institutions
Suspend non-essential work in state institutions.
Authorize access to basic cleaning supplies (soap, alcohol, gel, etc.) to prisoners and people deprived of freedom. Special protection to homes of the elderly and nursing homes.
Liberation of all valetudinarian detainees. Create a program of protection in the jails.
Suspend all in person recreational activities within the framework of Holy Week.
Close centers, commercial malls, bars and recreational places at 9pm, in order to mitigate scenarios of contagion.
Temporarily close land, aid and sea borders, with the exception of the transportation of essential goods, medicine and food.
Ensure the daily supply of potable and safe water in neighborhoods and communities
Eliminate taxes on hygienic and cleaning products and facilitate their importation.
Speed up import processes for needed reagents and medicines.
Suspend classes in schools and universities for one month.
Reduce the rates for water, electric and the price for fuel, in accordance with the reduction in the price of oil, and suspend for three months cutoffs of home water and energy services.
Extend the collection of property taxes for three months, with rescheduling once the WHO has declared the pandemic ended.
Ensure that the clinics of INSS are ready for treatment. Ensure transfers of the general budget of the Republic to INSS; to ensure the subsidy of the affiliated workers affected by the pandemic.
Make the public information from MINSA about the evolution of the pandemic transparent.
Automatically extend for six months all proof of survival, so that those retired and on INSS pensions do not have to go out to do that paperwork.
Provide health workers with appropriate physical protection equipment that meets international standards.
Provide private hospitals and social security clinics with enough reagents and process the tests quickly.
Temporarily freeze the collection of mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, working capital and entrepreneurial loans to families with people affected by the illness.
Create a Program of support to businesses to maintain jobs.
To these measures should be added others depending on the context and the need to alleviate specific situations of the health crisis that we face.
This pandemic is happening in the context of a dictatorship, where demands connected to human rights become more urgent. Among them we mention:
The complete end to repression and full respect for human rights of the Nicaraguan population is an absolute guaranty to exercise the prevention and treatment protocols.
The right to health and treatment of everyone, without any political discrimination.
The absolute and immediate liberty of all political prisoners, now in more vulnerable conditions. And the treatment of the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions of all the common prisoners, with a high risk to their own contagion and that of their families.
The demand for the safe return of people under forced exile and in precarious conditions outside the country.
The right to access to information so that independent media and journalists are able to inform the citizenry without putting their lives at risk.
From the National Coalition we will create an Emergency Committee composed of professionals and experts in health, finance, economy, social welfare and law so that they might contribute to evaluating the situation of the epidemic, and measures to promote within that framework. We will be offering sectoral and professional recommendations, so that hand in hand with the citizenry, we might be able to prevent and conquer the coronavirus.
Every day is crucial. While the State takes the pertinent measures, the citizenry should remain in their homes to the extent possible, respect physical distancing and frequent hand washing.
The next two posts show the contrast in response to the coronavirus in Nicaragua: this translation of the declarations of the Vice President, peppered with language of trust in God, encourages people to continue their Holy Week gatherings, and were given the same day that the government sponsored a march of people called “Love in Times of coronavirus”, in stark contrast to the social distancing recommended by other governments and public health experts.
The government also sent children to meet a cruise ship that docked in San Juan del Sur which unloaded 700 tourists from Germany and Sweden (see pictures of these events from the press).
The post after this one is a press release by the National Coalition critical of the government´s response to coronavirus.
Declarations of Rosario, Vice President of Nicaragua, in the Midday Edition of Multinoticias, Channel 4 on March 14, 2020
Very good afternoon, Compañero; good afternoon, Dear Families of Our All Sweet Nicaragua, Our Nicaragua that shows the shining Face of Jesus in the Love that moves us every day to advance, to walk, to transcend, to live in Peace.
Compañer@s, today is Saturday, full of Activities, thanks to God, in a Blessed Nicaragua , Always Blessed and Always with Faith and Trust in God. More than 2,800 Activities including Religious, Sports, Recreational, Cultural, Gastronomical, Tourist events, in this Nicaragua that, as we say with Pride, is All Sweet and lives full of Love, promoting Peace and Well-being!
More than 2,800 Activities being held throughout the Country, and Life, Compañer@s, the Good Life, the Life of the Nicaraguan People, that knows how to invoke God to increase Hope, to encourage us, to animate us, every day, go Forward!
We are working with Responsibility, with Serenity, with Prudence, and we know that we have a People full of Trust in God, with everything essential to ensure transcendency, which is the calm in first place, Good Sense, Tranquility, the Responsibility of the State, the Government, Institutions and each Citizen, in this moment in which the entire World is concerned, and each State, each Government is taking their Measures, according to their situations, their circumstances.
Thanks to God, with the Responsibility that characterizes us as a People of God, with the Serenity that characterizes us, with the Strength of Spirit, of Soul, with Good Sense, Calm, Tranquility, We are Moving Forward…We are Moving Forward!
We have been in communication with all the Health Authorities throughout the Country. Thanks to God, up to now we are fine, and we hope, Through God, with the Favor of God, to continue fine. This does not mean that we are not keeping all the Activities of what we are calling Preventive, Ongoing Education, with all the Sectors of our Population, with Families, Communities, in ongoing Coordination and the reproduction of the indications of the PAHO/WHO.
We give thanks to God, we know that we are privileged on having this Social Model, this Health Model, of Education, that is organized from the Community; a Model that is organized from the Family, Village, Community and this helps us to work these situations better. And always invoking God, and with His Favor, his Hand, there we go, walking.
Above all we want to convey to all Families that what is primary in these Times of global challenges for the entire World, is the sense of responsibility, being watchful of information; taking seriously the Measures that emanate from International and National Health Authorities, and being calm, serene, prudent, peaceful, sane, and above all keeping high the Trust that we have in God, and the Trust that we have among Families, about our Capacity to assume the Citizen Responsibilities with the highest seriousness.
So it is that, Compañer@s, we were saying, we have been in communication with the entire Country and thanks to God, up to now, blessed, everything fine; always in preparation and living also with a lot of Joy that all the activities are being carried out in absolute calm, normality and Hope. With Hope on high.
Thus we are, thus we are going in our All Sweet Nicaragua, that with Love presents itself and lives, and presents itself to the Peoples of the World, promoting already now all the advantages of a Country that knows how to live with Affection, receive visitors with Affection, promoting what we call Summer, but this year we say, Our Nicaragua is All Sweet. And we offer this Sweetness with Love for Brother and Sister Peoples, and with Love for us here, the visits of Families to their relatives in other Municipalities, Villages, Communities, Neighborhoods, and then the visits also to all the Recreational Centers, for Entertainment.
We know that in these Times of Summer we enjoy the Food, we enjoy Religious Traditions, we are a People of Faith and Trust in God, we also enjoy the Spaces for Recreation, and all this makes us cheerful, a People capable of working with Love, of advancing with Love, and of living with Faith, Love and Hope, with the Trust that grows in God Our Lord.
We are in communication, Compañer@s, as we tell you, amazed at seeing ourselves as going, step by step, with Humility, Serenity, without fanfare, with Prudence, as We Go Forward, invoking God in each moment of our Lives.
A lot of Affection from our Commandante Daniel. We are watchful, to the second, to the minute, of any event that could represent an Alert, a threat for Families. Up to now we are peaceful, receiving 800 Tourists that arrived in Corinto in a Cruise Ship this morning, and who are also visiting Patrimonial, Cultural Sites in the West, in Peace and with the Affection that the Nicaraguan People give them.
Brothers and Sisters all, thanks to the Lord, Forward in our Nicaragua, where we are Going Forward because we trust in God and where we are Going Forward, Always Farther On, with the ever growing Hope and with the knowledge that we are a People capable of transcending and a People capable of living promoting, each day, Harmonious Co-existence, Citizen Responsibility, serving one another, loving one another, everywhere, confronting the challenges together, together.
We have to know how to confront the challenges together, the challenges together, and transcend together, because our Nicaragua lives all Times with love, and with Love also these
Times of Alerts and Global Threats with COVID-19.
We have said, together, all together, working with Love and Responsibility, with a lot of Seriousness, a lot of Prudence, a lot of Calm, a lot of Peacefulness, we transcend. And always our Prayers and Solidarity for all Countries and Peoples of the World, where there are Special
Alerts, Extreme Alerts, deceased Brothers and Sisters, grieving Families, and well, each Country taking their Measures in accordance with their circumstances. With that absolute Respect that characterizes us, to the Measures and the ways that each People has, each State, to transcend these difficult Times.
Always, Always Farther On, Compañer@s! Our Commandante Daniel greets and hugs all Nicaraguan Families, in the certainty that we are a People that knows how to work with Joy, that knows how to struggle with Joy and Hope, and that knows how to vanquish with Humility.
Wisdom, that is what the Nicaraguan People have, what we have received throughout our History as a Legacy that makes us great, and great in the Spiritual sense, and humble in the sense of our Transit through this Plane of Life that we must make harmoniously with all.
Thanks, Compañer@s. Let us have a Saturday and Sunday of Family Unity, of Invocation of the Almighty; many Churches in Prayer, asking God that he continue blessing us, that he protect us, that he accompany us, that he guide us, because it is with His Favor, with His Love that We Can Do Everything!
Thanks, Brothers and Sisters. We are Moving Forward, with Faith, that Faith that makes us invincible. Thanks, Compañer@s.
 Refers to the name of a slogan for a promotional tourism campaign of Nicaragua for the summer.
This speech by the Vice President provides insight into her conception of peace and love as it is lived in the context of Nicaragua today. The government and its supporters are seen as promoting, protecting peace, in spite of the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her most recent report says the government criminalizes protestors, and independent media reported FSLN supporter attacks on a sacristan in Matagalpa, and on the funeral mass of Ernesto Cardenal, where several journalists were badly beaten. Those who continue to protest the government are seen as altering Peace, and “touching God with dirty hands”. The use of religious language in this way shows how difficult it is to maintain perspective in this charged environment.
Compañero Rosario after the Act in Homage of General Sandino
Published Saturday, February 22, 2020 in El 19 Digital (FSLN website)
Declarations of Rosario, Vice President of Nicaragua after the Act in Commemoration of the 86th Anniversary of the Transition to Immortality of the General of Free Men and Women Augusto C. Sandino, February 21, 2020:
Good Evening…Good News…Good, Very Good Times of Victories! Sandino, here we are! And Sandino is taking care of Nicaragua, because Sandino gave his Life for Nicaragua, IS ENAMORED WITH NICARAGUA and the Peace of Nicaragua, Sovereignty, and the Dignity of the Nicaraguan People. Sandino, that Immense, Infinite Spirit, whose Legacy we honor today with the Army of Nicaragua, that, as General Julio César Avilés Castillo well said, is the continuity of the Army for the Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua.
Sandino, Always Over and Above, teaches us to find in our Spirits and in our Hearts the interior resources to know how to go Always Over and Above! To know how to face with Courage all challenges. To raise up each day, to lift up each day our Love for the Country, the Free Country, our Free Nicaragua, Always Blessed, to cultivate Love and Peace every day.
What Noble Task…! A Noble Task and a Task for each Nicaraguan. We know that here, as I say every day, Love reigns in all its forms, and that the Majorities in Nicaragua, we want to Live in Peace, cultivating as craftspeople, building as Artisans, the Peace that ensures us Stability, Work, Prosperity, Future for All. Hate destroys. Peace builds. That is why every day we ask God that he allow us to grow spiritually into a Culture of Peace. Growing to serve our People, for the Wellbeing of our Families, to Live Better, to Prosper, to feel the Joy of Peace in our Homes, in our Families, and above all to grow with the Awareness that everything is possible in Love and Peace!
We invite us every day to Harmony. We invite us every day to Encounter. We invite us every day to leave behind bad feelings. We want to grow from the Good Hearts that we all have, and throw away, discard forever any form of Hate, or the alteration of Peace.
Here we care for Peace, and all us Nicaraguans can be sure of that. We Care for Peace as a National Treasure.
Never more will Peace be altered in our Nicaragua. It is a Life Commitment of Most Nicaraguans, and above all of Mothers. We Mothers want to live in Peace! And we are not going to allow, we Mothers, the Mothers of Nicaragua that Peace be altered, in any form. Everything is possible with the Power of Love. We can think differently, but we do not hate. Fraternity is indispensable and more in this World so stalked by every type of threat.
We need to be an example, continue being an example and inspiration, because we need to cultivate Peace every day, and show that based on Peace, on Harmonious Living Together, banishing the discord that some Hearts still shelter, Let´s go Forward!
It is not with discord that a Country is built. It is not with malicious feelings, to not say evil feelings; malicious…No! A Country is built, the Future of a Country and of a People, the Right of the People to Peace and Work is Sacred, it is built being reasonable, raising Awareness every day. And Awareness, the Good Awareness which is but the recognition that all of us Brothers and Sisters, all of us were born and live in Nicaragua, and all of us also have the responsibility and the duty to install the Future in Nicaragua.
We know how we were doing…very well, thanks to God, firmly believing in Reconciliation. And we know who altered that Path. I always say that altering Peace is touching God with dirty hands, because Jesus Christ Our Lord is the Prince of Peace, Love, Understanding, Family Values. That is why I say that the Majorities in Nicaragua, who recognize those minorities who, disguised, choreographing, stage designing, doing theatre, pretended to represent the Nicaraguan People, when we all know that they never, never represented our People.
We the Majorities we do want a Future, we do believe that Peace is indispensable, and well, we are not going to allow any alteration to that Peace that belongs to all of us Nicaraguans, not to the minorities who do not represent Peace, much less Christian Feelings. Because Christianity teaches us to Love, teaches us to Forgive. It does not teach us to forget. It teaches us to forgive, and to build Peace every day, true Christianity.
That is why we say, we are capable of transcending difficult moments, transcending adverse circumstances, and we learn. We say that we learn, so that No Repetition might be a norm in our Country, that all of us might take care of that Peace that we have. Thanks to God we restored it, we recovered it, a Miracle to restore and recover Peace in our Nicaragua, and well, we thank God for that Miracle, and we take care of the Miracle, we care for it with all our Forces.
Here No Repetition is key. Let us internalize that that is the Message of the Majorities of Nicaraguans: No Repetition! Future, Future for All, Rights for All, Awareness raised, and the Spirit of Sandino, like the Spirit of our Rubén Darío, they demand that we walk in Peace, build Peace and Prosperous and Blissful Future for all in our Nicaragua. And they take care of us, they watch over us, along with every honest Nicaragua, the Peace that we recovered, the Peace that we have, and the Peace that we are!
So it is that a day like today, February 21, 86 years from the assassination that marked us forever, because they killed Sandino, they murdered Sandino, but Sandino lives here, in our Souls, and tells us: We have the Obligation to Fight for Peace, Defend Peace, with Dignity, with Sovereignty. Defending it knowing that Harmony and Living Together among us is indispensable to build the Country that we want.
Our Greetings, our Congratulations to all this Glorious Army of Nicaragua, that defends, that preserves Peace, with their People, with all the Nicaraguan People. The Peace that Jesus Christ left us. The Peace that Christ Jesus gives us. We receive Peace. We preserve Peace. We defend Peace. We want Peace, and we will have Peace!
Thanks, Compañer@s, Let us Go Forward, Always Above and Beyond! Thanks.
It is unusual for a media outlet on the Pacific side of the country to publish a long interview of a community leader from the Atlantic Coast. Her experience on the Coast places in a larger perspective the largely student led uprising of April 2018, as well as recent news stories of attacks on indigenous communities.
Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”
The Miskita leader is recognized in the North Caribbean as “Mama Grande” because of her closeness to the communities of the Río Coco and her hard work of denouncing human rights violations.
Susana Marley Cunningham, sociologist and teacher by profession, has dedicated nearly two decades of her 62 years of age to defending and denouncing violations of the rights of the Mískita communities of the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. She was born in Waspam and began her humanitarian work after Hurricane Mitch in communities bordering the Río Coco, through the Civil Foundation for the Unity and Reconstruction of the Atlantic Coast (FURCA).
The work of Marley has left a mark on the Mískita population. The children who she once taught and defended call her “Mama Grande”. But she has not just won affection. Threats as well. In August 2019 she had to leave her native Northern Caribbean to a more urban area of the Pacific for her safety.
In this interview, Marley denounces the increase of violence in the Caribbean, the advance of invasions, the hunger that the communities are experiencing, the fear of the children to go to school, the corruption of communal governments, and the lack of respect for their forms of organization and elections.
When did the situation of insecurity for the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants begin to get worse?
The situation of violence and human rights violations I have felt personally since all those actions in the year of the 80s began, with the famous Red Christmas, when our people were taken away or murdered in the forest. I was at the point of dying during that so called Red Christmas, they put me in a line, thanks to God that He used one of those soldiers, I saved myself only because one of them made himself pass as if he were my husband and got me out of there.
Who started that wave of violence in the 80s?
The Sandinista Army and Police. We began to live in an environment of a lot of terror, insecurity and fear. You could not go into the countryside alone, so, since the 1980s the defense of life has gotten worse. Life and human rights are not respected. They have treated us as if we were animals that should be hunted, so they could exploit the land, the minerals, the resources of our territories.
What consequences did the protests of April 2018 have on the Caribbean of Nicaragua?
Our resistance has been historic, and we always denounced that they were killing us, so, after the situation that erupted in April 2018, people began to understand that the same thing that they were doing to us, they were using against the youth, who were unarmed, defenseless and they killed them and they continue killing them. In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jailing, there it is only lead [bullets] , but the situation is pretty similar. It is a terrible, lamentable situation, that has separated families.
In these last weeks, several acts of violence have been registered against indigenous families. What is the current situation of the communities?
December and January are the months for the preparation of the land to harvest rice and beans, but they have not planted this year, because of the violence and the invasion. Famine will be a reality now in our communities. We are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Classes started and the children go with fear. They are watchful of the forest because now it is not known when someone armed will come out of the forest. The children are psychologically affected in the face of the insecurity, because it is not just what happened this past February 16th, where a girl was wounded. So, in the face of this situation, we think that we are experiencing a serious situation of insecurity, there is no economic stability, there is a lot of poverty and latent lack of respect for our rights.
How did that attack on February 16th happen, where they wounded a minor in the cheek?
That Sunday, around 5:00pm, in the community of Santa Clara, close to a place where there is a creek of the Santa Clara river, the people went to bathe, and while coming a girl resulted wounded. We could not see who were shooting, and it was difficult to be able to get transportation to leave the community. The ambulance was requested at 5:00 pm, and it did not arrive until 11:00pm. It seems that they (the paramilitaries or settlers) were watching those who were bathing, they were stalking them, and at least they did not shoot the girl in the head, but in the cheek. It is not fair that the children also are victims of this type of human rights violations. Minors also suffer this persecution.
How far has the invasion of settlers advanced?
Too far. I want to confide in you that if something happens to me, I hold these murderers responsible, because we are just denouncing this, and we do not have weapons of war. The situation is very bad, and in every testimony we hear, that fear is noticeable, that insecurity. A little while ago a peasant from the community of Santa Clara, who had to leave that territory, commented to me that between the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya and the Li Auhbra territory, that is on the shores of the Río Coco- in between these two – is the Mocó mountain, where there are dozens of settlers or paramilitaries who created a community which is called Araguas. They have large extensions of pastureland and homes, so the advance of the invasion is nearly countless.
What consequences does this invasion of settlers have on the communities?
The encroachment that these people make in our lands has caused the displacement of our people to the Honduran side. Our people are displaced, even people from the community of Santa Clara, located in our Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory, they migrated from the countryside to the city, and others have been displaced toward Waspam, because they can no longer plant. The leaders of Santa Clara and other communities bordering on the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory have had to suffer the deaths of their leaders, so, hunger and insecurity are prompting the forced displacement of our community members.
What is happening with justice in the case of the murders of the leaders?
The murders have been left unpunished. Every time this type of situation happens, we have wanted to denounce it, but we do not have that support, or that contact to denounce each one of these situations of the violation of our human rights. What we are demanding is that the laws that protect us be respected, like Law 28, the Autonomy Law, but these people are organized and willing to continue causing damage.
Some of the communities that you have mentioned are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. Do you think that the State is observing those measures?
No. The State is not protecting these communities. The State should fully comply, but it is not doing so. Recently, the community of Santa Clara – one of those protected by precautionary measures – received threats from settlers or paramilitaries who told them that they have 200 men, and they will go burn the houses, and they are going to kill them, and we have seen how the threats are being carried out.
How has the Army of Nicaragua behaved with the Mískito Indigenous peoples?
There is no protection, because in years past which have had atrocious murders of peasants and indigenous close to their posts, they did not do anything. They know about it, and are direct accomplices in this type of violations, and they fill their mouths with words saying that they are protecting, but in practice they do not do any enforcement at all.
Do you feel unprotected?
Yes, they have left us completely unprotected. The precautionary measures are not observed, and all the authorities are accomplices of everything that is happening to us. The threats in the zone are constant, the same with the attacks, and they do not do anything to stop them, so the situation is very tense, and the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are unprotected. The theft of cattle, kidnapping of women and labor exploitation are a reality in our communities.
This lack of protection has been in all governments, or it is something that has intensified with the regime of Daniel Ortega?
Our struggle and our resistance are historic. It is sad to say, but each government that has come to power in the country looks on our land for the purposes of exploitation. This is what we have observed.
How many attacks are registered in the course of this year?
The threat is ongoing. They (the paramilitaries) leave nailed on the stalks of the trees threats to the communities. The terror is constant. Just this year the kidnapping of two boys fishing from Santa Clara, the attack on the community of Alal, and now this attack on an adolescent girl.
What is the feeling of these communities who are constantly threatened?
There is a lot of tension. The people are terrorized after receiving the threats, but they are organized. The men have been out on guard, but they have informed me that the big problem is that now they cannot peacefully go out to gather the harvest in the fields, they tell me that they are experiencing hunger. Some only maintain themselves with fruit or dry coconut. A lot of people cannot even sleep, the children have no peace in order to study. Since the 1980s to now they continue murdering us, and it continues intensifying, we demand that they quit killing us.
And what is happening with the regional councils? They are also part of the territorial governments that should be looking for policies to protect the indigenous.
Living in the territories one realizes that the person in the Government building belongs to the government, so, they work in strict coordination with the Government, and only do what they are ordered to do. They do not work in favor of the communities.
And the local council members [síndicos], do they have the same reputation or are they watching out for the well-being of the communities?
The communal council members work hand in hand with the communal leaders. The people choose their communal council members and leaders, but the problem is that, parallel to this, the ruling party chooses their council members, so the Regional Council only accredits the council members that they elect, but the ones elected by the communities, generally, are not accredited, like what happened in Kamla last year. Just so as to not accredit the council person elected by the people, they ordered the people beaten, wounded and threatened. The denouncements about these cases were made, but since they themselves are the ones, there is no justice for the community members who were victims of these abuses.
What is the role of a community council member [síndico]? Why does the Government see them as an obstacle and prefers not to accredit them?
The community council member who remains is a representative of the communities, and can coordinate the use of resources, always in consultation with the communities, but they leave the councilperson elected by the communities without voice nor vote, so it is only the one elected by them that is accredited, and presents papers as the highest authority. In the end, the reality is that that council person that they put there, only does what the Government wants and not what the communities need. For example, the large extensions of land that are taken and through which the paramilitaries come in, they are the ones that give them passage so that they can register those properties. This invasion and land takeovers are done by those people themselves, and that is where the community members have to go to demand their lands. The council members that Orteguism puts in place do not have land, but they order the invaders to be placed there. Government officials promote the invasion in the communities.
Is this something seen since the 1980s or is it something that non -Sandinista governments have also promoted?
This (invasion and violence) started more forcefully since 2009, even though in the 1980s there was displacement and massacre against the Mïskito people through the so called Red Christmas. In the 80s the people sought to displace themselves into Honduras because of the persecution, but in the 90s – when they returned because of the change in Government – they even found tigers in the communities, and little by little they raised up their houses. It was in 2003 that they approved Law 445, which included titling, we did not appreciate that later these titles would be used by corrupt politicians of our region as well, so , they provided the title to people who were not members of the community, and they negotiated our lands, in addition to the fact that they allied with the council members and they allied in order to invade our lands little by little.
Concerning the legislative work that some are doing in supposed representation of the Caribbean, do you feel represented by these people who are officials within the Assembly? Are they promoting projects to improve the situation of the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants?
Years back, like in 2016, the corrupt political representation of the region was expelled from the Assembly for the illegal sale of our indigenous lands, so how is it that he returned once again to the National Assembly? Is it real that they are allies then? We do not feel that they represent us, and with this I am referring to the Yatama party. They cannot provide for the freedom of our territories from invasion, when they are the very ones who have been pointed out as promoting the invasion with the provision of titles to people from outside the community members. If they were part of the problem, they are never going to be part of the solution.
How do you assess the coalition building process that the members of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance are working on?
Look, when this situation happened in the Pacific in April 2018, many young people gave their lives to see a free Nicaragua, and many politicians holed themselves up, and now, for money and to give an opportunity to this murderer, are uniting. You have to be realistic, because these old and corrupt politicians are not an opposition. There is no sincerity, they must be more sincere, so, I think that there is a lot of falsehood in these traditional politicians. We as Mískitos demand that there be transparency, that there be unity, that they in truth defend the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants, youth, students. They have to give an opportunity to the new generations, because the corrupt politicians are advanced in age, let them go rest with their millions, let them leave the path open to the youth so that Nicaragua might be free and democratic again. If we truly love Nicaragua, let us leave Nicaragua in the hands of the youth, so that this [country] might be led in peace.
Susana Marley, known as “Mama Grande”, was born May 24, 1957 in the community Cabo Gracias a Dios in Waspam, Northern Caribbean.
She graduated as a teacher in 1970 from the Teacher School in Waspam, but a large part of her childhood she lived in the community of Santa Martha, located close to the Wawa River.
The Mískita leader is also a sociologist. She finished her studies in 1997 in the Central American University (UCA).
She is the daughter of Eduardo Marley (deceased), known in Waspam as a Moravian pastor and one of the first teachers in that municipality, and Benicia Cunningham, 95 years of age, popular for being one of the first midwives of her community.
“Mama Grande” had five children, but she had none of them in a hospital. Her births were assisted solely and exclusively by her mother.
In 1981 during the so called Red Christmas, she was at the point of dying, but she states that her beauty and the favor of God saved her.
Headline news February 10th was the fact that the Ortega government rushed through a bill approving four new businesses related to the import, processing and sale of hydrocarbons. It was largely viewed as a work-around US sanctions on existing companies that handled that trade, all related to the ruling family. The obvious question was why wouldn´t the US just sanction these new companies? Three days prior the Nicaraguan public was surprised by the news that the Government had suddenly allowed newspaper supplies belonging to La Prensa to be released from customs, after being detained without legal justification for over 500 days. It raised the question about whether the two events were related, suggesting some kind of exchange where the US agreed not to sanction the new enterprises in exchange for Ortega making some concessions on his part?
What has been clear since Ortega came back to power in 2007 is that the US has prioritized stability over ideology, as it regularly praised Ortega´s management of the economy. Is this a sign that the US is questioning whether to “get off the horse it rode in on”, if it is not clear the next horse will be any more stable? A well- known economist, essayist and past president of the Movement for Sandinista Renovation addresses the issues raised by these new businesses in the following article.
The Four Horsemen of Corruption and the US Sanctions
By Enrique Sáenz, February 19, 2020 in Confidencial
Last week Ortega offered another demonstration of why his regime is described by prestigious international organizations as the most corrupt in Central America; the third worst in Latin America, only bested by Venezuela and Haiti; and located in the most corrupt stretch in the world.
The servants of the dictator in a pen-stroke approved four laws whose purpose was to continue benefitting fraudulent businesses of the ruling family. Another demonstration, as if it were needed, that our ill-fated country is the only one in the world, or in any case, one of the very few, where corruption is granted legal status.
In any moderately, or rather, minimally civilized country, corruption constitutes a crime. Depending on the degree of corruption in a country, the courts pursue fraud with greater or lesser determination, but they do not cease to be crimes. Here no. Here in the most shameless manner they grant legal hierarchy to his atrocities. It is enough to recall the concessions for the Tumarín dam, the custom scanners or the interoceanic canal project, all turned into laws.
To what do these four laws refer? Through these laws they created four state enterprises that will handle the oil and fuel business, beginning with their importation, passing through storage, distribution and commercialization. They include even oil exploration. From here on they will be known by their acronyms: ENIH, ENIGAS, ENICOM and ENIPLANH.
What is the purpose of the creation of these enterprises?
Let us recall that some months ago the US Administration sanctioned the DNP company, which concentrated a good part of the trade in hydrocarbons. Up to some years ago the company was State owned, but magically became the private property of the ruling family. The sanctions opened up a big hole in the lucrative business of the mafia in power.
Anyone will wonder, if the DNP was private property, on what basis are public businesses now founded to take charge over trade in hydrocarbons?
Simple. Because Ortega thinks that Nicaragua is his farm, and that he can do, and undo whatever he wants here. It would be difficult to find another country where a similar confusion might reign between State interests and the private interests of the family in power.
The next question that emerges is: if PETRONIC already exists, whose creating law assigned it the same powers as the new businesses…Why were they created? The response is that PETRONIC is now tinted by its connection with ALBANISA.
Let us go then to the specific issues. After reading the texts approved by Ortega´s deputies, it is evident that these new four horsemen of corruption pursue the following purposes:
The first purpose is to get around the sanctions imposed by the US government on the DNP company. Since this business is now contaminated, they are inventing others, this time under the shield of the State.
The new enterprises will serve as a screen so that the governing family can continue milking the lucrative fuel business. The control of the business and abuse of political power allows them to impose prices that amply surpass prices prevalent in the rest of the Central American countries. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pocketed in overpricing.
In terms of the company that will handle oil exploration, let us remember that they already began the business of granting concessions to companies under the responsibility of front men, so that they can go and trade internationally. Pan American is one of those companies.
Fourthly, and this is extremely dangerous, they established the legal and institutional infrastructure to transfer, in an underhanded way, the oil debt with Venezuela, which is around 4 billion dollars. In an unprecedented heist they have roughly pocketed the funds of the oil aid that was the key pivotal point for building one of the wealthiest economic groups in the country, forging alliances, buying consciences, and feeding patronage policies.
It is worth remembering that the same stunt they tried to use with BANCORP, the bank of the ruling family- also sanctioned by the US administration under accusations of money laundering. On that occasion they approved the law to sell the bank to the State, but the sanctions arrived before-hand, and they did not have any other option than liquidating the bank.
What ruses will they use to achieve their purposes?
There is no need to be a fortune teller to know. In the texts that they approved, they empowered the four companies to establish alliances, partnerships and even new companies with national or foreign private businesses. This is the pathway that they will surely follow: establish forms of partnerships with covert businesses of the ruling mafia. At this juncture of the party, with the protection of Ortega´s servants in the Supreme Court, that turned the public property registry into clandestine records, you can bet that the companies that will mask the business have already been created and registered. In this way they will try to escape the sanctions, and following its previsions, will be able to continue to profit from the business. In the process they will even be able to remain formally exempt from paying taxes.
Finally, we should not be surprised that they form partnerships with companies derived from ALBANISA, under forms of association that incorporate liabilities and assets, as a means to unload portions of the debt with Venezuela on the State.
Anything can be expected from these deadbeats.
It will have to be seen if the US authorities swallow the story.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
 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.