This interview was broadcast this past Sunday on the weekly news program “Esta Semana” . It provides an inside view of the reaction of the government to the early days of the protests and massive uprisings, and confirms how damaging the government repression was to its reputation especially among its own State workers and supporters.
Ex-political secretary of the FSLN in the Central Bank speaks out
Interview by Carlos F. Chamorro on Nov 18, 2018 in Confidencial
This past September 27th four Nicaraguan citizens – Julio Martínez Ellsberg, George Henríquez, Manuel Orozco and Ligia Gómez – appeared before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress, in a hearing in Washington led by Representative James P. McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
In her written testimony, published for the first time this Thursday, the economist Ligia Gómez, former manager for Economic Research for the Central Bank, revealed that for four years she acted as the Political Secretary of the Sandinista Leadership Council in that State institution, receiving orders from Rosario Murillo through Fidel Moreno and the president of the Central Bank, Ovidio Reyes.
An expert on issues of rural poverty and the environment, Gómez has a licentiate from the UNAN in Managua, a Masters from the UCA and has a doctorate in Economics from the University of Córdova in Spain.
In this interview done from the United States via Skype, the ex-secretary of the FSLN in the Central Bank expanded on her testimony with documents and first hand information, and explained how the State-Party-Family machinery reacted, under the control of Rosario Murillo, during the first days of the April rebellion.
In an emergency meeting held on April 19th in the auditorium of the Japanese Park, Fidel Moreno- secretary for organization of the FSLN, and notorious as the head of the paramilitary gangs –“sent down” the conclusive order from Murillo to all the political secretaries: “We are going all out”, he pronounced.
That day in Managua the first three people died as a result of violent police and paramilitary repression, and five days later, when Gómez resigned from her post as political secretary of the Central Bank, after failing to follow the orders of Fidel Moreno and Ovidio Reyes, the total of the dead surpassed twenty victims.
Gómez describes the ethical moral dilemma that she faced, as an official of the Government and the FSLN party during the massacre: ”To have a salary one cannot support something that went beyond humane limits, in other words, massacring young people as they were massacred, torturing and jailing people only for demonstrating, is something that one cannot support. So my daughters, what example was I going to give them? I preferred to experience difficulties than to be supporting what was happening.”
Ligia, why did you decide to offer this testimony before the United States Congress? What relevance does your word have as a former public official and former political secretary of the FSLN in the Central Bank?
Well, fundamentally three things: one, to be able to bring the reality of the country exposed by a person who, like me, was directly involved in the political management within the State institutions, and someone who can say how the apparatus functions, and how all this process that Nicaragua is suffering is happening. So my biggest interest is having a political impact on decision makers who might help us to unblock the situation that the country is experiencing. The other reason is that I felt indebted for having participated, supporting the Government, I felt in debt to the youth who have been murdered, and to the political prisoners who currently are jailed, and I felt obliged to do something to achieve what we all want, justice and democracy, and having a future for our children.
You were the political secretary of the FSLN in the Sandinista Leadership Committee of the Bank for four years. Who did you receive orders from, and what mandate did you have in the Central Bank as the political secretary?
As the political secretary we received orders directly from Fidel Moreno, but they are approved and authorized by the higher authority, who in this case is Ovidio Reyes. The work of the political secretary consists in mobilizing the employees around the party tasks, transmitting the directions we receive from Fidel Moreno and that were coming from Rosario Murillo, because practically they were read in the meetings, or they came to us as memos, and the other task was ensuring the logistics of those activities.
These activities of the partisan mobilization of public employees, are they voluntary in nature or do they have some economic compensation?
They are voluntary, but yes they do have an economic remuneration. 400 córdobas are given for each participation, but that is accumulated, and a report is done halfway through the year, and at the end of the year. So twice a year a bonus is provided for participation in social outreach activities of the Central Bank.
Is this a specific policy of the Bank, a general policy of the State, or does each public institution decide how to remunerate for partisan activity?
Each public institution decides how to remunerate, but the Central Bank has a special situation compared with other institutions due to the fact that it has seignorage and other sources for its own income, and has an amount authorized by the Board of Directors for bonuses for productive performance, which are used to provide incentives for political activity.
Do public employees also participate in partisan electoral activities?
Yes. All the scaffolding of the State is shifted to working on the elections, and before each election there are meetings with Gustavo Porras, as the President of the National Assembly , and with Lumberto Campbell [de facto president] of the Supreme Electoral Council, and they would explain to us political secretaries what we had to do to ensure the participation of all the State employees in the elections, and mobilize them with pickup trucks and ensuring all the logistics for the voting centers.
Can the government know whether a public employee has voted for the Sandinista Front?
In that meeting they showed us that they can. They got onto the page of the Council, asked for an ID number, and showed whether that political secretary who handed over their ID card had participated in the previous elections, and whether they had participated in the verifications; so that they told us that we had to transmit to all the workers that they had ways of being able to control whether they participated or not in the elections, and yes, there was great emphasis, to such an extent that after each election Ovidio Reyes would ask for a list of those who were not walking around with their thumb stained.
How were the technical decisions of the Central Bank affected by the existence of a partisan apparatus that functioned in a vertical way, subordinated to the president of the principal economic institution of the country?
In the case of the functions of the president of the Central Bank, an institution with a key importance in the economic life of the country, what we see is that he has a very strong degree of political alignment, he spends a lot of his time working on issues of leadership of other State institutions which are not the Central Bank.
The other implication is that there is a very strong filter in what gets published, if the data is not helpful, it is not published, it is simply blocked. So all this means in addition that the work with the technicians is very controlled. The technicians cannot freely express their opinion, they have to wait to see what the orientation that the president gives to be able to proceed to continue with a proposal for “x” or “y” work, because one cannot take any initiatives that they would consider fall outside of what was directed. So, of course, this intimidates institutional development and undermines the functions of an institution as important as the Central Bank.
For example, the statistics that INIDE presents on the dramatic reduction in poverty levels, that appear supported by the president of the Central Bank, are they trustworthy?
The problem is that you are working with completely outdated data, you have a disjointed, gutted, half served institution, with an old census, outside of what normally could be a trustworthy sample framework, and with some methodologies that are not necessarily the ones that they should be using.
What I do know is that not even we as researchers had access to standard of living surveys since 2014, what was done in 2016 they did not let us have access to at all, and I am technically clear that the sample framework is completely out of date.
And nevertheless, in spite of these discrepancies, even before April 18th, you, and possibly many other technicians and officials from the Central Bank and that State, supported the management of the Government. Was this personal support for Commandante Ortega, the Sandinista Party, or an opportunity to keep a job?
For me it is a mixture of all of that. On the one hand, it was the only time that a Government had invited me to be able to exercise functions of preparing policy notes, when I had spent 17 years being a university researcher, where I evaluated public policies, and they invited me to be able to contribute to the Millennium Development Objectives with a team composed of different ministries and supported by the United Nations, so it appeared fantastic to me.
On the other hand, on the political level, in spite of the fact that I was not active in politics since I had been working as a researcher, I did receive political formation when I was little, since my Mom went into exile in 1978, and later I grew up with the Sandinista Children´s Association (ANS), the Sandinista Youth, the coffee harvests, the Federation of Secondary Students (FES), I was with “Baquita”, with many fellow students. So I have believed in a social project and I thought that participating should not be something that I would be ashamed of, because it should be something that all of us should do. Unfortunately, the party is no longer what we thought that it was, and since I have been political secretary they never invited me to any Congress, the people who go to the congresses and the activities are chosen and are only youth, because people like myself are considered disposable, and we should only follow orders and that is it, and if not, we are considered undisciplined.
After April 18th: “we are going all out”
In your testimony before the Human Rights Committee of the US Congress, you said that you passed by the Camino de Oriente on April 18th and you saw when the protestors began to meet. Were you a witness to the repression?
The thing is I live close by, so I went there to buy POPS ice cream for my daughters, and the youth who were there to protest were eating POPS, they were not many, they were a few, and I was shocked when I got home they were already beating them, so I did not see the beating, but it was all at the same time, it was a big shock, and after that the tension of that moment got worse.
The president of the Central Bank called me asking me what was happening, and I told him, the people protested for this, but the repression that existed, the reaction was disproportionate, please talk to them because they listen to you, you have a position where they can hear you. So he just insisted on telling me, “What directions did you receive from Fidel Moreno?” And the orientation that we received from him, in the meeting that was held the following day, we are going all out, we are not going to let them steal the revolution from us, and that “we are going all out” is true. So, he said, well, there is nothing to debate here, I do not have anything more to say, you have to perform – and that the people from the Government who expressed views against what was happening, that we should draw up a list and pass it to him, because he could work with less people without a problem.
And you passed some list of people from the bank who did not support the repression?
No, I did not pass it, and I would have been the first one on the list, of course. And in that moment my ethical moral dilemma began, one thing is supporting activities where you go house to house, doing (health) work because of the mosquitos, that even though the work is a form of patronage, but you do not consider it to be work that morally goes against your principles; and this other, so now with this moment of repression happening, I now did have a limit of what I would allow or not.
That emergency meeting that you mention with Fidel Moreno, the day after, April 19th, where was it held, and who else was present?
The first one was in the auditorium of the Japanese park, and the second one was in the auditorium of the Municipal government of Managua, the Miguel Larreynaga auditorium. Now in the second meeting Lumberto Campbell was present (Vice President of the Supreme Electoral Council), and they showed us a video where they were saying that they were showing us that everything we were seeing was staged, that that did not exist, that we should tell our families and all the workers that they should only watch the official channels, and everything that we were seeing was pure theatre. And Lumberto Campbell, who was asking us that we do this, said that he was even asking his wife to do this, was asking her to not watch this, because she was driving him crazy with the questions that she was asking him, and he said to her. “Well, are you going to believe us or what?”
They put in front of us people who previously did not come to the meetings, those who directed the attack on #OCUPAINSS (June 2013), and that I know only by their faces, were already up front and were observing the faces that we political secretaries made while watching the videos that they were showing us.
That second meeting is after the weekend of April 21 and 22, in other words on Monday April 23, when the first huge peaceful march was done in Managua toward the UPOLI. For the party structure that met, the 20 dead that there were at that moment, and that peaceful march, did they represent an armed rebellion against the government, or a massacre against the population?
The first thing that happened was an alignment, in other words, first you receive what you should accept as the response. And the response comes from the meeting that Rosario Murillo had with the Ministers, and then Ovidio Reyes arrives and repeats. And what was the argument? The argument was: nothing is happening here, power is completely secure, you should be calm, there was only a little mistake here, of having touched some young people and some elderly people, we already know that this should not be done, and the opposition is completely divided, there is no opposition, no one has a Daniel Ortega like we do, so we are going to have power for a long time. So, say that to the people, that everyone should be at peace, that nothing is happening. Even more, in the management meetings there was already open support of Ovidio for the repression, to such an extent that he was saying to us, “If anyone goes to a march, or calls a march, know that you are inviting to kill.” But, why do they have to attack a march? In other words, why saying that you are going to invite to a march is accepting that there have to be deaths. It does not make sense, right. So it was part of that ethical and moral problem that we were experiencing, and I think that it was not just me, probably many people who are still inside.
The failed takeover of Managua on April 20th
There is an email dated Friday April 20 where the national leadership of the FSLN under the responsibility of Rosario Murillo orders that 61 symbolic points of Managua be taken indefinitely. Nevertheless, that day what was seen in Managua was a spontaneous rebellion of the population. At that moment, were the structures of the FSLN not able to take those 60 points?
Yes, we tried to do so, I tried to comply, they placed us on the suburbana highway.
When you say we, who are you referring to?
The CLS, the Sandinista Leadership Council. So in the Central Bank we had a role where a group of us would go on Friday, another group on Saturday, another group on Sunday, there were two groups per day because there were 24 hours. We put up tarps, we put up sound equipment, but as I am leaving the people and went east, I went by the neighborhoods in the east because I took a fellow worker to her home, so I went into the neighborhoods that are close to the UPOLI, and I saw that this was an insurrection, I saw it with my own eyes. It took me a long time to get back to my own home, people were out in the streets with pots and pans, in other words I felt like in 1978, I lived through that. I was little, I was eight years old but I remember all of that perfectly well. So I called the people and I told them, go home. And Saturday and Sunday I did not comply with the order, I dismantled them [tarps] completely, and it was my first act of indiscipline, that was how it was categorized by the president, that I committed indiscipline.
According to your testimony, you presented your resignation as political secretary on Wednesday July 25th. What happened that day?
I was heading for work and it was completely blocked, it took me forever because you could not go by the UNAN, you could not get into Managua, so a young woman called me named Blanca García, who is the connection between Fidel Moreno and the institutions, and she told me that we had the last shift, the one at six pm, that we had to go to the Hugo Chavez (roundabout). So I said to her, I am seeing that this is very dangerous, why are you going to expose people to get there? Even more, in the previous meeting they had already told us, if they attack you, film it, because they come out saying they are the ones attacked, if they attack you, film yourselves. I did not want to experience a situation where I am responsible for mobilizing people who are going to be attacked, and they tell me, in addition, to film it. So I began to even have doubts that they were going to attack them. So I said to him, look, the Central Bank is not going to send people. It was my decision, and afterwards I communicated it to the president (Ovidio Reyes), and I said to him, Look, president, I said that I am not going to send people. So the president said to me; No, you have to comply. You have to do it. And I said to him, No, I am not going to comply because I am not going to carry in my conscience if something happens to some worker who I am sending. So I said to him, if you want, remove me from my post, but I am not going to do it.
So he immediately called a meeting, he told them that I had cracked, and that I would quit being the political secretary. From that day on he has never spoken to me again. I disappeared, they took away my phone, they blocked all my emails, they blocked my technical work immediately, in other words, life changed completely at that very moment.
Resignation, firing and threats
They accepted your resignation as political secretary, but you did not resign from your technical work. Could one thing be separated from the other? How did people react to you, was there solidarity because you were protecting them from being exposed to danger, or did they take some reprisals?
Well the truth is that I quit going to the cafeteria because people quit talking to me; some because if they greeted me, it was like they were supporting me, and they did not want to be seen doing that, because if they were supporting me, it was dangerous; and others because they considered me a traitor, because they were organized, so I was the one who had betrayed them, according to what had been proposed. So I began to suffer severe marginalization, and blocking of my technical work as well. I continued going to the management meetings, but they did not take me into account at all, even more, the orders that came for my management team now were channeled through another manager who was at my same level, not even with my immediate boss.
In your testimony before the Congress you said that on July 17th you received a letter of dismissal, but in the end they accepted your resignation.
The truth is that the manager of human resources called me saying that the president of the Central Bank had ordered that on that day she should proceed to cancel my full time work contract with the Central Bank. I asked her to tell me what the reason was. She told me that he was saying that I had a position of trust. And I said to her, but I am the research manager, it is a technical job, I do not have anything to do with a position of trust in that sense. But she told me, well, but that is his decision. And I would suggest to you that you take the option of resigning immediately. So she told me that if I did not take that, I would lose all the benefits that the law provides. So I took advantage of presenting my immediate resignation, and I left immediately, since that day I have not stepped foot in the Central Bank.
Why did you decide to leave the country with your family? You had already left the Bank, you had already left the Sandinista Front, why did you decide to migrate?
Because there was no other option. In other words, I began to receive through different channels threats for being a traitor, you are an infiltrated MRS member, the commandante is staying and you thought he was leaving, you did some bad accounting. And I was afraid to be on the street with the girls, we no longer would go out together in the car. Where I live we have cameras, so there were three ugly attacks on the place where I live, even bullets shot off. All that together was very risky, more if I wanted to make my contribution by making this denouncement before the US Congress so that this would not happen again in Nicaragua. Because if we do not assume the responsibility that comes our way, this is going to continue happening, and we cannot continue like this.
Ligia, some people who will read your testimony would be able to point you out as an accomplice of the regime for many years, others are going to celebrate it was an ethical and brave decision, and some partisans of the regime, as you have said, accuse you of treason. How do you feel after providing this testimony?
The truth is that there are two feelings: one, I feel liberated because I am me, and I can say what I think, feel, and I can respond to my commitment to society. I studied and got an education, and all my life I have dedicated to working against inequalities; and on the other hand, I feel fear for my family, for my friends. I have had to close down my Facebook, but I am not sorry. And I believe that is the example that I have to give to my daughters. My daughters are growing up. To have a salary, one cannot support something that passes beyond humane limits, in other words, massacring young people as they have been massacred, torturing as they have been tortured, and jailing people just for demonstrating, is something that one cannot support. So my daughters, what example was I going to give them? I prefer to be experiencing difficulties than be supporting what was happening.
The State technicians and professionals who continue in the roundabouts and the marches to Hugo Chavez (roundabout), will they be there permanently? Are they providing conscious support to a regime that has been identified as perpetuating a massacre?
The truth is that some are moved by ideological aspects in the sense that they do believe, and they put in them hate between the poor and the rich – those are the rich that you have to attack, they do not forgive us because we have taken their capital, and therefore they are reacting. Others are simply forced to, because if they do not go, they begin to get on a black list, and the first reduction that happens, they are out of there, there are already people leaving. In the Central Bank, even with the incentives, the amount of people who are participating in those roundabout mobilization are going down, always the same people go now, and the president is now asking for list of those who have quit going. There is a perverse incentive, if you went, and you stopped going, they attack you; if you never went, you are more safe, see? So it is terrible, because they are attacking their own people, the ones who are more exposed are their own people.
 In Nicaragua after one votes their thumb is dipped into ink, which is meant to prevent anyone from voting twice. In this case it is also used to determine who did not vote.
 Since the US applied the Magnitsky Act to the President of the Supreme Electoral Council in Dec 2017, he has been the acting President.
 At 4am June 2013 young people in FSLN t-shirts with their face covered brought in by municipal government trucks, attacked retired people and their supporters who had taken over the social security offices in protest for not getting partial pension as established by law in 2005. The area was cordoned off by police, who witnessed the attack and the theft of vehicles, laptops, cell phones, etc. The police later refused to file theft reports.