As a member of the first National Dialogue, representing the Peasant Movement Against the Canal, this peasant leader was abducted and eventually sentenced to 216 years in jail, and was released eventually as part of the second negotiations. This interview is important because it shows the perspective of the peasant movement on the government repression and killing, their solution to the crisis, and the Civic Alliance
Medardo Mairena: “They Cut Peasants Piece by Piece Until They Brought Them Down”
By Julian Navarette in La Prensa, October 5, 2019
The peasant leader talks about the persecution of their movement, but also about the relationship they have with representatives of big business leaders in Nicaragua in the Civic Alliance.
In a matter of months, Medardo Mairena went from being under an isolation regime in jail cell 300, maximum security in the Penitentiary System of Nicaragua, to meeting in the United States with members of the Security Council of Donald Trump. In one photo he is seen in a Big League baseball stadium, and in another, pretty serious, alongside the secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro.
As head of the Peasant Movement, a week ago Mairena got a hearing with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to present a detailed report on executions of peasants by the regime of Daniel Ortega during 12 years in power. According to the document there are 55 executed leaders, and that is from April 2018 to September 25, 2019.
“They are not looking for us peasants in order to put us in jail, but to kill us”, says Mairena, who was in jail nearly a year, most of the time in maximum security cells. “During the 80s the Sandinista regime killed the peasants because some of them were commanders of the Contras; now their family members are being persecuted and murdered”, he added by phone from Boston in the United States.
Mairena used the example of his father, who was jailed for refusing to join Patriotic Military Service in the decade of the 80s. “And now (last year) it was my turn (to go to jail)”, he says. That is why he is clear that Nicaragua needs “true democratization,” and believes that it will be achieved through a negotiation in which Ortega first must show political will, freeing political prisoners, providing democratic freedoms and stopping selective assassinations of peasants.
Since when have you been opposed to the regime of Daniel Ortega?
Ideologically I have never been in agreement with him, because in the decade of the 80s my Dad was kidnapped by the same Orteguistas for thinking differently, because they wanted to force him to do Patriotic Military Service. What the peasantry and the Miskitos in those years experienced was brutal repression, in addition to the fact that they tried to impose an ideology to follow Ortega with a completely erroneous government. My Dad had his land and was dispossessed. He lost everything on being evacuated because of the war. Since then we thought that the way Ortega governed has been a failure. In the 80s he destroyed the economy and once again in power he is destroying the economy again.
Why do you think that the Sandinista regime has always gone against the peasantry?
Most of the people who took up arms in the Contras were peasants. At that time, because they confiscated land, they did not respect private property. They did the “piñata”. They wanted power and money. That showed during that mandate as well: the ambition for political and economic power. Wanting to exploit natural resources: the mafias in the Indio Maíz and Bosawas reserves. The Miskitos have defended the natural resources, and he has killed them as well. The ambition to stay in power had led him to commit crimes against humanity. Since then it has been hate against the peasants. I think that if there were greater connectivity to the internet in the countryside, there would be much more evidence about how the hate against the peasants is shown. Like how the Army, that says that it has not participated in the massacre, has murdered peasants. There have been cases where they have tortured peasants and have cut them up piece by piece until bringing them down. And it is a way of showing their hate for them, just for raising their voices and thinking differently.
You have said that Daniel Ortega used the two dialogues to buy time. What makes you think that he would do it in good faith a third time?
First of all, if he wants to negotiate, he has to free the political prisoners, allow us to demonstrate in the streets, stop the killing and persecution of peasants. These are the signs to enter into negotiations. Because we cannot go to the [negotiating] table when we know there are brothers who are being slowly killed off. We cannot sit down at a table if they are out persecuting us. It is not possible what happened to me, being in the dialogue, they took me to jail.
Do you think the dialogue is the only solution, or can there be another?
We believe that it is the best solution, because it is the way that we can avoid bloodshed, because we know that the persecution could end in a wave of violence, which would be difficult. We know that Ortega has the weapons, and already killed disarmed people. That is why it is important that there be national and international pressure so that we can find a solution through a negotiation where the people are taken into account.
The perception that exists is that while you were in jail you earned the sympathy of the opposition in the country. Do you feel a special responsibility?
Of course I do. Because I am at the head of a humble people with whom I identify. Now, other movements have supported us, because we are honest people, and do not have skeletons in our closets. Because we have always been there in the bad times, but at the front of the victims to support them. That is why we have asked the international community for the freedom of the prisoners, and advocated for the Nicaraguans who are in the detention centers, even in the United States.
How were you involved in the rebellion of last year?
We began marches and protests, and we told the people of Nicaragua that we supported the students who started the struggle. Later came the dialogue, and we know what happened: he jailed us and invented crimes. We saw the irresponsibility of the judges and prosecutors that allowed themselves to be led by their drive for their political ideology.
It is said that you still belong to the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). How true is this?
I was a regional council person elected by the peasants in the PLC. I was not a designated candidate, rather I participated in primary elections to be the representative to the regional government. I had the support of the peasants. At that time emerged the fight for our lands over the Interoceanic Canal. That is why they tried to minimize me, and did not allow me to pass development projects in the community. I was elected for the PLC, but at this time I am not actively engaged in any party, and I am not interested in any party banner. I know that this crisis is going to end in an electoral issue, and for me that will be the decision of the people. I understand that some people, out of envy and political jealousy, are trying to discredit us, because they know that the Peasant Movement is pure.
Have you had offers for public offices?
I never got organized to obtain an office and make money. It is known that before 2018 they made me an offer on the part of the regime and other opposition parties. They offered me candidacies to be a deputy and for the municipal government. I am clear that I have had the leadership to win it, but I did not join an organization for that purpose. I did it for the peasants, and that is why I continue to be their soldier, and for those who feel represented by me. I did not accept the candidacies because they have never interested me, but that does not mean that I ignore them, because I am clear that this crisis will end in elections. That is why the people of Nicaragua have to be alert: they cannot allow people to be elected who are guilty of the grief.
Would you like to take on some public office?
I think that one does not look for public office, rather they look for you. Within the responsibility that I have, and my desire is, that it be the people who make the decision. I am not interested in obtaining those spaces; but I am interested in the fact that those spaces stay in the hands of honest people and that they respond to the people.
Have you ever been a fan of the Sandinista Front?
Never. And even less now that it has become a terrorist organization.
There are many criticisms of the Civic Alliance, which you are part of, because it is coopted by Nicaraguan big capital. Why are you supporting it?
I am with it since its founding. And for us it has been the vehicle for representation in the negotiations. The Peasant Movement has its autonomy like the other movements. So we see it as a space in light of a dialogue where the Peasant Movement will take its demands in the context of negotiations, as well as the other movements will take their own. What we are trying to do is unite our efforts, in spite of the differences that we might have. Because the love we have for Nicaragua, and the need to find solutions, have to be greater. Now it is important to point out that we have to be responsible with the unity, because we cannot allow the [practice of] divvying up of offices to come back. What we need is for the people to be the overseers, witnesses, that they propose and elect their next authorities. But at this moment, our priority is the freedom of the political prisoners and providing for those children who have their parents abducted or who were left orphaned. This struggle is not the struggle of a group, but of all Nicaraguans.
Have you not seen signs that the business sector has wanted to make arrangements behind the scenes with the regime?
In what I have been involved, I have never seen that there was an internal arrangement. Last week we were together in Washington and agreed that it is the moment that there must be more pressure. That is why we agreed that we need to seek the application of the Democratic Charter, because it is not funny that we are in the OAS, when the regime did not even permit the entry of the Commission [IACHR], and this regime cannot be democratic when it continues killing.
What accomplishment in the negotiation would satisfy you?
The democratization of Nicaragua. That I can return to my home, with my family: that I can live as we have lived; on my farm, as any peasant. That there be no persecution. There have to be changes in all the branches of the State, so that they be completely independent and that they be ruled by the Constitution. That the peasants can return peacefully to their lands.
That children t receive a good education, and that the taxes that we pay be invested in development projects in the community. That would be the most important. We know that we are not going to achieve everything, because those who lost their loved ones we are not going to get them back, unfortunately. For us they are going to live forever because they offered their lives to bring peace back to the country.
In the first months of the rebellion it was thought that the regime was in checkmate. What failed at that moment?
I think that we accepted to participate in the dialogue believing that Ortega was going to quit killing the students. Also it was necessary that all the expressions unite together to apply pressure. I think that the private sector left much to be desired at that time. We know that the people of Nicaragua asked for an indefinite strike. Unfortunately that did not happen. But we do not want to stay in the past, and in what could have been done, but in what we are going to do from now on.
But do you think there is the will on the part of the business sector now?
In these times, even though we do need to apply pressure, it is not the same as the opportunity we had at that time. But we do need there to be pressure. Now, I understand that the private sector is concerned that the economy is falling, but we are concerned because they are killing our fellow demonstrators. But today a strike would not have the same impact, but we believe that it is necessary.
Up to April 2018 the business sector maintained a type of economic pact with the Ortega government. How has it been to be seated now with these representatives that ignored your complaints?
It has been difficult for us, because at that time, not only were they not saying anything, but part of them were the authorities of the Interoceanic Canal project. In other words, they were against us. We, the peasants, if we are in that place, it is to find a solution as quickly as possible. We are making great efforts to control our emotions. And we believe that the only solution is bringing all the expressions [of the opposition] together. In such a way that we hope that all those who have placed themselves on this side of the table, that their conscience does not punish them from this day forward.
Medardo Mairena, Peasant leader.
Medardo Mairena was born on November 30, 1978 in the community of Nueva Guinea in the Southern Caribbean region of Nicaragua. In the last 19 years he has lived in Punta Gorda, in a community that is called Polo de Desarrollo Daniel Guido Sánchez with his wife Yaritza Báez, 40 years of age, and three children that they have together. The youngest, a three-year old girl, is named Kathia. According to a report from Domingo in June of this year, he has a 255 acre farm where he is raising 40 head of cattle. He also uses the land to plant. During the national dialogue of 2018 Mairena said to Ortega: “The people demand that you go. We do not want more deaths, and you are the ones responsible.” Mairena got as far as the first year of secondary school, because to go to school he had to travel 30 kilometers. He started his studies at the age of 16 on his own. He participated in five certificate programs on management and leadership.