Fear in Nicaragua

Violence has broken out all over the country of Nicaragua this week.  Armed again, but this time organized by Sandinista thugs. I understand this is hard to swallow but I was in Nicaragua all last week, talking to sources I have in the Sandinista government and outside the government, amongst working people, intellectuals and campesinos.

Beatings and brutal physical attacks against intellectuals, journalists and civil rights group members are frequent here now. There is currently no legal opposition allowed in the country against the policies of the Nicaragua government (FSLN), controlled by the Sandinistas. As of November 9, 2009, for example, it was illegal for any opposition to the Sandinistas to paint anything on poles or walls, which is what students have been doing for weeks to declare the elections stolen.  During the early hours of the morning vehicles carrying armed gangs erase any opposition on walls in the country’s capital, Managua. Organized citizen gangs, called the CPC or Consejo del Pueblo Ciudadana work closely with some of the most dangerous criminal delinquent gangs in the city and region, mostly young disenfranchised and uneducated men, to prevent any opposition to Daniel Ortega and his government policies, while rumors fly that Ortega flies to Cuba for blood transfusions. This is disconcerting and almost unbelieveable to those of us, like myself, who a quarter of a century ago lived and worked in Nicaragua supporting the Sandinista government against the ruthless Contra war that blanketed the small country with venal bloodshed.

At issue, or at least one of the issues, is the municipal elections that took place last year,.  On November 9, 2008 Nicaragua held municipal elections in 146 cities and towns throughout the country. These races were huge, due to the fact that mayors have a great deal of autonomy and can act as a check on central government power.  That is why Daniel stole them The liberal party Deputy, Enrique Quiñónez, said at the time that juvenile delinquents were used to pull off the 2008 municipal fraud.  At the time of the elections, the Washington Office on Latin America, not a conservative organization by any means, warned of state-sponsored repression ahead of the vote. In a November 6, 2008 communique, the organization wrote:

“We are alarmed by the growing climate of intolerance for those who are perceived as critics of the federal government. The physical attack on a march of opposition party activists, and the apparent unwillingness of the police to restore order, the criminal investigations of several civil society organizations and their leaders, as well as the investigation of international NGOs that have funded some of these organizations, is extremely troubling.”

The Washington Office on Latin America also referenced “violent acts by government supporters against human rights defenders.”  They went on to note at the time that:

“the physical attack on a march of opposition party activists, and the apparent unwillingness of the police to restore order, the criminal investigations of several civil society organizations and their leaders, as well as the investigation of international NGOs that have funded some of these organizations, is extremely troubling.”

The Washington Office on Latin America also referenced “violent acts by government supporters against human rights defenders.” (ibid)

In the months preceding the municipal elections of November 9th, 2008, Mr. Ortega’s government maneuvered itself in an effort to disqualify two opposition parties from the ballot. Ortega then blocked the Organization of American States, the European Union and the Carter Center from receiving credentials to observe the balloting. He even barred Nicaragua’s highly respected independent watchdog, Ethics and Transparency — which had recognized Mr. Ortega’s 2006 victory — from the polling stations.

Despite getting shut out, Ethics and Transparency managed to post observers to watch from outside polling stations. It estimated that one-third of the stations experienced irregularities. There were also reports that in some places opposition-party observers were kicked out of polling stations, and some polling stations closed ahead of schedule.

Ortega and his government then sent police to ransack the offices of the country’s leading investigative journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, and those of a women’s group. Ortega, it was said at the time, was investigating another 15 organizations, including Oxfam, a British aid agency, for money-laundering and “subversion”.  Many former Sandinista leaders have split with Mr. Ortega over this and other issues. Ortega’s approval rating in opinion polls has slumped towards 20 per cent.

This week of November 9, 2009 opposition leaders, many of them Civil Rights groups, Women Rights groups and simply those in the population tired of the criminal policies and intimidation and fear employed by the Sandinista run government took to the streets to oppose the fraud they say was committed department by department throughout Nicaragua. Students are now putting together Él Libro Negro´, the black book that proves the elections of 2008 were stolen.  With this in mind coupled with the increasing pressure on the Ortega government, this 14 of November, after one week of peaceful opposition protest met by brutal Sandinista violence, Daniel Ortega finally admitted there had been fraud in the elections.

Ortega’s term to expire in 2012

Yet there is another issue on the table as well.  The other issue sparking protest is the constitutional change by the Supreme Court allowing Ortega to run again in 2011 even though he is, or was, term limited. Ortega first went to the Congressional Assembly to seek the abandonment of Article 147 which would have prevented him from running, but he was rebuffed by Congress.  Eduardo Montealegre, who lost the Managua mayoral race in the election of 2008, said at the time Ortega was trying to wrangle up enough votes from opposition legislators to pass his reforms. But the Sandinistas are a minority in Congress. Even Nicaraguan Vice President Jaime Morales said he opposed President Daniel Ortega’s bid to change the constitution to allow re-election and will step down if Ortega stays in power after his term expires in 2012.  In an interview last year, Morales said: “Re-elections have spawned dictatorships, tyrannies, confrontations and civil war. I think frequent change of power is preferable.”

Morales, who isn’t a member of any political party, was however a negotiator for the U.S.-backed Contra rebels during their 1980s battle against Ortega’s Soviet-backed Sandinista government. He joined Ortega for the 2006 electoral campaign to create a reconciliation government.

The argument Ortega makes for allowing him to run once again is that, in a rapidly changing global world, continuity over more than four years is absolutely necessary if effective FSLN policies for change are to be enacted.  Yet ending term limits is tantamount to dictatorship in a country which has seen long-running military dictatorships concretize their power and violence for much of the 20th Century.  Ortega knows that.  That is why he became a guerilla and worked to overthrow the Somoza regime.  Nevertheless, the lesson was evidently not learned, Ortega went over the heads of the country’s elected Congress and garnished the six members of the Supreme Court Justice he needed to confirm that that Article 147 of the Nicaragua Constitution was inapplicable and thus he would be able to run again for president in 2011.

On October 20, 2009 of this year, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court (a subsidiary of the Sandinista Government) lifted a constitutional ban on re-election, clearing the way for President Daniel Ortega to run again in 2011 elections. The court’s decision followed an appeal by Ortega and a group of mayors, many of them those who stole the municipal elections. In July, Ortega said reiterated publicly that he favored allowing people the right to seek consecutive terms (Nicaraguan Supreme Court opens the way for Reelection of President Ortega.

What does this mean?  It means that despite constitutional term limits Daniel Ortega is poised once more to run again in 2011; if he’s alive.  Rumors and my sources have it that he flies to Cuba for blood transfusions and that he is very ill.  His wife, Rosario Murillo, however is ready to assume the crown, along with her sons.  And this no doubt plays into the issues, for my sources tell me she runs the show in Nicaragua behind the sickly pallor of Ortega’s increasingly non-public appearances.

Ortega will not give up power with out an organized fight and it is becoming increasingly obvious to any observer that this fight will continue to entail the use of Sandinista violence and criminal gangs.

Violence against women goes on in the northern part of the country as well, not to mention the escalating domestic violence that rages behind closed doors.  Patrician Orozco, a journalist and leader of the Autonomous Movement of Women (MAM) who lives in the city of Leon in the north of Nicaragua has been attacked. Observers for the Protection of Human Rights along with the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) have reported an urgent call regarding the situation of women in Nicaragua. According to information received on the October 30, 2009 when Mrs. Orozco was returning with Mrs. Lorna Norori y Ana Eveling Orozco, members of many organizations fighting for the rights of women in Nicaragua, Sandinista police agents detained the taxi they were traveling in. What did they want? Documents, they said. But their questions showed the true intent.
¨Why are you traveling to Leon¨, they asked. They were then told to ‘rethink´their trip and turn around and go back south. Before they could leave another patrol arrived and asked them to get out of the taxi they were traveling in to organize their suitcases´´, along with the taxi driver. Mrs. Patricia Orozco told the police she was not out of line, had done nothing wrong and that she and her friends committed no infraction. Not a good idea, in Nicaragua. They were taken to the police for simply complaining about their treatment. But that’s not all:  immediately more police arrived in the battle ridden city. They violently handcuffed Mrs. Orozco, began to shove her in the police car– but not before they violently threw her to the ground and broke her arm. While forced to the ground she consistently asked ¨Why, why are you forcing me to the ground? ¨ Not a good idea either. She was asked questions about her personal life which she refused to answer. She then asked the police if she could call the World Center for Human Rights. That is when they released the handcuffs.  They don’t want an international incident.

Patricia Orozco then demanded an opportunity to denounce the police violence. She suffered bodily harm, this we know for she was examined by medical personnel but the police never allowed the doctor to be questioned.
Then came the week of November 9th, 2009 in Managua, Ortega´s ski-masked thugs attacked the offices at La Prensa, the national and official paper of the liberal party, A caravan of cars and vehicles with FSLN banners, shirts and hats emblazoned with Sandinista government emblems threw rocks and shot mortars against the newspaper, destroying the second floor. They then moved on, doing the same thing at the other country paper, El Nuevo Diario. The vehicles of course had no license plates but one could hear loudspeakers shouting cries from 1980 a year after Ortega seized power. Being a journalist is hardly a good time here.

Take the case of Leonor Alvarez, a reporter, was wounded in the leg and Melvin Vargas was robbed of his camera as he covered the story. Frank Cortes another cameraman for local television was seized by violent gangs of thugs and had his camera   destroyed. The warning is clear.  According to a journalist for the Nuevo Diario, Ortega’s henchmen have beaten at least ten journalists.

At least three opposition radio stations, La Corporacion, El Pensamiento and the 15th of September have had their antennas stolen, their cables stolen and their equipment thrown into the air and smashed.   The CPC also attacked activists from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, CENIDH, who were investigating the government for illicit acts. According to Gonzalo Carrion of the CENIDH, the CPC “followed our vehicle and then jumped on the back of it, attacking it and beating the windows. Vilma Nunez, the 70 year old president of the CENIDH .was beaten on the back while they cursed her.

Since returning to the presidency in 2007, 17 years after being voted out of office at the end of the Sandinista revolution in 1990 – Ortega has created a network of private businesses that operate under the auspices of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), an opaque cooperation agreement of leftist countries bankrolled primarily by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.  Ortega’s “ALBA businesses” – known by an alphabet soup of acronyms, including ALBANISA, ALBALINISA, and ALBACARUNA – have cornered Nicaragua’s petroleum import and distribution markets, become the country’s leading energy supplier and cattle exporter, turned profits on the sale of donated Russian buses, and purchased a hotel in downtown Managua, among other lucrative investment moves.  But no one is allowed to audit the books, only Ortega and his family.

Moises Martínez, an award-winning investigative journalist for the leading daily La Prensa, says government secrecy has made his two-year investigation of Ortega’s ALBA business dealings “like trying to dig a tunnel with a hand shovel.” Despite being denied access to government sources and companies such as ALBANISA, many investigative journalists have uncovered a sticky web of almost a dozen ALBA business holdings, which Martinez claims has made Ortega and his family one of the most important economic players in the country, on par with Nicaraguan business tycoon Carlos Pellas, one of the richest families in the country. “The difference,” Martinez says; “is that it took the Pellas family 80 years to accumulate their wealth. Ortega has done it in two years.”

At a meeting held in the central office of the Sandinista Police in the  building located in the Plaza El Sol civil rights organizations and  their representatives assured the Sandinista dictatorship that they  would maintain an appropriate route to and from the march and asked  for permission from the government to demonstrate. The march is scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM on November 21st. It will go from the Rotunda Jean Paul Genie to the Consejo Supremo Electoral.

Gustavo Porras, a leader in the Sandinista government announced that they would ask the police to contain their own self-created CPC, or gang of terror, so that the Movement for Nicaragua would be able to march peacefully. But isn’t this the fox watching the hen house? According to Violeta Granera, “It is good that they (The Sandinista’s) know that the population is very, very tense and that they say they will try to avoid that those responsible for weeks of violence will not have their day.” Sure, they know, but what will they do?

Eduardo Montealegre, of the Domocratic Party a political opponent of Ortega’s in the election of 2008 reiterated that the march for civil society will not be violent. “We are not calling for violence  we are calling for peace and that they not throw the first rock, that they not carry arms or throw the first mortar,”he said. “We do not want violence.”

The head of the Ministry of Interior, Ana Isabel Morales also declared November 13, 2009 on Channel 8 television that, “There is no impediment to any party in the government marching this 21st of November, and this is a right stated in the Constitution”. Everyone has the right to mobilize and express themselves”, she said. But Daniel and his wife have shown they have no respect for the constitution or the law, asking and getting permission from the Supreme Court to suspend the Constitution so Daniel can seek presidency for life by overruling the congressional assembly as well as stealing all the municipal elections held last year.

Violeta Granera, also one of the main organizers of the march said she had no information as to how many organizations have asked for permission.  But it’s clear that there will be many people on November 21st marching for peace, an end to terror and against violence against women, if they are allowed. The spokesperson for the National Police, Commissioner Vilma Reyes, said that if other organizations ask for permissions to peacefully demonstrate this will show there “will be a permanent permit to march in the rotunda of Managua, that is what it will mean”, she said.

Religious leaders have said they will not participate in the march for human rights and peace in Nicaragua. Why? Bishop Obando y Bravo, the sophist that he is, has made a pack with Daniel just as he did with Somoza.  But religious  organizations have demanded that Daniel Ortega allow the constitutionally protected march for peace.

The good news is that as I sat and spoke with two 25 year old Nicaraguan students, one woman and one young man, they told me what we all want to hear. Never, Daniel, never! Resistancia hasta el fin. For they see so clearly what Ortega saw in the 1950s but seemingly forgot, students and youth must resist for if not, they will be sink into a fascist culture and economy, perhaps be black bagged or beaten into resistance.   However to be fair, the problem runs deep: if you work for the government, the Sandinistas make government workers pledge to the Sandinistas, show a card or they lose their job or life. If you work in a factory, it’s the same thing.

While leaving the country I spoke with a representative of an NGO working with women in Leon.  Evidently she was not aware of what had transpired the week she and I were visiting the country.  When I told her of the violence and the story you have just read she would not accept it, preferring self deception and delusion, telling me the Sandinistas were actually helping the people of Nicaragua.  Similarly, many good people with honest intent come to Nicaragua and have been for decades to help the people who have so little.  What is surprising is the self-censorship that seems to inhibits many in the left leaning community when they talk about Daniel Ortega and the FSLN.  Yet self-delusion and self deception it is, for as a one time supporter and worker for the Sandinista government, I plainly saw with my own eyes the transformation of what was once ‘the people’s movement’ into one that is now directly battling the pueblo they say they wish to help

All references to La Prensa are from November 11-15th, 2009.  El Nuevo Diario also helped me with this report.

DANNY WEIL is soon to publish “Charter Schools”, dissecting neo-liberalism’s plan for reforming education in America. Several of his pieces on charter schools have run on this site.  He can be reached at WeilUnion@aol.com


DANNY WEIL is soon to publish “Charter Schools”, dissecting neo-liberalism’s plan for reforming education in America. He can be reached at WeilUnion@aol.com