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Pressure in Nicaragua to Sign Life Sentence Petitions

The Farmers’ Movement publicly denounced that Health Ministry personnel were coercing people into signing the government’s petition for life sentences. Members of the Farmer’s Movement in Rio San Juan made this allegation during an interview with Confidencial.  

Since last week, they stated, their members denounced this irregular demand for signatures.  According to complaints, those who seek hospital attention, or attend community health events, are first asked to “support” the petition. Their signatures support the introduction of life imprisonment as a sanction for undefined “hate crimes”. 

One set of denunciations came from residents of the El Dorado III community, in the municipality of San Miguelito. The municipality is located in the department of Rio San Juan, in the far south of Nicaragua. On September 29th, residents say, a health brigade arrived in the zone “supposedly to attend to the entire population.” Every month, such brigades come to the community to examine patients and do ultrasounds.

However, the Farmer’s Movement members noted that as soon as the brigade arrived, they dedicated themselves to passing the petition.  They asked the community members to sign while they were receiving the medical services.

One pregnant woman who lives in El Dorado III stated that she was harassed until she had to leave. She couldn’t even wait for the results of her exam and ultrasound.

“They grabbed me from the line. I had already had the exams and the ultrasound and I was waiting for them to explain the results. A woman there came up to me and told me to sign. When I refused, she asked me to hand over exam papers, saying that she’d talk to me about them afterwards.” The woman complainant asked to remain anonymous to avoid further reprisals.

This citizen declared that the woman demanding her signature then issued such serious threats that she decided to leave.

“She told me that the first headless body to appear would be mine, only because I didn’t sign. She then made some calls, and at that point I became fearful. So I left, just like that, with nothing, without receiving the attention that’s supposedly free and for everyone.”

Those visiting the hospitals are also pressured

Victor Diaz, a territorial leader in Rio San Juan, explained there’s growing pressure to sign the petitions. Such pressure has become “more frequent now” in the hospitals and health centers. “They want to get their laws approved, so they can punish the opposition,” Diaz stated.

He noted that before the brigade came to El Dorado, on September 29, he was already aware of other cases.  Some residents of the Santa Elena community were asked to sign when they went to the public hospital in San Carlos.

“Another community member from the Farmers’ Movement told us of something similar that happened to them. In the third week of September, they brought a seriously ill patient to the hospital. The health personnel told them they had to sign before they could receive health services. So, they signed, because they were bringing in a person with a chronic illness and couldn’t go to another place.”

Diaz believes that the actions of these Health Ministry authorities “violates the right to health and life.” He urged them to stop “utilizing their services to obtain signatures.” “They’re endangering the lives of the rural residents. The rural families usually don’t have money to pay a private clinic.”

The signatures gathered supposedly support efforts to punish murderers, abusers and rapists of women and children with life in prison. Daniel Ortega unveiled this proposed measure during the commemoration of Central American Independence on September 15th. Petitions began circulating in the third week of September. At no time, however, did he specify that its objective was reducing violence against women or the increasingly common femicides.

From that time on, Nicaraguan state employees from the different institutions and public university students have been under pressure. They complain of being obligated to sign the petition supporting the Sandinista Front’s proposal. The government party is seeking to allow life sentences without parole for those they say committed “hate crimes”.

A Confidencial report cites workers from the Managua mayor’s office, the Tourism Institute, the Education Ministry and the Custom’s Office. All complain that they were forced to sign the Sandinista Front’s proposal. They did so out of fear for their jobs.  In the majority of the cases, the State employees noted that the papers they were given to sign were blank. There was no exact explanation of what they were signing. They were simply asked to note their first and last names, their ID numbers, and to sign.

Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s, first lady, vice president and chief government spokesperson, announced that they’ve collected over 650,000 signatures. Murillo said these support the regime’s request to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court to allow life sentences for “hate crimes”.

Nicaragua Adopts the Cuban – Venezuelan Model

In early October 2018, Daniel Ortega’s regime installed a state of siege via a Police decree prohibiting civic marches. The OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights warned at the time that Ortega instituted a de facto State of Emergency. He had essentially suspended constitutional rights such as the freedom of assembly and mobilization, free speech, and a free press.

The goal of the state of siege was to wipe out the independent civic protest and to suppress and divide the opposition. Further, they aimed to impose a false normality through repression. With this, they hoped to coopt the large business leaders and reestablish the regime’s political and economic alliances.

Nevertheless, looking at the facts, Ortega instead deepened his national and international isolation. In addition, for two consecutive years he aggravated the economic recession and the social crisis. This continued until the negligent management of the Coronavirus health crisis brought him an unexpected political invoice. The mismanaged public health crisis wore down the credibility of his leadership, even among the members of his own party.

The regime now announces the imposition of new punitive laws. There’s a push to allow the use of life sentences for certain crimes. There’s a new law to regulate supposed “foreign agents”, and a “cybercrimes” law, better known as the “Gag law”. With these, the regime is recognizing the failure of the police state. The repression never succeeded in squashing the civic protests. Even without massive demonstrations, the spirit of the resistance remains intact.  Despite the National Coalition’s stumbles and the lack of a united national front, today the resistance is greater and better organized. It now has a presence in all of the country’s municipalities.

In the next two weeks, the regime’s parliamentary steamroller will assure the approval of that combo of punitive laws. These impose severe jail sentences for any and all opposition, a majority who represent over three-fourths of the electorate.

However, in reality, the regime has never needed legal pretexts to repress and imprison. Almost two years ago, the police assaulted the offices of Confidencial and Esta Semana and executed a de facto confiscationThis was done without the backing of any judicial orders. Yet, despite the television censorship, they never silenced us. We continue our truth-based journalism. Meanwhile the independent press – persecuted, harassed and sometimes exiled – now enjoys much more credibility and influence than the official machinery.

The latest Cid-Gallup polls confirm that the majority of the population no longer believes the government’s lies about COVID-19. The express burials and the Ministry of Health statistics on pneumonia fatalities and COVID-19 tests speak for themselves. These facts refute the daily monologues of Vice President Rosario Murillo.  Because of that deception, every day political support for Ortega and the FSLN shrinks still more. His backing among the public employees, both civilian and military, continues eroding.

In reality, the “Gag Law” is aimed at threatening the honest and professional public servants. It is meant to keep them from leaking information to the press and the public regarding acts of political corruption.  Such acts are occurrences that the regime wishes to hide.

The “Cybercrimes Law” also threatens users of social media with jail time. However, the dictatorship will continue losing the battle for the truth in social media. They can’t control the massive exercise of free speech and the use of new information technologies now at the service of citizens.

These punitive laws aren’t a symptom of strength, but rather of the political and moral defeat of a minority regime. Why, then, does Ortega need to impose them against wind and tides?  There are at least three hypotheses to explain this imperious political necessity.  All are based on the regime’s urgency to adapt the Cuban and Venezuelan “model” of repressive authoritarianism to Nicaragua.

First, they intend to make full use of the Constitution and laws as one pillar of their repressive strategy. However, they don’t want these as guardians of rights, but as a means to criminalize democratic liberties and civic protest. Clearly, it’s not a carbon copy, but this strategy definitively reflects the Cuban and Venezuelan “model”. The regime is adapting that model to fit a dynastic family dictatorship with the aim of liquidating the democratic project in Nicaragua.

Expedited by the “Law” he’s mandating, Ortega will now be able to eliminate organizations of civil society. He will also control any eventual adversaries and political competitors, by criminalizing them as “foreign agents”. The Venezuelan experience demonstrates that despite high international political costs, the Cuban “model” can prove effective in giving the regime stability. Through this model, pure and harsh repression can be draped in a “legal” mantle. For Ortega, this translates into an incentive to accumulate political hostages and gain time.

Secondly, the regime intends to take over the agenda of justice and present itself as a punisher of “hate crimes”. The latter would now carry a sentence of life in prison. This, in the end, is merely a defensive act. It responds to the need to assure the Sandinista bases that they’re not the ones under the gaze of justice.

Those accused of true “hate crimes”, crimes against humanity, crimes with no statute of limitations, are in the regime’s inner circle. The finger points to members of the Ortega-Murillo regime who are most directly tied to the repression. However, as in the April killings and the failed official narrative of an attempted “Coup d’Etat”, Ortega will point the finger elsewhere. He’ll try to convince his followers that his own hate crimes can be attributed to the victims.

Thirdly, although the Nicaraguan Constitution proclaims political pluralism, this combo of punitive laws assures there’ll be no competitive elections. With these laws, Ortega has ratified his stance for the November 2021 elections. Given this, it’s illusory to expect some electoral opening from a regime that’s willing to play All or Nothing. Though they risk further international sanctions and a declaration of illegitimacy, they’ll be celebrating the elections with no competition and without transparency.

Will we arrive at the opening of the 2021 electoral campaign without a political reform?  The answer to this interrogative doesn’t depend on Ortega, but on the political opposition.  Ortega has already decided to radicalize his authoritarian model. Meanwhile, the opposition continues to be paralyzed. They’re discussing which electoral box is the safest, in imaginary elections in which they haven’t even been invited to participate.

Meanwhile, the national debate must center itself on determining the most effective strategy. The opposition must work on joining forces, weakening the regime, and altering the balance of power. They must thus force a political reform on the regime, one that results from national and international pressure. First, the reform, with or without Ortega, and later free elections.

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The hack revealed a surplus of 6,245 positive COVID-19 cases in Nicaragua that were previously unknown to the public.

On August 17, the decentralized cyber hacking group Anonymous attacked Nicaragua’s Health Ministry archives. The 400 leaked files revealed a surplus of 6,245 positive COVID-19 cases in Nicaragua that were previously unknown to the public. The announcement was made on Twitter by a self-identified Anonymous member, Lorian Syrano.

Nicaraguans on Twitter replied enthusiastically to the hack through the hashtag #OpNicaragua. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nicaragua's authorities have been singled out for their opacity about COVID-19 data and its refusal to introduce a lockdown.

Anonymous revealed that in May, the known number of positive tests for COVID-19 was 98.80 percent higher than what the official Ministry reported: 1332 cases instead of 16. The tendency continued for the following months. By July 24, it appears that a total of 6,245 positive cases were left publicly unreported.

It also appears that the rate of positive cases per test is one of the highest in the world, with nearly 56 percent of tests returning positive for COVID-19. The former director of epidemiology at the Health Ministry, Álvaro Ramírez, explained in an interview with Confidencial that it is due to the fact that the tests are primarily performed on hospitalized people or those presenting symptoms.

Already before the leak, suspicion about the accuracy of official COVID-19 data was growing. For example, a volunteer citizen observatory made up of medical experts, researchers, engineers, computer scientists and communicators, reported that the number of suspected COVID-19 related deaths is nearly twenty times higher than the data shared by the Health Ministry.

For Álvaro Ramírez, the leaked archives confirm that the government was hiding the data on purpose. He said:

…the fact that this information was there, that it came every day to the presidency, and that for whatever reason, which we will not easily understand, they (Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo) decided to lie to the population, and change the data, and put different data.

(…el hecho de que esta información estaba ahí, que llegaba todos los días a la presidencia, y que por cualquier razón, que no la vamos a entender fácilmente, ellos (Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo) decidieron mentir a la población, y cambiar los datos, y poner datos diferentes.)

The government, led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice-President Rosario Murillo, had affirmed in May that people were suffering from pneumonia instead of COVID-19. In May and June, alarming reports about hidden burials multiplied. Journalist Lucydalia Baca Castellón hopes that the conditionality of international loans will soon force the Nicaraguan government to take “responsible and transparent” measures with regards to COVID-19.

On August 16, Anonymous shared a teaser to the leaked files:

Anonymous, like many government opponents, commentators and Nicaraguan media, refers to Ortega's government as “dictatorial” due to its authoritarian traits, censorship practices, and corruption. According to the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, Ortega committed crimes against humanity against political opponents during anti-government uprisings in 2018.

On August 21, Lorian Synaro shared the link where they claim that the entire database of the Nicaraguan Health Ministry and other 400 files can be downloaded:

This is not the first time that Anonymous has targeted Ortega's government. Throughout 2018, the year of the anti-government protests and subsequent governmental repression, Anonymous took down the websites of government-controlled media and the police. In April 2020, Lorian Syrano targeted the Nicaraguan Central Bank, state-owned TV channels, the National Police and other institutional websites to protest the government’s handling of COVID-19. The Nicaraguan government then purchased computer protection software worth 916,000 córdobas (approximately 26,295 US dollars).

In May, Syrano continued to take down websites of government ministries.

El 19 Digital, the largest digital news media with close ties to the government, has not reported on any of these incidents, even though reports abound on other Ministry of Health's latest news. The Ministry of Health did not respond to the attacks, either.

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