As Demonstrators Demand Nicaraguan President’s Resignation, Government Accuses Opposition of Coup

The political crisis in Nicaragua is intensifying. More than 186 people have been killed since widespread demonstrations to oust Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega began in mid-April, when his government announced plans to overhaul and slash social security.

Amnesty International has accused the Nicaraguan government of using “pro-government armed groups to carry out attacks, incite violence, increase their capacity for repression and operate outside the law.”

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But the Nicaraguan government has blamed part of the violence on armed members of the opposition who are trying to overthrow the democratically elected government.

We speak with Paul Oquist, senior minister for national policy in the Nicaraguan government.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The political crisis in Nicaragua is intensifying. More than 178 people have been killed since widespread demonstrations to oust Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega began in mid-April, when his government announced plans to overhaul and slash social security. Amnesty International has accused the Nicaraguan government of using “pro-government armed groups to carry out attacks, incite violence, increase their capacity for repression and operate outside the law.” On Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein condemned the recent outbreak of violence in Nicaragua.

ZEID RA’AD AL-HUSSEIN: In Nicaragua, antigovernment protests over the past two months have led to the killing of at least 178 people, almost entirely at the hand of the police forces and by armed pro-government groups.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But the Nicaraguan government has blamed part of the violence on armed members of the opposition who are trying to overthrow the democratically elected President Ortega. Much of Nicaragua is at a standstill as opposition groups have set up barricades along key roads, many guarded by masked men armed with homemade mortars. On Monday, opposition groups in Nicaragua’s third largest city, Masaya, declared independence from Ortega’s government. According to The Washington Post, the opposition formed a five-member junta of national salvation to run the city which was once seen as a Sandinista stronghold.

AMY GOODMAN: Efforts to hold a national dialogue between the government and civil society appears to be falling apart. On Monday, key parts of the opposition, including leaders of the student protests, pulled out of the talks, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, some of the student groups have sought assistance from the Trump administration, marking the biggest crisis since Daniel Ortega was elected 11 years ago. Ortega has served as president of Nicaragua since 2007. In the late 1970s, as the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, he helped overthrow the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.

We’re joined here in New York by Paul Oquist. He is a senior minister for national policy in the Nicaraguan government. We had a previous show where we had a number of people, former Sandinistas, deeply concerned about what’s happening, the killing of over 100 protesters in Nicaragua. Your thoughts?

PAUL OQUIST: Nicaragua is a polarized society, and there has been violence in the last two months on both sides. And what we have seen lately is a wave of violence never seen before in Nicaragua, of kidnappings, of state institutions destroyed, mayor’s offices burned down, torture, intimidation, persecution. And there has been a tremendous slant in the news because this is a media war also, and it’s a social media war. It is straight out of Gene Sharp’s handbook of how to destabilize governments that has been used several times.

I’m not the only one saying this. Gene Sharp’s handbook has been recommended by leaders of this movement. You can find that on the internet. False news, black propaganda is part of the game. And there is no balance in this; it is all one-sided. So the media here and in Europe and elsewhere pick up verbatim the statements that come from the movement, and contrary information somehow is filtered out.

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For example, on the 16th of June, Francisco Aráuz Pineda, who was working to remove barricades—these barricades are not civic, peaceful events. They are coerced. They are violently enforced. And he and another gentleman were killed. And Francisco Aráuz Pineda’s body, after he was shot, and on the streets—and you can find a video of this on the internet also—was burned. They threw gasoline on him and burned his body, and then they put a Sandinista flag on it and they were joking about it, and really not respecting his corpse at all. They were having a little party around his corpse.

So these things are not reported. There is no balance. What the government is looking for now is to get out of this cycle of violence. To get back to peace. Nicaragua lived in peace for 11 years. The government of national reconciliation and national unity was formed by overcoming the conflicts of the 1980s, which was the inclusion of the resistance in the government and of Yatama, that had also been part of the armed movement supported by the CIA in the 1980s. Now we need to get out of this cycle of violence, and by the same way, through negotiations, through dialogue. That is what happened in the 1980s. At Sapoá, the government met with the Contra and the peace agreement started to be hammered out, and the Esquipulas process led to the elections of 1990.

Nicaragua is a polarized society. You will not get peace by having one side trying to impose on the other side. The violent overthrow of the government position, the “que se vaya ya” position has a tremendous flaw. It hasn’t been thought through. The violence will continue. The violence will continue because one side cannot impose upon the other side. We need a negotiated settlement and the government is trying to promote that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask you—when you say the society is polarized, who is the opposition from your perspective? Obviously, there are ex-Sandinistas who have been critical of President Ortega for basically removing anyone who might be critical of him, and who have joined the opposition. So who is leading the opposition?

PAUL OQUIST: That group, which is very exaggerated in the media, is a very small minority. In the opinion polls, they poll one percent—the MRS. One percent. And as a matter of fact, that is an obstacle. You had people on this very show saying that they want the violent overthrow of the government and they want it now. There is a plan already in place to get elections next year. The OAS and Nicaragua have signed a plan which will lead—and there’s a calendar for it that is being executed as we speak—to a reform of the national electoral council and the electoral law and the electoral rolls by January of next year. But that can’t happen unless there is peace.

As a matter of fact, we are seeing that the dialogue is very difficult with this violence, with the barricades that are impeding the free movement of people and goods, which are making life very difficult. Farmers cannot get their crops to market. They are losing money. The people who can’t get to work. The people who work and earn a salary every day are in very bad straits. The tourism industry has been brought to a halt. And all of the tourist workers, a great many of them have been laid off.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip of the human rights activist, Mónica López Baltodano, in Managua, speaking about the demonstrations in Nicaragua, and what the protestors are demanding.

MÓNICA LÓPEZ BALTODANO: What we have been seeing for the past 45 days is the rise up of a very strong popular rebellion against the violence of Daniel Ortega’s government. The rebellion has been led by youth, mostly youth in the universities, but also it has now become a rebellion of all Nicaraguan population. We have seen massive protests on the streets, and also important, actions of protest that are happening. For instance, more than 70 percent of the roads in Nicaragua are blocked by population that is requesting two basic things—justice for the more than 127 people that have been murdered by Ortega’s regime so far and more than 1,000 people injured, and also the decision of Nicaraguan population that Ortega and his wife leaves power.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Mónica López Baltodano, one of the leading protestors.

PAUL OQUIST: What decision do Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo leave power? Because Mónica Baltodano says it? Because there’s barricades on the street? There’s a thing called democratic process. And what we’re looking for is a democratic process. We’re looking for peaceful conditions that can lead to democratic outcomes. It is not—advocate a coup, a violent coup in a polarized society does not end the violence. The violence would continue. We need institutions. We need democracy now!

AMY GOODMAN: Why did the Ortega government open fire on the protesters? More than 100 have been killed.

PAUL OQUIST: They’re not all—that is a very gross exaggeration.

AMY GOODMAN: But what would you say?

PAUL OQUIST: They say this…

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say?

PAUL OQUIST: I say that the government has agreed that the forensic people of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accompany the Nicaraguan prosecutors and elucidating each and every one of those cases without gross generalizations, which one hears every day, trying to put the 10 policemen who have been killed on the account of the government, that the government burned down its own mayor’s offices in various cities, that the x on the houses of the Sandinistas, which [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds, but we will do a post-show. But for right now, what are you calling for?

PAUL OQUIST: There is absolute bias in the media, internationally, picking up on this media war by taking the black propaganda and presenting it as fact. There is no balance. What we need is balance. What we need is dialogue to get to a peace process which can lead to elections and the Nicaraguan people decide. Not Mónica Baltodano and 71 barricades.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there but continue this discussion and put it online at Paul Oquist, senior minister for national policy in President Daniel Ortega’s government. That is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González.


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