Before Night Falls in Nicaragua

“The public must make its contribution to—good—journalism: defend it as everyone can, sustain it.”

“The public must make its contribution to—good—journalism: defend it as everyone can, sustain it.”

Carlos Fernando Chamorro knew it. Or, at least, he suspected it: “With Daniel, one is always wrong. The most common mistake is to underestimate him, because in the end he always gets something out of any situation. We do not know what will happen this time, he has it difficult, but we must be alert, very alert.”

Special police in occupation of the Confidencial offices on December 14

He told me that a few months ago, while he and his team helped me to report for these pages about the Nicaraguan insurrection.

- payin the bills -

Chamorro is, probably, the most respected journalist in the country: several times, in various places, protesters told me that he should be the one leading a new democratic government; he, of course, said he did not even imagine it.

Chamorro has other ideas: he is a journalist and does journalism and that, when it is done seriously, will piss someone off. On Friday at dawn a police band sent by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo invaded his newsroom, stole everything they could, broke what they did not, tried to instill fear.

Chamorro is undeterred; the following day he showed up at police headquarters to ask for explanations. What they gave him was another charge of infantry, more violence. Chamorro keeps talking; outside of Nicaragua few do.

In 2018, Daniel Ortega’s government has killed hundreds of people on the streets. It continues: the Nicaraguan government, its police, its henchmen, have already killed more than 500 people and the world looks on, in general, somewhere else. Against that silence, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and the entire editorial staff of Confidencial (a digital media), Niu and two TV programs for YouTube, Esta Noche (Tonight) and Esta Semana (This Week) rose up; because, now, their government tries to silence them.

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This same weekend, in Venezuela, one of the oldest newspapers, El Nacional, announced that, after 75 years, it stopped printing: the government of Nicolas Maduro has a monopoly on the importation of newsprint and it gives it grudgingly to the media that do not pay homage. This is how—Prodavinci reported—since 2013, 66 of the 90 print media circulating in the country were lost. Here it goes again: in 2013 there were 90 newspapers printed in Venezuela, now there is only one third (27).

The methods are different, but the results try to be the same: shut up the dissident. The right—which sometimes is called, also, center-right—gains space in Latin America.

Some are surprised: they do not take into account that the help given to those extremely authoritarian governments, which for years many insisted on considering as “left”, went to military and paramilitary groups used to silence the media that tries to tell a story beyond the official versions.

It is hard. And the worst thing is that the reactions are scarce. Some organizations have protested—the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation for New Journalism, on whose Advisory Council Chamorro and myself participate, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, among a few others, but in the big flows of opinion the issue does not appear.

It does not appear even in the media that could be concerned: Clarin (the largest newspaper in Argentina), for example, sent a journalist to Managua in these days because a rape scandal that shakes the Argentine press happened there nine years ago. In several articles, only once does it make a brief mention of the attack on Confidencial’s staff, casually and mistaking the name.

That silence is the most dangerous thing. Governments have always tried to silence other voices: they test, they try and if they do not find obstacles they advance. The most openly authoritarian governments do so with direct measures, such as denying newsprint or ransacking a newsroom; the most timid, with personal attacks such as the recent one by Trump against journalist Jim Acosta or of Alvaro Uribe against the documentarist Margarita Martinez. They are nuances that have some weight. But, in any case, the examples spread: if a government sees that another manages to silence without paying a high cost, it is likely to try the same.  

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We must try to stop them: to try by all possible means to stop them. It is necessary to defend ourselves; to get together, to show solidarity: not to lose the few ways of expression that remain. In order for—good—journalism to make its contribution to public life, the public has to make its contribution to—good—journalism. Defend it as anyone can, sustain it. It is easy to look the other way; it is tragic to stop doing it when it is already too late.

*Martin Caparros is a journalist and novelist. His most recent book is the novel “Todo por la patria” (Everything for the Homeland). He was born in Buenos Aires, lives in Madrid and is a regular contributor to the New York Times in Spanish. This article was originally published in the New York Times in Spanish.

Source: Confidencial

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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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