Hunger Strikers to Continue Fight for their Relatives’ Freedom

(Confidencial) Desperation and fear began to spread among the fourteen persons blockaded into the San Miguel Church in Masaya on Friday morning.  Their reserves of water and oral rehydration solution had run out, as well as medicine for the parish priest, Father Edwin Roman, who suffers from diabetes. It was the priest himself who asked the group to suspend their hunger strike.

“For my health,” he requested. And the group, given the immense respect that they have for the religious leader, agreed unanimously to accept.  “For the life of us all, but principally for the Father’s life,” lawyer Yonarqui Martinez declared on Friday morning from her hospital bed in Managua’s Vivian Pellas Municipal Hospital.  Yonarqui Martinez had accompanied the mothers in the parish church and was hospitalized yesterday, but now has been declared out of danger.

- payin the bills -

By Friday morning, the group of nine family members, plus Martinez and activist Flor Ramirez, had completed nine days of a hunger strike, demanding that the regime of Daniel Ortega free all the political prisoners.  Ortega’s response was to isolate them from the public, essentially imprisoning them in the Church behind a cordon of armed police and paramilitary who wouldn’t allow anybody to bring them aid.  In addition, he ordered the electricity and water services to the church to be cut off.

Roman was able to use his cell phone, which he charged using the motor of his small yellow Suzuki 800 that was left parked inside the rectory with a full tank of gasoline.  He called Cardinal Brenes, as he’d been doing twice a day ever since the strike began.

“The group wants to leave, they’re going to suspend the strike,” Roman informed Brenes, after telling him all that was happening in the church.

From the beginning, Father Roman had steadfastly declared that he felt it a moral and spiritual duty to accompany the mothers and the victims.  “It’s my ministry,” the sixty-year-old priest expressed.

- paying the bills -

“During all this time, Father Edwin’s will to remain accompanying these people morally, spiritually, and physically has been respected,” stated a press note issued by the Managua Archdiocese on Friday night.

Cardinal Brenes, a man of extreme prudence, felt relieved. For the past week, the situation of Father Roman had him feeling asphyxiated. On social media, people criticized him for not going to Masaya to try and aid the parish priest.

“I have to care for Father Roman,” he stated a few days ago in an interview with Confidencial. In the same interview, he revealed – without offering any specifics – that he was working like an ant to resolve the situation in Masaya.

Following the priest’s telephone call, Brenes informed the Apostolic Nuncio, Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.  According to the Archbishop’s press note, they then “initiated the necessary contacts with the authorities to open a humanitarian channel for the private ambulances to enter, in order to transport all the people who had been shut in the Church for nine days to the Vivian Pellas Hospital to receive medical attention.”

The government’s green light for the ambulances arrived on Friday afternoon. The Police allowed the two ambulances to enter. One belonged to the Vivian Pellas Hospital, and one to the Nicaraguan Red Cross that performed the labors of accompaniment.  The police then cordoned off the area once again so that no one could enter the perimeter around the San Miguel Church.

The neighbors, however, defied the information blackout. A video taken from a corner of the Church showed each one of the mothers and their accompaniment leaving through a small door in the rectory and getting into a mini-van that had been converted into an ambulance. The last one to get in was Father Roman.

- paying the bills --

The ambulances left the city swarming with members of the riot squad and made their way towards the Masaya Highway. Minutes before 5:00 p.m., the 14 people entered the hospital.

“According to the preliminary exams, all are stable,” Dr. Maria Eugenia Espinoza, medical director of the Vivian Pellas Hospital, stated just outside the building.

Espinoza said that some of them were dehydrated “due to the prolonged fast”, but that all were out of danger. Eventually, eleven were released on Friday night, and only three remained hospitalized: Father Roman, Yonarqui Martinez, and Flor Rivera.

“We remain strong, this dictatorship is going to fall soon, this small group made Daniel Ortega shake with fear. And as far as them leaving [office], they’re leaving,” stated Maria Gomez upon exiting the hospital.  Gomez was one of those who were on the hunger strike, demanding freedom for her friend from Chontales, Ulises Rivas.

Gomez said that the group had been evacuated by a delegation from the International Red Cross.  However, a spokesperson of that organization, based in Mexico, told Confidencial that they hadn’t participated.  “They’ve confirmed that we weren’t there in Masaya,” he asserted on Friday afternoon.

“We survived with water,” stated Gomez. “We ended the strike because of the Father’s health. We didn’t want to abandon the struggle, but we did so for the Father,” she repeated.

The mothers and family members of the political prisoners left the hospital at approximately 8:00 p.m.  From the vehicle they yelled in chorus, “Mothers don’t give up, they demand justice.”

“We’ll keep fighting”, they warned. “We’re going to achieve the freedom of all the political prisoners.”

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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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