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In Nicaragua, Flying the National Flag Is a Crime

Another Nicaraguan merchant was arrested for selling the national flag in her store. The violent arrest was filmed and described as a “criminalization of national symbols” by the ruling FSLN Party.

According to a Managua street vendor, this year few merchants took the risk of selling the national flag. This usually takes place around September when Central America commemorates its independence from the Spanish Crown.

The latest Police assault on a vendor took place in San Carlos, near the border with Costa Rica. This led merchants in Managua to hide the merchandise to prevent the Police from taking them to prison.

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The street-seller’s decision came after a video of the violent arrest went viral. Merchant Tania Gonzales, owner of a hardware store in San Carlos, was forcibly abducted while clinging to the flags.

“Look how they treat me for selling flags. How ridiculous! Here I carry drugs, look: flags. Long Live a Free Nicaragua!” Shouted the woman, at the moment she was arrested by at least eight officers. Her reference to drugs was because the Police often fabricate such charges against any sign of opposition.

Police brutality against merchant

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) condemned “the abuse of authority and the brutality. The Police violated the woman’s personal integrity by offending her, dragging her and throwing her into a pick-up truck. This occurred when they raided her shop for selling flags.”

Similar scenes previously occurred following the protests that broke out against President Ortega in April 2018. With time, only a few dare to raise the national flag without direct permission of the FSLN. People know they can be jailed for doing so, said Ivania Alvarez, of the Blue and White Unity opposition.

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“In these almost 29 months of resistance, we saw how people carrying flags or wearing blue and white hats or blue and white ribbons were kidnapped by the National Police. A teacher form Camoapa could not walk more than 100 meters with the Nicaraguan flag on his shoulder. It is the criminalization of national symbols,” Alvarez told EFE.

The cases are similar to Luis Enrique Cuevas, arrested in November 2018 for selling flags in the street. They later convicted him without evidence of illegally carrying and possessing weapons and obstructing public services.

Viciousness against the most vulnerable

“It is a situation that worries us a lot. It constitutes a violation of citizens’ rights. It is a recurring pattern. It is reprehensible, outrageous,” Juan Carlos Arce, from the Nicaragua Never Again Human Rights Collective, told EFE.

“There is viciousness against the most vulnerable. The police violence against a store owner selling flags isn’t even seen in anti-drug operations,” he observed.

Valeska Valle, a member of the opposition Civic Alliance, noted “what happened to Dona Tania has also been experienced by many families and young people since the beginning of the crisis. Raising the flag was a reason for persecution, perpetuated by the murderous Sandinista police. The police as an institution and several chiefs were sanctioned by the US for serious human rights violations.”

Message of fear and against freedom 

For government opponents, the assault on the hardware store owner was more than a sporadic event. It was a message to people who intend to raise the Nicaraguan flag in the “month of the motherland.”

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“The message is clear. The blue and white patriotic symbolism becomes complicated for the Sandinistas in September, because it means freedom (…). The message is: we are ready to kidnap, confiscate, anything that resembles civic resistance. They are very strong messages,” Alvarez pointed out.

“It’s a message to the vulnerable population, of force, of violence. They show themselves as a cohesive body, including their paramilitaries, so that the people have fear,” said Arce.

“They try to generate fear. It seems as if only they have the right to put up the flag,” said Valle. She further questioned how elections are supposed to take place in 2021 under these conditions.

Since April 2018, Nicaragua experiences a socio-political crisis  that left at least 328 dead. That figure was documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). However, local organizations raise the figure to 684. The Government recognizes 200 and denounces an alleged attempt at a coup d’état.


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