TODAY NICARAGUA – “Sometimes we don’t even understand what happens in Nicaragua, a country in which the laws are applied in their own way, behind the back of all human rights and all legality,” says Rodrigo Peña*, a Nicaraguan journalist who preferred to keep his identity hidden to be able to talk.
And with good reason.
The Daniel Ortega regime has captured 19 opponents, including five presidential hopefuls, politicians, bankers and even its own former comrades in arms in the past few weeks. And if it is not jail, the government opts for judicial persecution, harassment against civilians, house arrest and repression against the press.
Some say that the Ortega dictatorship is crueler than that of Somoza, and everything seems that things could get worse.
The new wave of police raids began on June 2 with the arrest of Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the main rival to a possible Ortega candidacy.
“After more than five hours of police raids on the home of my sister, Cristiana Chamorro, the riot police leave her under‘ house arrest’. Her house is still occupied by the police,” wrote that day on Twitter Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Cristiana’s borther, journalist, and director of the online newspaper Confidencial, who had to leave the country on June 22 after more than 50 officers raided his house.
“My wife Desirée Elizondo and I left the country to protect our freedom. Doing journalism and reporting the truth is not a crime. I will continue to do journalism, in freedom, from outside Nicaragua,” said Chamorro.
During the 15 years that he has been in power, Daniel Ortega has done what he wanted in Nicaragua: he changed the electoral laws in his favor to prevent the opposition from participating in the 2021 presidential elections, he put six magistrates in the Supreme Electoral Council ( CSE), eliminated the second round, prohibited the National Coalition from participating in the elections and has attacked the media.
Last week he accused the detainees of being “agents of the Yankee empire who conspire against Nicaragua to overthrow the government,” and in front of those arrested he assured that “there is no step back, only forward.”
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Renacer Act, which “will propose initiatives to monitor, report, and address the corruption of the Ortega government and his family’, while the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, asked to suspend Nicaragua’s participation in the regional bloc.
But Ortega cares little or nothing about the international community because his goal is to stay in power.
In dialogue with Colombia’s El Espectador, two journalists told what it is like to carry out their work in a country where there is no freedom of the press.
“We are totally defenseless against the system”: Rodrigo Peña*
It is no longer known what the police are going to come up with. And it is not only about the police, but there are also paramilitary government structures operating in a highly organized manner: they are civilians who work hand in hand with the police to detain and repress. So, if they hear you say that you are not a supporter of the government, they can report you, it’s that simple.
The government has managed to put fear in people. Before the vehicles moved with a flag as a protest. That can no longer be done because they put you in jail or you can be beaten. Last week, for example, they broke into a local travel agency that belongs to a man who was the leader of one of the alliance parties that emerged from 2018. They disrupted his business. In these circumstances, one only has two options: flee or remain silent, that is what the government is betting on.
There is fear of telling what is happening because Ortega is not playing. The journalists themselves are taking care of themselves, there is self-censorship. Most of those who have left the country, since the 2018 protests, fled due to threats to them and their families, and that is happening again now. In addition, the police persecution is strong, and not only of them, but also of all the structures that are part of the government.
There are also battalions of bots, people running networks, creating fake profiles to harass and attack. These are the people who are threatening in social networks, and if they do it, it is because they are covering their back.
There is also judicial harassment. The government created the Cybercrime Law last year, which is one of the many tools they use to attack journalists.
Who is Ortega detained? Apart from Cristiana Chamorro and several presidential candidates, there is a very particular capture: María Fernanda Flores, wife of the leader of the Liberal Party in Nicaragua, who has been the government’s main ally, is being held under house arrest. The strange thing about this case is that her party has done everything in Parliament to pass the laws that are convenient for the government.
These people we have mentioned, the pre-candidates, or journalists and others, are the visible face of the problem, but in the Modelo prison, located in a municipality of Managua called Tipitapa, where there are more than 120 political prisoners who have been in prison for more than a year.
They are people, young men, who were in the protest, and who were arrested in the government raids in 2018. They are civilians, without any leadership, and they have already condemned many who are also ill. Even from so much beating that one of them was given, he ended up dying.
Ortega is simply not willing to receive criticism and only hopes that November arrives so that in the elections, which are obviously fraudulent, he can extend his time in power. All this time he has prepared the ground to win with ease, disappearing the opposition.
After the capture of Miguel Mora, who was a presidential candidate and also a journalist, came the raid on Carlos Chamorro’s house and the capture of sportswriter Miguel Mendoza, who was quite critical of the Ortega regime in his networks.
“We then had an awkward silence in which we continued, a strange calm that has journalists on their toes. We don’t know who will be next. Fanatics and those close to the regime warn us that there is going to be something at dusk, so there is a lot of anxiety, we do not feel safe in our country. We are waiting to see if there is another violation of our human rights or what,” said Peña*.
Mendoza is the first to be convicted for his comments on Twitter. Although he had his sports program, in the end, what the dictatorship disliked were his comments, which created a trend on social networks. Article 1 of Law 1055, the Peoples’ Sovereignty Law, was applied to him, which is practically a law that punishes every Nicaraguan who asks for sanctions or applauds them. This punitive law was approved in 2020, also a product of all the protests in 2018.
There were also other laws that accompanied it in a kind of trident to punish: the Foreign Agents Law, which prevents any non-governmental organization or private institution from receiving money from the US government because they supposedly destabilize the country. It is basically a blow to the operation of any foundation that works for democracy.
The other is the Cybercrime Law, number 2535, which punishes those who publish “fake news”. The government always says that those who make fake news are the independent media. They are then the ones who decide what is and what is not fake news. You can publish an investigation with all the evidence, but if the government considers it false, they send you to jail. They are taking a monopoly on the truth.
Will the protests return if there is fraud in November? Probably not.
People exploded in 2018 because they were fed up and to some extent, they felt that they could force a change. However, the armed force used, the dead, the terror, makes people no longer want to go out to march. It is very difficult to wait for new protests. On April 18, 2018, we had a country that was thrown into the streets, and that continued for several months.
We cannot rule out new protests, but it is minimal to happen.
Since September 2018, Daniel Ortega imposed a state of police siege to prevent any demonstration. From June to July 2018 he carried out a clean-up operation, in which more than 300 people were killed, according to international organizations.
Right now if a citizen wants to go through Managua with the flag shouting “Viva Nicaragua libre”, it is likely that a police patrol will stop him and take him away. It is not, however, like in 2018, when there were tanks, protests and marches. Everything is more controlled. Ortega has the police and the military on his side. I is like living in slavery, that no one can rebel, and whoever dares is beaten violently.
The people are unhappy. They think that if they are going to vote there are not even candidates, that Ortega is doing what he wants. There is discomfort and satiety. Although the same opposition party has a check box on the electoral ballot, there are no minimum guarantees, electoral observation, so that we can be sure that Ortega will respect the elections.
*the journalist’s real name is being revealed