HAVANA TIMES – I entered the El Chipote jail in January 2019, some months after the April 2018 social uprising in Nicaragua, in which over 300 people were killed. The first prisoner we saw had been locked up for months in a cell with nothing but a small skylight, with no time in the yard and no visits. He embraced us and asked us for a Bible and a light bulb.
His name was Miguel Mora, a journalist accused of inciting terrorism. He was freed a year later. Today he’s once more been imprisoned in a new, redesigned Chipote. His new imprisonment took place in the run-up to the Nicaraguan presidential elections, set to take place on November 7th. His crime? – having dared to declare himself a presidential candidate.
Approximately 150 of the country’s political and social leaders are in prison along with Mora. Among them are seven former presidential candidates [including Miguel Mora], who aspired to running against Comandante Ortega, the Sandinista leader of that triumphant revolution that defeated the dictator Somoza in 1979. The young revolutionary of that day is today an aging dictator, a tyrant.
When the European Parliament’s international observation mission to Managua concluded that January in 2019, we held a tense but cordial meeting with President Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo. We expressed our condemnation, we asked that the prisoners be freed, and we counseled them to bring calm and consensus to the country.
We demanded free elections. Their response was a confused harangue, blaming the United States for all the ills of their country. Attributing all responsibility to the Yanquis has been a frequent scapegoat of dictators, seeking to cover up their own failings. Like the Argentine soldiers that invaded the Falkland Islands (1982) to cover up their crimes and the country’s economic ruin.
Our visit opened a horizon for negotiation towards a democratically acceptable electoral process. The international community was pressuring for free elections in 2021. This continued until Ortega and his Sandinista Front began realizing that they could lose. That’s when a new repressive wave began: they outlawed political parties, closed newspapers and media outlets; harassed the rural, social and student leaders; and finally, with dizzyingly wild accusations, imprisoned all the major presidential hopefuls.
Today, the majority of them are still in jail, under house arrest (Cristiana Chamorro), or in exile. The international human rights organizations have been expelled from the country, the bishops are accused of being terrorists, and some of the embassies, including Spain’s, have recalled their representatives due to offensive statements made against them. The country’s historic leaders, such as Sergio Ramirez, remain in exile.
There are no civil liberties nor political pluralism. A police force under Sandinista party direction runs parallel to the official body, but with no controls, seeding fear and coercion everywhere. Thousands of media, social and political leaders have had to leave the country. That’s the Nicaragua of today, the one that’s calling on its citizens to vote next November 7 – a vote without international observation and under conditions that are democratically unacceptable. A farce. There’s no one to vote for. There’s no reason to vote.
Nicaragua is a small country in marginalized Central America, tortured by its history and its poverty. And – I’d add – also by its leaders. Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, together with Nicaragua, made peace with its guerrillas and its internal conflicts through the Esquipulas Accords in 1985. Unfortunately, however, this never translated into progress and well-being for the people. Now, some of these countries are in the hands of narcotraffickers, populists, or simple dictators.
No one appears concerned about them. The international community, principally the US, follows its migratory masses as far as the Rio Grande and a little further. But Nicaragua is a country that aroused the solidarity of hundreds of Europeans, who joined the guerrilla fight against Somoza. I’ve met several of them, who today lament that the insurgent movement of the day, charged with an epic battle for justice and freedom, has today become a machine for repression, with its leader a replica of the old strongman figure.
Democracies can be defined in many ways. There’s one that’s simple but categorical: the acceptance of defeat, the admission of alternating political forces. It’s the recognition that people vote freely, and in doing so can put an end to your power. For that reason, those who say you shouldn’t put qualifiers on democracy are right.
Nor should you put them on dictatorships. By being leftist, dictatorships don’t stop being dictatorships. On the contrary, they prostitute the left; they destroy it by stamping on freedom. No ideal of justice and social equality can sustain itself by negating freedom and political pluralism. Some of us have already expressed this in the slogan of our first democratic congress: “Socialism is liberty”.