The Revenge Campaign against NGOs in Nicaragua

The cancellation of the legal non-profit status of nine Nicaraguan NGOs* (See full list at bottom) in the past few days has nothing to do with legality. An NGO like the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), that’s been legally constituted and has acted responsibly for twenty-eight years can’t be suddenly annulled from one day to the next.

Surely the sect that burned Vilma Trujillo alive in Rosita had their legal status intact.

Vilma Nunez de Escorcia, one of this country’s most upright citizens, is so courageous and professional that when the Sandinista Front was still authentic, she not only served on the Supreme Court, but was also a member of the FSLN’s Ethics Commission, among many other positions of responsibility she’s held. It’s her opposition to the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, dating back many years before the April 18th uprising, like that of other NGOs, that has motivated this cruel witch hunt.

- payin the bills -

But I’m writing this, in addition to expressing my rejection as a citizen of these proceedings and of the National Assembly’s docility, to draw attention to a small sampling of the kind of organizations that have been awarded their legal non-profit status by this obedient National Assembly in these last few years.

HAGAMOS DEMOCRACY (Let’s make democracy)which lost its status last week, had done the important work of disseminating the proceedings of each Parliamentary session and helping this information reach many Nicaraguans. The report, totally apolitical, allowed subscribers to find out what had been approved or discussed in the Assembly. Since beginning to read these reports, I started noting with concern the quantity of legal non-profit certifications that were constantly being awarded by the legislators to religious organizations of all kinds.

As a sampling, I have listed here the organizations that were approved on June 22, 2017. I chose the date at random from my e-mail inbox.

“PENTECOSTAL MISSION WINNING SOULS FOR CHRIST” RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Johanna del Carmen Luna Lira.

- paying the bills -

ALPHA AND OMEGA OF EVANGELICAL PASTORS ASSOCIATION FROM THE MUNICIPALITY OF MANAGUA: Request presented by Deputy Melba del Socorro Sanchez Suarez

MINISTRY OF GOODWILL AND CONQUEST RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Arturo Jose Valdez Robleto

FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATERS ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Juan Ramon Jimenez

PROPHETIC CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Justo Armando Pena Aviles

NEW BEGINNING IN CHRIST EVANGELICAL CHURCH ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Carlos Wilfredo Navarro Moreira

RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATION: HANDS OF MERCY INTERNATIONAL MINISTRY: Request presented by Deputy Filiberto Jacinto Rodriguez Lopez

- paying the bills --

ORCHARDS OF GOD EVANGELICAL CHURCHES ASSOCIATION: Request presented by Deputy Jimmy Harold Blandon Rubio

CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION FOR DEVELOPING LEADERS FOR NICARAGUA: Request presented by Deputy Carlos Wilfredo Navarro Moreira

In the many sessions that I read about in these reports, there were practically no lists that differed greatly from these. Some 80% of the legal status certifications adjudicated by the National Assembly were for religious sects or small organizations dedicated to religious preaching. Apparently, there’s no concern in the Assembly for the presence or absence of legal activities on the part of these associations authorized by our state to settle in our country in numbers highly disproportionate to the quantity of inhabitants.

The deputies’ willingness to grant legal status to these dark associations contrasts with the double edged sword being used to measure the NGOs whose labor in the country has provided education, workshops and means of employment to the population, and which for years have promoted valuable community projects or defended with professionalism our human rights. The vengeance against them is aimed at their directors, for their critical positions and their activism in favor of values that no longer exist in this government’s credo.

Instead of promoting democracy, critical thinking, intelligence and education, legal non-profit status is awarded to countless religious denominations that swarm through the country at their whim, propagating their own particular interpretations of life and God.

Surely the sect that burned Vilma Trujillo alive in Rosita, had their legal status intact.
—–

*The nine NGOs who have had their legal status cancelled in recent days are: Hagamos Democracia [“Let’s make democracy”]; Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, CENIDH; Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies IEEPP; Center of Information and Consulting Services in Health CISAS; Center for Communications Investigation CINCO; Popol Na Foundation; Institute for Democracy IPADE; Leadership Institute of the Segovias ILLP; and Fundacion del Rio [“River Foundation].

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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