Three dictatorships in Latin America on International Human Rights Day

December 10 marked 71 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The chiaroscuro (light dark) of a region with a wobbly democracy

December 10 marked 71 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The chiaroscuro (light dark) of a region with a wobbly democracy

In Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, above all, no reference will be made. Or if any is done it will sound ironic. Like the one made on the morning of December 10 by Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, regarding a new anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Raúl Castro (left), Nicolás Maduro (middle) and Daniel Ortega (right), the men behind the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Image from Infobae.

“Human rights in Cuba enshrines the full dignity of humankind,” surprises one of Granma’s main headlines. A strange interpretation when the Havana government systematical persecutes its opponents and holds dozens of political prisoners —with opposition activist Jose Daniel Ferrer arrested, tortured and in solitary confinement, heading the list.

- payin the bills -

The transcendental document was signed on December 10, 1948 —71 years ago today—, in Paris three years after the end of World War II. In that dark period, in the Nazi concentration camps against the Jewish population, the most sinister of the spirit of mankind was synthesized. The horror had been engraved in those who managed to survive and gave testimony of the aberrations suffered. The world leaders tried to put in writing those basic parameters that no enlightened Messianic leader should trespass: justice, equality and dignity.

The day became historical.

Latin America remembers the today with unequal plenitude. Justice is one of the profound and most persistent debts in the region. It is perhaps the weakest institutional base with the resurgence of caudillo strongman leaders that sooner rather than later emerge as saviors.

Institutions are rammed and trampled with the sole and fallacious argument of establishing themselves as the exclusive defenders and interpreters of the popular will. They are installed by votes and from there many violate democratic structures and justify their subsequent excesses. Justice, that should be the retaining dike and the constitutional safeguard, does not act, instead, it is ransacked or dismembered by the imposition of these leaders.

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Equality in the region is another structural deficit that no administration —even the most organized, like the Chilean—, manages to balance. When the macroeconomic figures of those efforts that benefit from the jumps in the international value their natural resources flourish, the heads of state are tempted into a fictitious distribution instead of laying down the foundations for achieving permanent development.

Subsidies, embezzlement and corruption on the one hand; constitutional reforms, and friendly courts on the other. That path is the one that makes possible the long-awaited reelections over the bronze of history. The examples abound. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil. Golden eras of full pockets with no structural and educational development.

Dignity continues to be one of the great pending debts. Especially in those nations whose leaders trample upon the human rights of their people. The dictator Nicolas Maduro’s record causes chills: 7,000 are the victims of his tyranny. The human debt of Caracas is absolute. So much so that the United Nations, the cradle where that Declaration was born, was responsible for enumerating the violations that the regime embodies.

The report was signed by Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN, former President of Chile and whose family suffered in their own flesh the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The authorized voice of the Chilean infuriated Maduro’s Miraflores Palace. It exposed to the entire world the tortures and extrajudicial executions that the Chavista leaders ordered against those who rose against them.

The diaspora is another of the humanitarian dramas that Maduro promoted. In total there are 4,769,498 displaced Venezuelans who had to start a new life, mainly, in the rest of the region. Most of them sought refuge in Colombia (1,630,903), Peru (863,613) and Ecuador (385,042). The data belongs to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Each one of them suffered some type of abuse by members of the regime, went hungry or did not have the necessary resources to survive. It’s the story of a nation that bleeds to death.

The Nicaragua of Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo is just one step behind Venezuela but does not escape international calls to cease their political persecution against opponents.

- paying the bills --

“The government must end the persistent repression of dissent and arbitrary detentions, and refrain from criminalizing and attacking human right defenders, political opponents and any other dissenting voice,” points out one of the UN reports on Nicaragua

In November, it was the European Union (EU) that urged the autocrat to put an end to his methods. “The UE calls on the Government of Nicaragua and its security forces to release all people arrested and withdraw charges, lift the siege of the Church and guarantee full respect for the constitutional rights of the entire Nicaraguan population, in particular, freedom of expression, assembly, religion and peaceful protest.”

Ortega ignores it. Since the beginning of the protests in April 2018 (now more than 600 days) over the Social Security reforms, according to the Ortega government around 320 people lost their lives as a result of government repression. The number is most likely much higher.

In Nicaragua, the emigration of its citizens began slowly.

Behind Nicaragua is Cuba.

Havana functions as the ideological bastion and the advisor who orders how to act in each adverse situation. Their leaders are experts in gaining time and avoiding the demands of their population. They have been doing it for more than 60 years.

Their interference in the regimes of Caracas (Venezuela) and Managua (Nicaragua) is absolute. They are the ones who dishonor that Declaration that 71 years ago changed the planet.

This article was first published in Spanish on Infobae and translated by Today Nicaragua, with files from Confidencial.com.ni.

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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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