Nicaragua: Ortega Regime Targets 24 NGOs

Photograph of a demonstration protesting the firing of doctors in August 2018 (Archive, Confidencial)

Medical groups that criticized the regime for its handling of the pandemic are the most harshly punished by the initiative

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – The Ministry of Government (MIGOB) has asked the National Assembly to cancel the legal status of 24 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including 15 medical associations, arguing that they have allegedly violating four different laws governing their activity.

The initiative to cancel the legal status of non-profit civic organizations, was introduced by Sandinista Deputy Filiberto Rodriguez and is up for a vote on July 27th – only 5 days after its introduction July 22nd.

Rodriguez accused the NGOs of having “undertaken activities outside the law and thus acted against the existing laws”, thus hindering the work of MIGOB’s Department of Registry and Control of Associations.

The initiative grew out of a report that MIGOB sent to the National Assembly, which argued that the 24 organizations are “headless,” given that their executive boards are working on expired terms.  It also accuses the organizations of not offering detailed reports of their financial situations for “many years.”

The report to the National Assembly alleges that the organizations do not have on file “the agreements (between the donors and the NGOs) governing their projects and activities, that would offer clarity about financing, project portfolios and the social impact of those projects.” 

MIGOB has also demanded that the NGOs provide identity documents (ID cards, passports, exact addresses, telephone numbers) for all their donors and beneficiaries. 

 “MIGOB gave us the runaround”

A source linked to the threatened NGOs explained to Confidencial that a number of organizations and associations had “turned their documents into MIGOB, with MIGOB then claiming that they had never received them, because they were in the process of digitizing all the files.” They then demanded that the organizations pay a fine for not turning the documents in on time.  According to the source, “we would go back with the documents, they wouldn’t accept them, asking for more changes, and this went on for months.”

“They keep you hanging on without giving you approval, to keep you in limbo, waiting for the ax to fall,” said the source who asked for anonymity out of fear of reprisals.

The source said that the Law Regulating Foreign Agents, passed under the pretext of regulating outside financing was enforced “even before it passed” – as every time an organization handed in its paperwork, they would be told that some “new” information was missing, and so they were never approved.

“This is how they’re dealing with the NGOs, more so the national, rather than international, organizations,” the source commented.

Medical associations the most affected

Among the NGOs that will be stripped of their legal status are a number of medical assocations that have criticized the regime for its handlng of the coronavirus pandemic: the Nicaraguan Association of Pneumology, the Nicaraguan Association of Diabetology, the International Action Association for Nicaraguan Health, the Nicaraguan Association of Anesthesiology, the Nicaraguan Association of Infectious Diseases, and the Nicaraguan Association for the Study and Treatment of Pain.

Other medical associations that are affected include the Nicaraguan Association of Dermatology, the Nicaraguan Association of Psychologists, the Nicaraguan Medical Association, the Nicaraguan Menopause Association, the Nicaraguan Association of Nephrology, the Renal Association of Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine, the Julio Cortázar National League Against Leukemia and Childhood Cancer. 

Also on the list are the Social Club of Juigalpa, the Home of Hope Association, the Center for Studies and Social Promotion, the Lomas de Monte Verde Residents Association, the Piera and Antonio Ferrerio Foundation, the Nicaraguan Assocciation for Social Advocacy, the Calasanz School Parents and Teachers Association, 21st Century Foundation, the All for Nicaragua and Nicaragua for All Association.

According to MIGOB, these 24 Ngos violated the General Law on Non-profit Legal Status, as well as the regulations issued by the Department of Associations for the Regulation and Supervision of Non-Profit Organizations, the Law Against Money Laundering, Financing Terrorism and Financing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Responding to a question from Confidencial, Dr. Taki Moreno, president of the Association of Pneumology said that to date “we haven’t officially been notified of anything,” adding that “we prefer to wait before making any comments.”

Dr. Josefina Bonilla, president of the Nicaraguan Medical Association, and Dr. Roger Pasquier, president of the Nicaraguan Association of Anesthesiology did not respond to our calls and texts.

Threats to Doctors

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) summoned three doctors last week to make mandatory appearances before MINSA’s Directorates of Sanitary Regulation and Legal Advice, where they were questioned about statements they have made to the media regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before these subpoenas were issued, Vice President Rosario Murillo threatened independent doctors who were warning the Nicaraguan people about the pandemic. Several health workers are either no longer speaking to the media or have felt compelled to flee the country.

“In life you have to pay for everything, and if someone does damage, that damage comes back to them… stop hurting the people, our families, terrorizing them with false doctors, false predictions, false surveys and false news,” Murillo threatened in one of her daily monologues.

Persecution of the NGOs

Last May, a number of NGOs accused the Ortega regime of “killing them softly” with the imposition of new policies and bureaucratic red tape that function as a package of punitive legislation. This is a change in the kind of repression being used, as these actions are more ‘discreet’ than the break-ins and searches of NGO offices of previous years. 

The fate of the NGOs that dare to question the Nicaraguan regime hangs on the excessive bureaucracy and control exercised by two MIGOB offices: the Registry of Foreign Agents and the Control of Non-profit Organizations.   

These government measures are part of an escalation by the Nicaraguan state against civil society. In 2018, Ortega ordered the confiscation of the facilities of 9 organizations, all of which he accused of supporting a “coup d’état”, as the government calls the 2018 protests that were violently repressed, leaving 328 dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. At the end of 2018, Luis Cañas, Deputy Minister of the Interior, justified the closure of the 9 organizations, stating that “they were acting against the principles that they were to uphold, carrying out activities outside the law, that did not uphold the aims and objectives for which they were granted legal status.”

In early February 2021, after the approval of the Foreign Agents Regulation Law, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation and PEN both pointed to the authoritarian nature of the Ortega as the reason they were forced to close their doors and cease operations.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.