Nicaraguan Police Spread Fear Amid Natural Catastrophes

By Eva Inestroza (La Prensa)

Human rights advocates accuse the police of seeding terror during the evacuations for Hurricane Iota. Photo from social media / La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Two powerful hurricanes, Iota and Eta, hit the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua in less than 15 days. Amid the destruction, flooding and suffering, the Ortega-Murillo regime haven’t stopped using the police for repression and intimidation. They even carried out their rescue work within a militarized context.

Human rights advocates questioned the images of heavily armed police evacuating the families affected by Hurricane Iota. They see a regime that continues seeding terror and disrespecting citizens, even during a humanitarian crisis.

Alvaro Leiva is the executive secretary of the Nicaraguan pro-Human Rights Association (Anpdh). He accuses the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship of showing no respect or political will for improving Nicaraguans’ human rights situation. The national emergency was no exception.

“That [the heavily armed police] is definitely the image the regime wants to reflect. It projects intimidation and repression, before a citizenry struck by a national catastrophe. It reinforces the image of a police and an army in function of active repression of the citizenry. These same people have been permanent victims of human rights violations. Giving aid doesn’t fit with the presence of heavily armed troops,” Leiva stated.

Long-time human rights advocate Vilma Nunez, directs the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh). She states she has no recollection of rescue work ever being carried out by armed agents. According to Nunez, this has not been the case at any other time in the history of the police. She also criticized the outpouring of propaganda from the state institutions during the emergency. The only thing they were doing, she feels, was fulfilling the functions they exist for.

“In my long life, through all the hurricanes I’ve lived through, I can’t recall any images of armed people doing rescue work. It seems to me that going around armed is related to what they’re otherwise doing: repressing, seeding terror. It situates rescue work within a context of militarization,” Nunez declared.

Reflections of a political vacuum

Leiva added that those images have been criticized on social media. At the same time, the regime’s media has highlighted them. It reflects irresponsibility and disrespect for the families that are suffering the consequences of Hurricane Iota. These families hadn’t even been able to overcome the effects of Hurricane Eta when the new hurricane hit.

“We must be clear that the regime lacks the capacity to respond to the different needs of the population. This is true not only regarding fundamental rights, but also in the right to health, medical attention and citizen security. There’s a political vacuum, a rupture in the constitutional and democratic order,” Leiva indicated.

Nunez also feels that the police attitude can be interpreted as a sign they don’t feel welcome in the places they go. “Even if it’s unconscious, even if it’s not their [the police’s] intention, they seed terror. They revive people’s images of the 2018 repression. Now they’re wearing rain capes. But that image of armed police goes along with the repressive activities that they’re realizing in the context. They’re frightening people,” Nunez said.

“Why are they armed? Do they think the flood victims are going to attack them? Who do they want to defend themselves from? It’s regrettable how their mentality has been structured only for a repressive scenario. Maybe they think they have to go around defending themselves or attacking,” the human rights advocate added.

National emergency being used for political campaigning

The activist and human rights defender also spoke of a video that been circulating on the official media. It highlights the “courage” of an official from the Special Operations forces. He’s shown, crossing a rushing river with a baby tied to his back during the passing of Hurricane Iota. This was filmed in the Santa Lucia community, in the department of Jinotega.

“The police are reaping propaganda for themselves from their fulfillment of duty. It’s not heroism, it’s duty,” Nunez commented.  “The outpouring of publicity about this event is being used by the government media as part of their political campaign. If he’s carrying out his work, there shouldn’t be propaganda presenting him as a hero. They believe that this will erase the image of so much repression. This is a [vain] effort to pretty up the faces of the Police.”

Felix Maradiaga, member of the National Blue and White Unity movement’s political council, posted his views on social media. He said that different points around the country had received complaints of the humanitarian aid being used for party proselytizing.  The accusations pointed to people tied to the Sandinista party and to the public institutions like the Mayors’ offices.

“It’s outrageous that the regime should use the pain of disaster victims and the most vulnerable for ideological ends. I appeal for us to put all party flags to one side during this national emergency. In that way, the Nicaraguan nation can unite in solidarity with the people most affected,” Maradiaga wrote.

The opposition leader announced that the National Unity has mounted several independent citizen initiatives. With a lot of caution, they’ve managed to bring aid to several affected areas. “It’s sad that blockades on solidarity have been set up. So many of us want to express our solidarity through help with supplies. It’s worrisome that many of us are being kept from mobilizing freely to support the humanitarian work.  It’s concerning that we have to help clandestinely, as if solidarity were a crime,” he stated.

Leiva cautioned that the regime will use this national tragedy to seek international aid for its own benefit.  He stated that this aid doesn’t get to those most affected or the families that need it. Instead, resources for responding to humanitarian emergencies are used to strengthen the repressive structures.

“The regime is a violator of human rights,” emphasized Leiva. “Hence, any aid that arrives from the international community into the regime’s hands won’t be for the victims. Instead, it will go to strengthening them. It will foster their continued enrichment through acts of corruption and violations of Nicaraguans’ human rights.”

Read more from Nicaragua here.