Armed civilians, who operate with impunity and police protection, keep watch and threaten citizens who oppose the Ortega regime, to force them to be silent.
By Yader Luna (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – “We are going to kill you. You and all those guys better stop fucking around.” This was one of the threats from a man, dressed in a black jacket, covered with a balaclava. He shouted it at former political prisoner David Lagos and three other people at his house on the night of January 23, when they were celebrating his wife’s birthday.
For this Matagalpa resident, the threats of hooded men is nothing new. In 2018 he was jailed for five months and since his released in 2019, the harassment became intense. There was not a night in which they did not pass by shouting offenses at him, throwing stones. Or a police patrol or men on motorcycles place themselves in front of his house “to intimidate him.”
“It is a strategy to intimidate used by these paramilitary, criminal armed groups sponsored by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. They continue making death threats because they are confident they have impunity,” he explains.
A strategy to intimidate
Lagos insists that many times they pass by and “exchange words” with him. They shout insults, they pass by throwing bottles. He records all these harassments with a security camera that he installed outside his home. “They bait me to come out, and although tempted to go out and fight with them, I refrain. Not wanting to give them an excuse to kill me,” he says.
Sometimes he has come out to confront them, when the policemen along with civilians and mobs linked to the government arrive. But on other occasions, those who arrive are the paramilitaries. These are groups of men armed with war rifles who participated in the so-called “Clean-up operation,” to remove the roadblocks and barricades during the 2018 protests.
The Army and the Government do not recognize the existence of these groups of armed civilians. However, they operated jointly with the Police, outside the law, to violently suppress civic protest. Citizens and journalistic proof on their existence are abundant. The regime officialized them as “police volunteers.”
The Blue and White Monitoring group registered 1797 reports of harassments in 2020, by policemen, civilians, mobs and paramilitaries.
Unidentified civilians and/or paramilitary carried out 265 of these acts. Managua led these with 74 denunciations, Matagalpa with 24, Leon with 20 and Masaya with 18 reports. They are the departments with the most actions, outside the law, of these civil groups against opponents.
In January 2021, 185 harassments with different perpetrators were reported; five of them carried out exclusively by unidentified civilians and/or paramilitaries.
A source from the Blue and White Monitoring explains that many opponents did not report all the aggressions, sieges and intimidations because, in some cases “they are constant and almost daily” and they stopped reporting them.
It also clarifies that in many cases “it is very difficult to know who the civilians involved are.” The confusion is because they can include mobs, police intelligence personnel, and paramilitaries.
“The people have a hard time identifying them. It is part of the regime’s dynamic to confuse them. To make people believe the paramilitaries do not exist and hiding how they operate,” points out another source.
“We know who the paramilitaries are”
However in his case, David Lagos says he knows almost all the paramilitaries. Although they are hooded “most people of Matagalpa know who they are.”
Even if they wear balaclavas and helmets to hide, we know their identity because they are from the same neighborhoods as us,” he explains. However, he admits that there are some who they have not been able to identify.
The harassment in his home causes his family to stop visiting him. If I meet with someone, they come to take photos, threaten me. “Several times I have told them that what they do against us is bad, because they act like thugs,” he insists.
“I yell at them to find a job and stop being hitmen, murderers and thugs of this dictatorship,” says Lagos.
“I am always nervous”
“Juan,” is another political prisoner from Esteli, besieged and chased by paramilitaries. He says that he is always nervous and prefers not to give his name for fear that the attacks will increase.
“These paramilitary are irregular groups that do whatever they want. They hide under the license granted by the dictatorship for being its loyal murderers who have committed crimes against humanity,” he says.
Many times, when he goes out, he notices people on motorcycles or vehicles following him. “They appear in one street, hide and then appear again,” he comments. However, at nightfall those who besiege him are hooded men who he identifies as paramilitaries.
This man was prosecuted for terrorism and obstruction of public services, after his participation in the 2018 protests against Ortega. He was released in 2019. Since then, the besiegement and threats have not ceased.
For “Juan,” the actions of the paramilitaries are illegal, but they have “the blessing and support” of the dictatorship and the National Police. On some occasions, those who come to his home to intimidate are patrols with police officers. “However, coincidentally when they leave, the hooded ones arrive.”
“They want to show that they do not act together. But it is no coincidence that they come to throw stones, threaten with weapons and yell at us when there are no police nearby. What they want is to generate terror in us, our families and among any neighbor who may oppose them,” he says.
“Come out, we are going to kill you”
When they used to take photos of “Juan,” he also took photos of them. Most of them are a group of ten or twelve paramilitaries who arrive at his home.
Last month they came to the home of a friend I was visiting. One of them threatened to kill him directly. “I already know you son of a bitch, we know where you live, we will be waiting for you there. We are going to kill you,” the man who approached the front door of the house yelled at him.
For some time now, “Juan” has restricted himself from going out due to fear. “I am not afraid of being arrested. At least I already experienced that and know what they are capable of. But I am afraid that they will pull out a gun and kill me because they are always armed,” he commented.
For this young man from Esteli, the paramilitaries “do not appear as in 2018, because the siege is now more selective. It is a reality that is still with us, even though they try to hide it.”
They continue to act outside the law
The lawyer for the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never+, Wendy Flores, points out that paramilitary forces continue to act in the country because they have not been dismantled. Their members have not been prosecuted and “they continue to act outside the law protected by the Government.”
“These forces continue operating under the protection of the Government that maintains them and rewards them for their support, because their acts of intimidation help them stay in power,” Flores stated.
The human rights defender explains that there are complaints that the paramilitary groups were formed by war veterans, former police officers and even members of the Army.
“It is a constant persecution”
“Josefa,” a prominent opponent of Jinotepe, reports paramilitaries continue to act in several of the cities where they “swept away” the barricades and roadblocks “because many of them are from the same cities.”
Men frequently come to her house to take photos, to write down who enters and who leaves. But also, to intimidate at night. “Some of them no longer wear balaclavas, since everyone in the city knows that they were part of the paramilitaries. This because there are pictures taken of them celebrating after the massacre against the protesters,” she emphasized.
Josefa withdrew from any political participation in the opposition. However, “seeing me talking to any opponent generates fear in them and they immediately send a patrol to intimidate.”
“Any force that is not the police or military are people acting outside the law. They continue to want to impose terror in Jinotepe, maintained since July 8, 2018. Starting that day, they carried out the massacre that killed, wounded and imprisoned many young people,” she explains.