Public Employees in Nicaragua Orphaned by Ortega Regime
Many reject the authorities’ hollow discourse. Former ambassador Arturo McFields: “Silent departures increase” & “the mistreatment has worsened.”
By Octavio Enriquez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – During the week leading up to the official May 1st celebration of International Workers’ Day, the Ortega regime promoted family gatherings, dances, and music for its workers. However, hidden from the official propaganda, Nicaragua’s public employees struggle to subsist economically, conscious that in reality the regime led by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo “doesn’t represent the working class.”
“Marvin” [assumed name] works in a public institution, whose name he prefers to withhold for fear of reprisals. With no effort at all, he imagines that Daniel Ortega will be the principal speaker at the official May 1st event, accompanied by Rosario Murillo, and Gustavo Porras, National Assembly president. Porras led the Sandinista unions that were used to destabilize the governments between 1990 and 2006, when the Sandinistas were in the opposition. When Ortega was returned to power in 2007, these same unions entered into a phase of inaction and complicity.
“You can note their servility towards the President. That’s what they do, serve as clowns, but they don’t represent the working class. Nor does his trade union, Fetsalud [Federation of Health Workers], where you see everyone acting very Sandinista, and how they try to deceive people. All those ridiculous acts like giving out food – okay, that’s useful because they’re giving it to you free, but they also want to deceive the people. So what you say is: ‘they spend [money] on other, worse, things, like gas or going around campaigning. What you get to eat has been well earned, at least.”
On Friday, April 28, Vice President Murillo called on the workers to commemorate together the eleventh anniversary of the death of Comandante Tomas Borge. In the official propaganda, they speak of his “passage to immortality.” This event would occur together with the celebration of International Workers’ Day, marking the beginnings of “the victorious times that lead us to July 19th,” according to Murillo.
She was referring to the 44th anniversary of the revolution that overturned the Somoza family dictatorship, a popular revolution that was confiscated and converted into a cult of personality around the current president’s family, and a celebration of the current repression.
“Marvin”: “Playing along to avoid problems”
In Marvin’s view, considering that the FSLN operators are capable of anything, workers should “just play along with the Toadies” to avoid problems. He’s convinced that at least 70% of his sector dislikes the obligations that the political commissions impose on the workers within each institution. These commissions act as parallel authorities to the formal structures, but with more power and impunity. “You’re there to work, so you can eat,” he underlines.
Abuses against the public employees were publicly denounced in March 2022, by Arturo McFields, who was at that time Nicaragua’s OAS ambassador. McFields publicly resigned from his position, while highlighting the situation of those who are forced to approve decisions made within the government’s inner circles. These workers are obligated to repeat slogans and fill the public squares when there are official activities, to avoid being fired.
Unfortunately, McFields laments, all that has only gotten worse. “The regime’s policy is built on distrust. No one within the government is content. They’ve treated the workers disparagingly; many have had their passports and those of their children taken away or won’t issue them, and they threaten them that, if they resign, they won’t receive even one cordoba in severance pay. These are very hard days for lower and mid-range employees. The only thing the regime demands of them is absolute loyalty,” he affirmed.
The former ambassador believes that the “silent departures” from within the government have increased. He differentiated between the lower and mid-range functionaries and those in the inner circle, who have made fortunes in the shadows of power. “They live in a gilded cage; they can’t leave the country. Some of them can’t even enjoy their ill-gotten money,” he explained.
“Claudia” [assumed name] works in the field of government administration, where she’s seen a great deal of mistreatment of her colleagues. They haven’t even trusted her with information about the plans for the May 1st activities, because the leadership and its operators in the institution customarily manage such data with great secrecy.
Like Marvin, she expressed discomfort at having to wear two faces: on the one hand, assume a position of support for Ortega in public, while in private she rejects the abuses. But for her, being out on the street would be hard, so she feels she must bear up, with the hope that God will put an end to this ordeal.
Claudia: “The union leaders sicken and disgust us”
“Those union leaders sicken and disgust us. They’ve profited off the backs of all us workers. They’ve utilized us to their own advantage. They talk about workers’ rights, when they’re the owners of companies, houses, lands, and every day their millions grow,” Claudia criticized.
A historian that Confidencial consulted affirmed that Ortega himself contradicts the nature of the May 1st celebration, because he’s not a worker, never has been one and never will be. In these 16 years of Ortega, what they’ve sought is to consolidate the regime’s power, making use of every kind of repression.
In that sense, Ortega and Murillo also exploit the workers’ organizations, eliminating any type of union autonomy. In consequence, the benefits these workers receive are only those that the dictator decides to give them.
“Living under a dictatorship is bad for almost everyone, and the public employees are controlled now the same way they were before (for example, by being charged 5% of their salaries for their party quota). But during the Somoza years (and this isn’t nostalgia for any return of Somoza) the unions were repressed, but had autonomy and were allowed to demonstrate publicly, even hold strikes. Now, you don’t dare even dream of that, because any attempt to demonstrate or attempt to offer declarations in public means jail or death,” the historian stated.
In a report published in December 2022, public employees told Confidencial they were “hostages of the dictatorship. They offered details of the pressures exerted by the Sandinista Front, maintaining thousands of state workers in a permanent state of stress.
One notorious impact of the persecution occurred in the Judicial Branch, when three former higher employees of Nicaragua’s Supreme Court were formally accused, among them Roberto Larios, the Court’s spokesperson. The three were jailed, in order to demonstrate that the State machinery would crush even the most enthusiastic Ortega fanatics in the institutions, if they misstep. The three were then released and banished to the United States and stripped of their nationality on February 9th, along with another 219 political prisoners.