Labor leader stands up to Daniel Ortega’s regime and denounces the police harassment of the “Maria Elena Cuadra” women’s movement.
By Ivette Munguia (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The Nicaraguan Police spent two days looking for Sandra Ramos, a member of the “Maria Elena Cuadra” women’s movement. Their next move was to take over the perimeter around this NGO, where she works. Several official asked for her in different places away from her home. When she faced them, though, on September 25, none knew how to respond to her words.
“Here I am. I’m Sandra Ramos.”
The officials stood mute at her appearance and, without saying a word, continued occupying the area around the NGO office. They remained there for four hours. Later, they left with no explanation.
“It was an arbitrary action,” Ramos stated hours later. The police “want to make us afraid”, but “they’re not going to intimidate us.” This situation “angers us, makes us indignant, but you have to keep going forward. The struggle doesn’t end here,” Ramos continued.
The Police “were looking for me. However, they started by looking for me in houses where I don’t live,” the labor leader explained. “Here’s my identity card, which states where I live,” she noted. Even though the officials left the area, Ramos remained defiant. “If they want to arrest me, then they can come get me.” In that case, she said, “even if I were in hiding in a hole, they’d get me.”
Despite the illegal actions of the police, Ramos is convinced that her only alternative is “to denounce them publicly.” She has made such denunciations both nationally and internationally. “I’m not afraid of them. I know them. I was inside [their circle] and I know what they are.” She made this statement after recalling her origins in the Sandinista Workers’ Union (CST). She was kicked out of this organization, she affirms, for defending her convictions.
“We won’t become a clandestine organization”
The police siege of the women’s labor organization offices came three days after the Ortega regime sent a new highly repressive law to the National Assembly for approval. The “Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents” proposes classifying individual Nicaraguans or legal entities as “foreign agents”. These could then be sanctioned with the loss of their political rights and the confiscation of their assets.
Ramos isn’t frightened by the threat of this proposed law. In fact, she assured that “this swipe at the institution” is something she’d been expecting “at any moment”. She warned that they “will continue functioning in the home of each woman who’s with this organization.”
The labor leader explained that the organization aids women who work in the maquilas. It also serves women who are legally demanding child support for feeding their children, and women victims of violence. These women “can continue coming to our installations. Even if they shut us down, we’ll know how to indicate where we’ll be. We’re not a clandestine organization. I won’t accept being clandestine in a country that I’ve helped build,” she concluded.
Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh), said what happened to this organization was the precursor to this new law. “[It was] the beginning of this “Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents.” Although the law hasn’t yet been approved, “It’s not just one more aggression,” Nunez warned.
“We’re not a terrorist organization”
The “Maria Elena Cuadra” women’s movement was born 25 years ago “under a mango tree”. Its founders “were volunteers,” recalled Ramos. From that time forward, the organization has defended the rights of women workers and the unemployed. Nearly 16,000 women a year request help from this NGO.
“We’re helping this government, by assuring that people can subsist although it’s the State’s responsibility to care for the poorest. Simply put, we protect the masses of poor that they claim they represent,” Ramos said. She spoke these words to the police who were blocking the entrance and exits of the installations.
In Ramos’ opinion, the police siege was predictable, since “we’ve been supporting the mothers of political prisoners” since 2018. “This is something we’ve done with great pride. They’re women under attack by the government institution that has abducted their children.”
Ramos herself and the “Maria Elena Cuadra” movement are members of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. The group participated in the first national dialogue with Daniel Ortega’s regime following the 2018 social explosion.
“We’re not a terrorist organization or anything resembling one,” said Ramos. “We’re a shitload of women who defend other women.
The labor leader emphasized that the movement “isn’t these walls, nor is it the chairs, nor the desks.” Instead “it’s a spirit of struggle, of defense of the rights of women. If it’s our lot to be under a mango tree, we’re going to continue.”
The Ortega regime targets the NGOs
Following the siege on the women’s labor organization, different NGOs and the National Coalition accused the Ortega regime of targeting these independent organizations. They believe the government plans to classify them as “foreign agents” and thus exercise more control over their finances.
Pablo Cuevas, lawyer for the Permanent Human Rights Commission, spoke with reporters about the law proposed by the Ortega deputies. In his view, the objective of the “Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents” is “to persecute us”.
Cuevas recalled 2018, when the National Assembly canceled the legal status of nine NGOs. The Interior Ministry’s argument for this was: “these organizations didn’t comply with the legal requirements for their functioning.” Also, “they violated the nature of their functions, by actively participating in the failed coup attempt.”
Attorney Wendy Flores, who coordinates the “Impunity Never Again” Nicaraguan Collective. agreed with Cuevas. In her view, the executive branch maintains a campaign of “repression” against organizations that defend human rights. The repression extends to the organization’s activists and leaders. They achieve this repression “through legal attacks, or police actions, or via State proxy forces.”