The Challenge Facing Nicaragua’s Opposition

reorganize without freedom and under persecution

A mobilization of thousands of citizens in Managua in May 2018. Photo: Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

Victims of repression reject using political prisoners as a bargaining chip

By Octavio Enríquez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – It has been three years of persistent harassment for the Nicaraguan opposition. With over 150 political prisoners in the regime’s prisons, including 40 civic leaders, politicians and businesspeople abducted in the last five months, Ortega continues his repressive escalation and persecution.

In the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB), one of the opposition groups organized after the April Rebellion of 2018, in addition to imprisoned leaders, seventeen of its departmental coordinators are currently being besieged and persecuted. And at the municipal level at least 70 leaders have been summoned by the Prosecutor’s Office or the Police and have been threatened, the objective being to prevent them from engaging in opposition activity, among those the call to abstain from voting in the general election on November 7.

Earlier in October, nine organizations signed a statement in Costa Rica, the United States and Europe, in which they raised their rejection of the “electoral farce,” and demanded the release of political prisoners and called for an international declaration repudiating the election’s legitimacy.

Former opposition deputy Eliseo Núñez said the declaration signed by these groups is a good start but there is still a long way to go. He assures that the fight against Ortega has become timeless.

“We no longer have electoral milestones in front of us. Putting it simply, we must design our own strategy, take the initiative, and move on this quickly,” says Núñez.

Alexa Zamora, a member of the political council of the UNAB, says reinventing the opposition means overcoming divisions. We did not do this in the past, and we must learn our lessons from this mistake.

“We need to take responsibility for our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. These senseless disagreements are destructive, no matter if they are ideological, or something else,” says Zamora.

Jesus Tefel, another member of the UNAB, maintains that they need to begin a respectful internal dialogue, in contrast to those in recent years which were centered around attacks.

“There was the idea that it was an ideological struggle, which proved wrong. It didn’t end up being that at all. The repression came down on everyone just the same. We all definitely need to rethink that strategy,” agrees Téfel.

Monica Baltodano, guerrilla commander and historian of the Sandinista struggle, believes that the goal of “hegemony,” must be overcome. It is part of the heritage of Nicaraguan political culture, consisting of the idea that some organizations always want to control the discourse from above.

“Building alliances supposes there is diversity of principles and thought. We must be capable of confronting and overcoming the forces of the dictatorship, without fragmenting and dividing the opposition,” explains Baltodano.

Fake elections: democracy’s funeral

Nemesio Mejía, one of the leaders of the Farmers Movement, believes the sham election represents democracy’s funeral and highlights the adverse environment for concern about human rights.

“There is persecution of all Nicaraguans who raise their voices against what this government is doing. The regime will not be able to silence the 81% that are not with Ortega, as indicated in the polls, and we hope that they will not get anywhere with their electoral farse,” said Mejia.

Baltodano goes back to the years of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship, when there was even more freedom than there is now. “Meetings were allowed, trials were public. In the universities there was freedom of organization and autonomy. And if we look at freedom of the press, let’s not forget that Pedro Joaquin’s La Prensa circulated until June 1979, before being bombed,” said Baltodano, who believes that the key to confronting the current tyranny is organization, which is the opposition’s weakness.

Ana Quiros, who was expelled from Nicaragua in 2018 for political reasons and stripped of her Nicaraguan nationality and her organization CISAS, points out that since then at least 49 civic organizations have been shut down.

“Conditions have become more difficult,” says Quirós. In that regard, she believes that what’s going on in Nicaragua is State terrorism. “You can no longer call it a regime. It is terrorism.”

There Will be no Bargaining Chips

Last week, with more than 100 days imprisoned, authorities allowed relatives of the most recent political prisoners a second visit. Ana Lucía Álvarez was concerned about the state of health of her sister Tamara Dávila and her aunt Ana Margarita Vijil.

Davila has lost 32 pounds since she was arrested in June. Her current weight is 108 pounds, her relatives said. The conditions that she endures are severe.

Alvarez reports that they are not allowed to deliver food for their relatives. Only water. “At some point, they were given yogurt, but at no time were they given the hot food we brought,” she laments.

The political prisoners are victims of torture. Some remain in total darkness and others with the light on 24/7. Some are placed next to another political inmate in the same cell and others in solitary confinement where they are subjected to interrogation.

“For a human being to only have contact with their interrogators, and are interrogated every day, is part of their torture system. Tammy (Tamara) 27, says she has had 16 different interrogators,” says Alvarez.

Faced with the possibility of a dialogue after the regime reelects itself, Alvarez rejects the option that the inmates be used as a bargaining chip.

In January, Ortega mentioned the possibility of these talks after the November elections. Recently the idea was repeated by Sandinista deputy Walmaro Gutierrez, but he warned that “only those who love Nicaragua” would be allowed to participate; those who ask for sanctions, which is one of the regime’s pretexts for imprisoning opponents, would not be allowed to participate.

Alvarez said there must be “an unconditional release of all political prisoners,” and she affirms that they are working on documenting all arbitrary acts.

Former deputy Núñez imagines “dialogue” like those of Venezuela, in which the dictatorship seeks collaborators to legitimize itself. Nuñez added he would not be surprised if Ortega is re-elected with 95% like Bashar al-Assad in Syria last May, observing Ortega’s aspirations towards a single party system, like the one in Cuba.

Read more from Nicaragua here in Havana Times.