Ex-Official: “The FSLN sends its people to spy at churches”
She left her job without resigning and went into exile. The breaking point was the attacks on the Church and the imprisonment of Bishop Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – María stopped going to mass and participating in religious activities in order to avoid reprisals, knowing there was “extreme surveillance” being carried out by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, which increased against government employees in 2022.
At the end of the year, the then judiciary branch official, who had worked there for almost a decade, could not take it anymore. She took advantage of a vacation trip to the United States and left her job, giving up her access to employee benefits owed to her. That was the only way to do it, she says.
Now in the process of applying for political asylum, María gave an interview to CONFIDENCIAL and Esta Semana, and revealed the pressures, surveillance, threats, and fear suffered by public servants who, like her, do not agree with the abuses of power and human rights violations of Ortega’s regime.
The regime’s infringement on her Catholic faith was the last straw for María, and she decided to leave. “There are people in every church who sit in the pews, in the back, or on the steps of the churches, to see what government employees enter so they can denounce us,” María said.
María describes the mechanisms of control and the pressures imposed by the governing Sandinista Front. Increasingly, public employees are forced to participate in party activities and political indoctrination workshops. Their comments are monitored by regime collaborators. They are not allowed to organize, and they are not even allowed to express their disagreements with the regime.
Public employees’ level of support for the Sandinista party is “low”, says María. Many have their “eyes wide open” and disagree with the political surveillance, the persecution against the Church and the situation of the political prisoners, and are overwhelmed by the economic crisis and their low salaries. “Our salaries don’t go very far. Some months we can cover the basics, but sometimes not even that,” she laments.
As a Catholic, María criticizes the attacks against the Church by the Ortega regime, which has imprisoned eleven priests, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa. It was a “major breaking point for many [state workers]”, she says. The government, she believes, is “shooting itself in the foot by acting like this”.
As a former judiciary official, María also questions the irregularities and violations of due process in the political trials against prisoners of conscience. She confirms that they “fabricate evidence” and bring in government workers and police officers as supposed witnesses.
María defends the validity of ex-government officials requesting asylum in the United States. “I ask folks to understand our position as government workers, because while there are many civil servants who support and defend the government, there are many who do not,” she says. María considers that the future of Nicaragua with Ortega and Murillo “is not good”.
You worked as an official in the judicial branch for almost a decade. What is the situation of government workers in Daniel Ortega’s regime?
The situation is very difficult because there’s a lot of fear and a lot of discontent. Many workers are afraid of what might happen to them. It’s gotten worse since the protests of 2018 and everything the government has done against the population.
There are folks who have to remain silent and cannot speak up. They can’t express what they feel for fear of being fired. They have to support their families and don’t have the possibility of leaving the country or even working independently outside the government. As attorneys, we don’t have the opportunity to work independently. The regime blocks any type of work that we want to do outside the government. I have seen this with many lawyers who were practicing law at the Judicial Complex and who left, either because they were unhappy or because they were dismissed. They have wanted to work independently and haven’t been allowed to do so.
In 2022, the regime imprisoned the Judiciary spokesperson, Roberto Larios, as well as three advisors of the president of the Supreme Court, Alba Luz Ramos. We also saw that political surveillance increased within the institution. How did you experience that situation within the Judiciary?
The comments in the corridors and among all the workers were all about fear and more fear. If they are imprisoning people who have been so close to the government, what might happen to those of us who are just working there and simply don’t agree with their decisions? What can we expect will happen to us?
There are also comments that there are all kinds of lists, that we are not allowed to quit, that we’re not allowed to move, and that as State employees, we are practically like prisoners of the government.
It causes terrible anxiety. We have no job stability. We feel we don’t have the freedom to express ourselves, to be able to say what we want or what we feel, because while there are lots of people who are unhappy, there are also many people who agree with and who praise and applaud the decisions being made by the government.
In the context of those arrests, were there any instructions by supervisors about what to do or not to do as public employees?
No. Not even those responsible were commenting on what was happening. At the time, it was mentioned that these people were arrested, but without saying anything more. There were no comments because the supervisors knew they themselves were also being watched, that they were being monitored to see what they were saying. There is so much terrible surveillance going on in all the judicial complexes and it’s much worse in the Court because with so many people who have left, with so many judges who have left and who are talking, the level of surveillance on the rest of us is extreme. They follow us around, listen to what we say, watch how we comment on things with other colleagues.
The fear that surrounds us –for our families, for ourselves, for our children– is enormous. So we have to keep quiet, we cannot speak. The amount of comments we can make, with people we trust and know that they also disagree, is very little.
In December, you left Nicaragua without resigning from your job. How did you manage to travel to the United States? Did you request authorization from your superiors or any of the political operators?
No. I just went on vacation on December 22 and didn’t return to work on January 9. I had made the decision to leave. I could no longer stand the pressure of certain people who were monitoring us, or who organized us in groups to get us to go to government marches or participate in political activities.
The requirements got more intense. We had to participate in practically all the activities, and if we didn’t, we’d get questioned: “What happened to you?”, “Why didn’t you go?”, “Why didn’t you attend?” If you missed two or three events, they would give you a bad look and ask: “So what happened?”, “Why aren’t you attending?”
A lot of workers like me have been leaving the different judicial complexes without resigning or giving notice. We give up all our rights, knowing that we will lose our severance pay and every other employee benefit we might be entitled to because even though we need those benefits, it’s better to just get out.
Were you able to travel to the United States without problems?
Yes, I traveled normally. I traveled alone. I’m in the United States now. I had no trouble leaving Nicaragua. I thought there might be a problem because like I said, the rumor was that there were lists at all the borders, at all the airports, and that we might be on those lists. In the end, nothing happened.
It seems that only the people who are the closest in to the government –magistrates, judges, office assistants, personnel who are directly in charge of other offices, or who are area supervisors– are the ones who are on those lists because they are in fact required to request authorization from the presiding magistrate to be able to leave the country.
Do you know of cases of other colleagues who have resigned or left their positions in the Judiciary or other state institutions?
Yes, tons. In addition to lots of colleagues in the judicial branch, I know folks in the Health Ministry who also left without resigning. The same happened with folks in other ministries, like the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education. They’re all people who left just like we did in the judicial branch, losing our employee rights and benefits because we didn’t give notice. We wanted to avoid being detained or having them try to do something against us.
And why did they leave?
For the same reasons. They couldn’t stand the situation any longer, they couldn’t stand being pressured any longer. Plus, the economic situation is hitting us hard. Our salaries don’t go very far. Some months we can cover the basics, but sometimes not even that if we had other debts or other expenses. If we covered one thing, we couldn’t cover another.
Many of these workers who leave without resigning lose their severance pay. What exactly are civil servants afraid of?
We are afraid that they will detain or arrest us when we leave, or that they will want to do something against us or our family, if we want to leave the country with our family. Because as workers, we are clear and we see the situation and how they are acting against people who are very close to them. They are detaining them, they are imprisoning them. So, what can we expect they’ll do to us?
According to what you saw, what level of political support currently exists among state workers for the Ortega-Murillo regime?
Very low. I believe that if truly democratic elections were held right now, this government would no longer be in power because even government officials themselves don’t agree with the things the regime is doing.
I participated in the presidential elections and also in the municipal elections last year, and turnout was very low. We had to vote because it was a fundamental requirement. We had to vote to be able to continue in our jobs. We saw how in the presidential [voting] there were people who didn’t vote and they were fired or, as punishment, they were sent to far-away places so that they had to spend a lot more, as a form of pressure to get them to leave the institution.
When you say that you participated in the voting, is it because you were stationed at a polling place? Was that obligatory?
Yes, I took part in the electoral machinery, both in the presidential and municipal elections. Our supervisors told us: “You are militants and as militants you have to keep the government in power. So the way to keep it in power is by participating and we’ll be observing the voting.” We knew that voting wasn’t free, that it was not a democratic process.
And what instructions did you receive? How did the Voting Boards react to the high abstention rates you were talking about?
They always said that they were winning, that it was going well, that turnout had been great, even when they saw that it was two o’clock in the afternoon and in the morning maybe only 50 people had come to vote.
At the same time, they were worried because they saw that nobody was going to the polls… [but] they are only interested in staying in power. They don’t care if people actually support them.
And what are the feelings of government employees about the direction of the country: the economic situation, the political prisoners, the international isolation of the regime, the intensification of repression?
We’re all worried about how the cost of everything is going up and that our salaries can’t cover expenses. With respect to the political prisoners, the situation is very ugly. The attacks on the Church became a strong breaking point for many, because by then we were already somewhat restricted from going to churches or participating in processions or any other religious activity we wanted to be part of.
In fact, many of my co-workers –and I myself– were part of a church group. I stopped going to my meetings and religious activities for fear of being followed, because there are people in every church who sit in the pews, in the back, or on the steps of the churches, to see what government employees enter so they can denounce us.
All of this has been worrisome for us, because we see how they are now messing with the Church. They’re not only doing things to the civilian population, they’re now touching a very powerful institution as well.
And what do you personally think about these attacks on the Church?
They’re shooting themselves in the foot by acting this way. The workers themselves are seeing their actions, and they don’t approve.
What do you think about the trials fabricated by the regime against opponents and even clergy? Are they at all credible to you or your former colleagues?
No, not in the slightest. We all know they fabricate evidence. They bring in people, even workers of the same institutions, to be witnesses in those trials. The police, who are so obedient to the regime, are among the main witnesses they use in the trials, and the truth is that there are lots of people willing to lend themselves to do these things to get two or three hundred more córdobas on top of their salaries.
We know very well that this is not the way it should be according to the law, because we have studied the law and we know that what they are doing is not in the books.
What would you say to people who say it’s not fair for state workers or Sandinista party deserters to have the opportunity to apply for asylum in the United States?
I tell them that we’re not all the same, we’re not all in favor of the government. We work in a public institution because we need to work. We need to support a family and not all of us agree with the decisions of the government. I ask people to understand our position as public employees, because while there are many civil servants who do in fact support and defend the government, there are many who do not, who have their eyes wide open, who know the many injustices that are being committed, and who don’t agree with what is being done in the country.
Translated by the Confidencial staff.