Irlanda Jerez: “Many Are Abandoning Ship and Leaving”

Irlanda Jerez, former Nicaraguan political prisoner and activist. Courtesy photo

Daniel Ortega’s tirades against the OAS and the US are to project a position of apparent strength to the Sandinista militancy, who are beginning to turn their backs on him and leave the country.

HAVANA TIMES – Irlanda Jerez is convinced that if the international community declares Daniel Ortega illegitimate, he won’t be able to access funds from multilateral organizations. The resulting pressure could then induce him to free the political prisoners.

In this interview, the former political prisoner tells us about the actions the Nicaraguan diaspora are promoting in the United States. She wants Nicaraguan citizens to understand that, although the opposition is seeking sanctions that could deepen the economic crisis, “in one way or another, we’ll continue to be affected anyway.”

She also speaks of the need for spokespersons who could represent a unified opposition, and about Laureano Ortega’s recent failed attempt to initiate talks with representatives of the US State Department.

What are Nicaraguans in the United States doing to put pressure on Daniel Ortega?

Those of us who are in the US have asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to call a special session [of the foreign ministers] to withdraw their recognition of the Ortega government, and declare it illegitimate. There are enough precedents, and more than enough elements, to make it clear that what we have in Nicaragua is a dictatorship, not a legitimate government. Only 18 votes are needed in the OAS for this, plus, of course, the will of all the democratic countries. We’ve based ourselves, above all, on the latest OAS report, written after the November 7th electoral farce. We want the OAS and the world’s countries to formally declare it an electoral farce, and not to recognize those elections: because they weren’t legitimate; because there was no citizen participation; because there were people in prison; and because of all the repression.

We must understand that none of the world’s democratic governments have formally stated that they don’t recognize Ortega as president. Even though they say the elections were a farce, they haven’t broken off their relations with Ortega, and they continue to treat him as the country’s president. We’ve petitioned the US State Department to urgently review the free trade agreement with Nicaragua (CAFTA-DR) and to take action on the Nica Magnitsky Act and the Renacer Law. Up until now, neither of these two measures have been put into effect. We’ve also asked the CABEI [Central American Bank for Economic Integration] to stop serving as the dictatorship’s economic oxygen valve.

Dante Mossi, president of the CABEI, stated last week that the bank wasn’t an organ of human rights.

That’s true. Can you imagine? But the CABEI clearly indicates to countries the necessary terms to be awarded those great sums of money. The CABEI has continued to deepen the debt of the Nicaraguan people, with those millions of dollars they’ve awarded [the government] in loans.

What reaction have you received from the OAS and the US government?

The OAS is aware of the situation. As far as the US goes, we’ve watched with concern the attempts to have closer contact with delegates of the dictatorship.

Speaking of that – how do you view Laureano Ortega’s recent attempt to approach the State Department, as they themselves have confirmed?

It’s highly concerning that the United Stated government, on the one hand excludes the dictatorship from the Summit of the Americas, but on the other maintains a policy of conversing and negotiating with the tyrants. One of the policies that has characterized the United States is that of not negotiating with kidnappers, and the dictatorship in Nicaragua is holding the political prisoners as hostages. We Nicaraguans always follow these actions closely, and we can’t allow ourselves to be pushed to one side. The diaspora has totally condemned this attempt at rapprochement, for the way it’s been done and the way it was disclosed. No one in the United States contacted the different opposition groups who are in exile here, seeking a path to free the political prisoners and democratize Nicaragua.

If not through negotiations, what can be done to obtain the liberation of the political prisoners? How else can it be accomplished?

Let’s recall the agreement that was signed in 2019. This document, signed by both the Ortega government delegation and the opposition, outlines an agreement of which the dictatorship has fulfilled not one item. Even to free those of us who were then captive, the dictatorship passed the famous Amnesty Law [tying the liberation of a part of the political prisoners to an “amnesty” for the crimes of those in the regime].

We’re very clear that firstly talks might resolve our differences as opposition members about how to get out of this crisis, but we oppose making any more agreements [with the Ortega regime]. Accords already exist, with the Catholic Church and the OAS as witnesses. Let them first fulfill those agreements to free all the political prisoners, allow free expression, mobilization, freedom of the press – but it’s been just the opposite. Our brothers and sisters are in prison, but we’re not going to free them through a new agreement with the dictatorship – they comply with it today, and tomorrow lock more people up.

Irlanda Jerez with her two daughters, Starina and Venus. Courtesy photo / La Prensa

You stated that the diaspora is pressuring for economic sanctions against the country. Don’t you think such sanctions could also strangle the people there who are suffering with the economic crisis?

I always call on the Nicaraguan people to maintain an active and militant attitude towards the dictatorship. I understand that people have to subsist under the tyrant’s boot. Thank God, our country has borders, and we’ve seen the massive migration of Nicaraguans. These are a people who have known how to get by, and have survived everything: hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, wars, dictatorships… and we’re still here.

But not all Nicaraguans have the ability to leave the country.

We’re the living proof and image that, yes, we’ve been able to emerge from all the dark nights that have engulfed us, and move on to a better Nicaragua. The people have to understand that in one way or another, we’ll continue being affected, and that these measures we’re requesting aren’t aimed at hurting the population. On the contrary, they’re to help free Nicaragua.

You also stated that you want countries to break off diplomatic relations with Ortega. Doesn’t it seem to you that such relations could help seek a way out of the crisis in the future?

In fact, the only diplomacy functioning today is about just that: applying the tools we have at hand. The OAS finds itself in a very serious situation, and it’s the Nicaraguan dictatorship that’s put it in that position. Right now, it’s an organization that all the member states and the citizens of the Americas view as a mere eggshell. Empty and non-existent, because if they don’t follow through with what they’re called upon to do in their democratic charter, then – Why is the OAS there?

At this time, the international community must add their quota towards liberating our country, because the Nicaraguan people have put in much more than their due. I understand that part of diplomacy involves taking this type of punitive actions. [Leaders] can’t just continue doing what they want, every which way, leaving us as if we were against the ropes. What’s due should be applied, because once Ortega has been declared illegitimate, the other sanctions will come pouring down, like a domino effect.

Ortega expelled the OAS from Nicaragua, launched verbal attacks against Colombia, the United States, the European Union. Do you think it would really be a blow to him if these governments and organizations declared him illegitimate?

He’s not interested in the international community, because he knows that leaving power means death for him. It’s the international community that, given this situation, has to raise the ante towards the most depraved dictator that’s ever existed in Nicaragua or in the region. It’s all Ortega’s way of demonstrating just how far he can go. “I can do this – so what??  “I’m going to expel the OAS – so what are you going to do about it?” Given what happened to the OAS, the door is open for him to close the embassy of any country he chooses, the day he wants to. “Get out of here, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia. Out.”

Exactly! But, if he’s not interested, why would it matter to Ortega if they declare him illegitimate or not?

He acts as if he’s not interested; however, he sent one of his sons to try and open talks with the United States. Towards his supporters, he must show force, with all that talk about how he doesn’t care about the sanctions or anything else. He acts like it’s not important to him, but he knows he couldn’t hold the country together with all the closures that we’re proposing.

How do you view Ortega’s militant party followers?

Many have wanted to abandon that red and black boat, but have had to keep their mouths shut. Some have found a way to emigrate. Others, spurred by the country’s economic crisis, have asked for asylum in the United States, although many aren’t going to be able to get it. Nonetheless, within the structures of the Sandinista Front there’s a lot of noise: discussions among themselves, state workers who have to be in their jobs because they have to support their families, but don’t agree with what the dictatorship is doing.

How is the opposition doing at this moment?

It’s an opposition that continues, despite the crisis, the pain and the desperation. There’s faith that one day Nicaragua will be free. The different sectors of the opposition need to produce a unified set of spokespeople that represent the different sectors of the Nicaraguan people. Unity isn’t a synonym for either unanimity or totality.

Why is it that even today, with all the repression they’ve faced, those opposing the government remain scattered?

When we understand what unity means, we’ll advance. I mentioned that unity isn’t a synonym of unanimity nor of totality. By understanding this, and understanding the objectives that unite us all – ending the dictatorship, building a republic, redefining the State, having justice prevail, and having peace for all Nicaraguans – that’s when that true unity will be achieved, even though we have different religions, social standing, come from different neighborhoods and hold different political ideologies. Once that’s understood, there are no true differences.

You mean they haven’t understood what unity is?

I know of many platforms that work together, and in which I’ve participated. In every forum, I always repeat that phrase, in hopes of a greater opening: we have to understand that unity isn’t synonymous with unanimity nor with totality. The fingers on our hands aren’t the same, but they’re all part of the same hand.

Irlanda Jerez. Courtesy photo / La Prensa

Personal background

Irlanda Jerez, 41, is originally from Siuna, but at 15 she moved to the city of Leon to study Dentistry. She later began working in the businesses she inherited from her parents.

From the time she was a child, she liked to read. In 1992, she was recognized as the best student in the entire North Caribbean Coast. “I’m a dedicated reader,” she describes herself. She also likes to dance.

Irlanda says that during the eighties, her family was persecuted politically, and their properties were confiscated. Her father and older brother were jailed by the Sandinista dictatorship at that time.

She herself was a political prisoner of the Ortega regime during 2018 and 2019. She was released after the Amnesty Law was approved and is currently in exile in the United States, together with her two daughters.

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