By Raul K. Bautista
HAVANA TIMES – On Thursday, October 7, 2021, several groups in opposition to the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua made a joint call to the population to repudiate and reject the electoral farce of November 7 and to the international community to declare the illegitimacy of the process and increase sanctions.
Beyond the value of this call, the size of the coalition or whether the right words are used to address the international community, this action is an important step of unity and a breath of hope for the struggle in the medium and long term, whose objective is to remove Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo from power and achieve a free, just and democratic Nicaragua.
Mainly, because it outlines some trends, main directions or aspects of a joint opposition strategy within the country, of Nicaraguans in exile and of the diaspora. This unity in action also responds to the call made by some political analysts, intellectuals, presidents and former presidents, foreign government officials, bishops and priests in exile, and independent journalists. They have proposed that Nicaraguans, inside and outside the country, should unite to make a common front, which will be promoted from exile due to the current level of internal repression that has imprisoned all the presidential opposition candidates, and other political and civil society leaders.
A United Opposition is Still Pending
A first step is to show that Nicaraguans can unite to cooperate to achieve a common political objective. The effort we are referring to is that: a first step. Not because it is the first joint statement, there have been many. Not because of the size of the group, it is still very small. But because its intention is to become a collective, broad and flexible endeavor. A platform that serves to educate and achieve change. It is the beginning for a group, made up of various sectors of the opposition, to work collectively on a large scale.
Of course, a total or perfect unity is not going to be achieved. There will be groups that prefer to continue working on their own and there will be other platforms and coalitions that will continue to function. That is fine. And there will always be voices that distract, that oppose everything, that hinder the journey, that seek division and strive to divert organizations and individuals responsible for leading and organizing from their goal, so that they fail. It is a difficult and cumbersome task, even without considering the infiltrators, the trolls or even one or two moles.
Any platform or coalition must consult with those affected or sectors participating. In that sense, it was a success to have managed that the Peasant Movement, the Blue and White National Unity, Initiative for Change, Medical Action in Exile of Nicaragua, and other organizations inside the country that requested to remain anonymous, signed the declaration. As was the involvement of diaspora organizations, among them, the Nicaraguan Freedom Coalition and networks of organizations in the United States and other countries.
Although the international community is clear that Ortega has taken draconian measures—such as arbitrary detention and jailing 37 opposition leaders, including presidential candidates, students, peasants, journalists, politicians, businessmen and renowned Sandinista guerrilla commanders–, some still believe that something can be done to redress the electoral process.
They propose that the Ortega-Murillo regime stop arresting opponents, free political prisoners, allow the opposition to campaign, accede to electoral observation, tolerate freedom of the press and other calls to avoid “the dangers of a rigged election.” They are so delusional!
A month away from the electoral farce
A month away from the completion of the electoral process, the declaration of the opposition, to which we refer, gives a clear and forceful response: a unanimous repudiation and rejection of such an electoral farce. The entire process, it states, must be declared illegitimate and void.
Not even a mock election can be valid with political prisoners, torture and cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners, parties without legal status, killings of indigenous people, wave after wave of exiles. And without freedom of association, of expression, of the press, or the minimum compliance with international standards, which were rejected by the dictatorship when it failed to comply with the resolution of the OAS General Assembly of October 22, 2020.
Taking this into consideration, the joint declaration urges the OAS member states that, in the next session of the OAS Ordinary General Assembly, scheduled for November 10, they adopt a resolution calling for an Extraordinary General Assembly on the illegitimacy of the elections and the application of article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The Nicaraguan people have nothing to gain from the permanence of the Ortega-Murillo regime in the OAS. Therefore, the state of Nicaragua must be expelled from the Inter-American system. Various entities of the Inter-American system itself have accused the regime of committing crimes against humanity, of seriously breaching the democratic order and of a permanent violation of human rights.
Ortega and his jailers scoff at the precautionary measures of the OAS and the provisional measures of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. No treaty, convention or regional or international body on human rights is respected by Ortega. Nor will they stop him in his yearning to damage the physical integrity and dignity of political prisoners.
United Nations bodies, such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Committee Against Torture, have also fallen short of adequately fulfilling their functions of investigation and supervision of human rights. This is what the joint declaration refers to when it calls on the international community to “exert effective pressure” for the immediate release of political prisoners.
How far will they go with their crimes?
Ortega and Murillo are dead set on reaching the levels of cruelty of Apartheid and the military dictatorships in Latin America of the 20th century, including the Somoza dictatorship. The relatives of the most recent political prisoners, who were allowed to see their family members for the first time after 60, 70, 80 or even more than 90 days of imprisonment, report appalling conditions that put their lives at risk and that can cause irreparable harm to their physical and mental health.
From the information provided by the relatives, we can affirm that the treatment of political prisoners violates more than 17 of the Nelson Mandela Rules (the UN Revised Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners), principally including Rule 1 (no use of torture, or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment). Also, Rule 43 (shall be prohibited: indefinite solitary confinement, prolonged solitary confinement, placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell, corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water, and not allowing family contact, among others). The prison treatment imposed by the Ortega-Murillo regime has as its goal “to inflict pain and suffering” and amounts to torture.
The joint declaration also calls “to increase the sanctions against those responsible” for the “brutal repression” and the extensive human rights violations, including the more than 328 people killed in the context of the civil protests of 2018, confirmed by the IACHR. It also requests the conditioning of the approval and disbursement of financial resources. As Ana Quiros said at the press conference, organizations such as CABEI have continued to finance the Police and obtaining financing allows the regime to continue the repression.
Another important message of the declaration is that it urges the members states of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to call on Ortega to comply with the community commitments of free and democratic elections, to revisit the Esquipulas Agreement and the unrestricted respect for human rights. These states must be the most interested in consolidating peace, freedom, democracy and development in the region.
Finally, it reaffirms the opposition’s commitment to preserve the civic and peaceful struggle until the restoration of freedom, justice and democracy is achieved.
This joint action of unity “is a beginning,” “a start,” evidence that “the opposition is alive,” “that we are resuming the struggle since the main leaders are in prison” or in exile.
To paraphrase another panelist, the struggle to ensure free, fair, transparent, and observable election is just beginning. “We know that Ortega is much more isolated that in the eighties and that should give us encouragement.” Therefore, this joint declaration by the opposition is a step forward for unity and these efforts will have to be consolidated and progress to other levels of organization to free our people from the clutches of dictatorship, authoritarianism, and tyranny.