Lessons from the Events in Nicaragua

The Justice System in Nicaragua. By PxMolina / Confidencial

These people at last recovered the freedom they were unjustly deprived of, with no right to defend themselves, notes Chile’s foreign minister

By Antonia Urrejola Noguera (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, on February 9, the Nicaraguan authorities decided to release 222 persons they had arbitrarily imprisoned for being identified as their political opponents. The condition imposed on that liberation was that they all be taken to the United States, whose government provided an airplane to transport them from Managua to Washington D.C. The following day, the Nicaraguan Congress, which is under complete government control, hastily approved a law stripping the banished former prisoners of their nationality and political rights forever.

Despite the expulsion and being deprived of their civil and political rights, the event was worthy of celebration; these people at last recovered the freedom they’d been unjustly deprived of, with no right to defend themselves. They were freed from an arbitrary and discriminating prison regime that had subjected them to cruel and inhumane treatment, much of which could be classified as torture, according reports from the international organizations dedicated to studying these cases.

Nonetheless, the events in Nicaragua pose challenges and lessons to us, especially in matters of foreign policy.

To begin with, the recovery of democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua is still pending. Testimony of this is the current situation of the released prisoners’ relatives, many of whom are still in Nicaragua. These family members have had their passports taken and are living in fear. They’re currently unable even to go into exile and join their loved ones. Thus, the challenge of family reunification looms as an urgent challenge.

In addition, several dozen dissenters remain in prison, convicted of generic crimes with no real basis, by a justice system that offers no guarantees of independence from the government. That’s the case of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, who has been sentenced to 26 years in prison for “undermining the national sovereignty” and “spreading fake news.”

Adding to these violations, the regime led by Ortega has expanded its cancellation of the opposition members’ nationality, a measure that’s illegal under all the norms of international rights. On February 16, they added another 94 people to the list of 222 prisoners deprived of their nationality, demonstrating once again their total disengagement from the basic norms and principles of international human rights law.

Then there’s the matter of the death of over 300 Nicaraguans in the context of the 2018 social protests – with those responsible left in impunity. Not even one impartial investigation is known that could determine the truth of what happened, and who was responsible for those deaths.

The current tattered state of the democratic institutions in the Central American country didn’t occur from one moment to the next. It’s the result of a long process that went nearly unnoticed by the international community, especially within the region. A more active diplomacy in matters of defending democracy and human rights could have encouraged debates and policies that foresaw the consolidated authoritarian downturn in Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan authorities’ recent release of the political prisoners is also, then, a central reminder of the responsibility to protect that we, the active members of the international community, must exercise. This responsibility, recognized by international law, has as its principal function in the prevention of situations as serious for the protection of democracy and human rights as those now occurring in Nicaragua.

In Chile, then, the idea that our bilateral relations could be negatively affected by our denunciation and concern for human rights, or for assaults against democracy in other countries, is a grave error.

The multilateralism that Chile has historically sustained and promoted, along with our defense of stable and objective rules in international matters, must rise above the protection of our interests. Pivotal to all these are democracy and human rights.  To relativize those principles – in pursuit of interests, or in view of specific junctures – or to abandon them out of a badly understood realism or rationality, doesn’t only betray our own traditional line of foreign policy, but also affects the interests and position of Chile within the international community in the medium and long term.

There’s yet another lesson that these events leave us with: not giving up on bilateral and/or multilateral diplomatic dialogue. In that sense, persisting with the practice of unconditional dialogue is key to obtaining concrete results in the framework of international relations. This is especially important in contexts where there would seem to be no light visible at the end of the road. It can open the door to hopeful outcomes, such as that of the prisoners who were released on February 9.

Just two weeks ago, it was difficult to imagine the liberation of these imprisoned dissenters in Nicaragua. Today, we celebrate it, and with great excitement we accompany them in their freedom.


*Originally published in Cooperativa.cl.


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