Nicaragua After the Massacre

Altar at the John Paul Genie roundabout for the victims of the massacre. Photo: Carlos Herrera /confidencial

There’s no separating the national clamor for truth, justice and punishment for the guilty from the immediate exit from power of Ortega and Murillo.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The killings perpetrated by the paramilitary forces of the Ortega/Murillo regime and the riot squads of the National Police resulted in the worst bloodbath in the post-war history of Nicaragua. Since combat ended in the war between the Popular Sandinista Army and the Contra in 1990, there’s been no loss of human lives anywhere near what transpired in just one week, as the result of an action for which the State – in this case the State-Party-Family system – is directly responsible.

The horror and stupor caused by the death of 38 people, the majority young students, from the repression is only comparable to the massacre the Somoza dictatorship perpetrated against the civilian population on January 22, 1967. As on that occasion, in which the exact number of the victims could never be determined, an exhaustive investigation is now pending in the hospitals, morgues and through the Institute of Legal Medicine to establish the truth. In all of these places, however, the regime has imposed controls and the stamp of secrecy.

A democratic regime wouldn’t be waiting for a definitive count of the deaths to recognize the gravity of this massacre and immediately determine the guilty parties responsible, so that they can be brought to justice. The manual for dictatorship, on the other hand, has directed Ortega to activate a system of cover-ups and impunity so that everything can go on the same.”

Since the moment the first three deaths, including that of a police officer, occurred on the second day of the protest on April 19th, Ortega as Supreme Head of the National Police should have halted the repression and ordered the suspension of the police involved in order to undergo an investigation. But the oft-absent leader and his omnipresent vice president not only tried to downplay the protest, calling the young students “miniscule groups”, “blood-sucking vampires” and “gang members”, but also ordered an intensified repression to the point of provoking a true massacre.

That’s the only way to explain the irrationality of the excessive use of the police and paramilitary forces to smother a protest, a demonstration that Ortega perceived as a political menace to the monopoly he’s exercised over control of the streets.

For more than a decade, the National Police have been an institution directly controlled and utilized by Ortega’s political party, with the complicity of police chiefs Aminta Granera, Roger Ramirez and Francisco Diaz. At different stages of the regime, they have shared responsibility for the delinquent acts of torture and repression in which the Police have become involved.

They designed an institution without clear authorities or official heads so that it could be tele-directed by Ortega and Murillo from their residence in El Carmen, until the situation came to a head with the killings.  As a result, not only the high officials of the Police should be removed from their posts and submitted to an investigation, but also the responsible higher-ups: Ortega and Murillo.

The president and his wife the vice president have their hands stained with blood, and if their constitutional legitimacy has been in question before, now they are also morally disqualified from governing. This is the point at the core of the National Dialogue which the government has convoked with the mediation of the bishops from the Episcopal Conference.  There’s no separating the national clamor for truth, justice and punishment for those guilty of the massacre from the immediate exit from power of Ortega and Murillo. They represent two sides of the coin of the same national problem, the knot at the heart of this crisis of bad government that must be unraveled to make way for a political reform and the calling for early elections with full guarantees for all.

How can truth and justice be established under a dictatorship that mocks the blood of the muredered by offering a parody of an investigation to be headed by its own Attorney General and Parliament? Nicaragua urgently needs an independent Truth Commission, headed by the International Human Rights Commission of the OAS to clarify the crimes unleashed by the repression, identify the guilty and bring them to justice.

In September of 1978, after the genocide perpetrated by the National Guard against the civilian population, Somoza accepted the visit of this commission to investigate and document the violations of human rights. Ortega will be equally unable to refuse a visit from the Human Rights Commission if the other governments of the continent demand the application of the mechanisms contemplated in the OAS Democratic Charter.  

The end of the dictatorship by peaceful means will only be possible if the self-convoked student movement maintains their state of mobilization alongside the national dialogue. However, also needed is the united pressure of the economic and business forces, of the Sandinistas who aspire to reform an FSLN party that has been kidnapped by the Ortega forces, and the international community.

Out of the grief of the killing, a hope of unity is being born, to honor the country’s debt to the legacy of my father, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated 40 years ago, so that Nicaragua could return to being a democratic republic. That should also be our homage to the memory of all those who have died under the new dictatorship.