What we’re seeing in “El Chipote” isn’t justice, but open repression. Ways must be found for these abuses to have consequences.
By Michael Reed Hurtado (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The Ortega regime has made a dizzying descent into tyranny as a form of government. With no rules – or rather, rules manipulated for the benefit of him and his clan, Ortega and his party have sunk deeper into a form of government that nullifies citizens’ rights and destroys the essential controls for exercising public power.
With no legitimate mandate to govern, the regime has turned to other means, mainly incentives or coercion, to obtain support and not be left alone. Tyranny requires fanatics, vassals, doers, and opportunists, and the Ortega regime has only limited resources or tools with which to maintain that back-up.
Among their preferred means are: fear (dominating via threats or the use of violence), keeping people in the dark (isolating, buying loyalty with handouts, and promoting indoctrination) and payouts (rewarding support by sharing out riches – scant as these may be – and offering powerful collaborators some of the profits from the exploitation of resources).
Ortega and his inner circle are governing with a mania for persecution, as befits a tyrant who prevails against everybody’s wishes, and knows he can’t be left alone. In order to perpetuate himself, he’ll continue changing the rules of the game to accommodate his needs, exercising unlimited domination and buying collaborators.
Repression and spreading fear continue
The repressive actions of the regime seek to silence all voices that don’t join their chorus, and to prohibit all civic actions that don’t follow their path. The regime spreads fear and anxiety by offering impunity and rewards to their allies, and persecution and threats for those who oppose it.
The actions undertaken at the beginning of this year don’t add any new components to the regime’s repertory of persecution and the dismantling of the rule of law in Nicaragua. Annulling legal status, embargoing and expropriating the localities of organizations that provide social and community services, punishing their enemies – Nicaraguan society has already seen these resources employed. The pattern of behavior seems to be intensified, however, probably reflecting the rulers’ insecurity and weakness.
Although the Nicaraguan government offers lip service to the Constitution and the laws, its acts are outside the law. Today, Ortega and his clan govern through arbitrary actions, with no notion of the public good, and with a state apparatus that has been completely coopted and ideologized.
Cooptation of public goods and services
There’s been a near-total cooptation of the complex system designed to promote the public interest. The executive, legislative and judicial powers have abandoned their Constitutional mandates and now line up obediently to fulfill a mission clothed in ideology. The decisions they make don’t favor the public interest, only the interests of a particular group: the Ortega clan.
The red and black of the Ortega brand has devoured all the public institutions. That curious mania of flying the party flag for all public events says it all. The actions of the Executive are red and black, the legislative decisions are red and black, justice is red and black. Public concern doesn’t register in government affairs; instead, State-party interests dominate the entire public sphere and also seek to control the private sphere. The red and black eats away at everything and destroys it.
The no-justice system: an example of cooptation
One clear example of the cooptation of institutions, the annihilation of independent powers and the distancing from the rule of law can be found in the guilty verdicts being announced against Ortega’s declared enemies. These aren’t the result of the administration of justice (neither straight nor crooked) – they’re the result of a policy of persecution. This isn’t justice, it’s a direct and premeditated attack on a group of people declared to be enemies of the regime.
The Ortega clan has woven a web of hostile and repressive actions and inserted them into the State-party machinery. They’re using the police and judicial powers to pursue and punish the regime’s enemies. The actions unleashed against those who are today political prisoners are openly contrary to law: from the first acts of stalking and surveillance right through to the guilty verdicts and their continued imprisonment.
If any doubts remain, the trial verdicts that became known in these first days of February 2022 make it evident that the Nicaraguan one-party state is operating completely outside legality. These verdicts are explicit displays of non-law – reflected in the prolongation of arbitrary detentions, the use of torture, the annihilation of the right to defense, the non-existent evidence, among many other violations to the general principles of penal law. They’re also a reflection of the arbitrary exercise of violence, via punishments sanctioned and executed by the regime’s operators.
The events taking place in El Chipote aren’t justice, but open repression. The trials are manipulated and corrupt from their onset; not do they not respect the basic guidelines for the administration of justice, but also the official ritual that the Ortega regime is directing makes them part of a criminal pattern of behavior. As non-justice, those political sentences spread pain without rights, and comprise a criminal attack.
Break with passivity and recover responsibility
The regime isn’t accountable to anyone and works to evade all controls, both internal and external. This recipe make degradation inevitable and will eventually lead the regime to its collapse. The problem is, the timeline for this eventuality is tempered by Ortega’s proven capacity to endure and a cultivated attitude or comfortable familiarity with isolation and marginalization, in part stemming from the guerrilla past.
Unfortunately, while Ortega and his clan deteriorate, the Nicaraguan people suffer and their institutions collapse. To repair the damages and the social ties and restore social trust will take a long time; recovering the rule of law in Nicaragua could take decades. Since the Ortega regime has demonstrated so much irresponsibility, it’s time to promote a complementary active responsibility on the part of other powers: the international community and the private sector.
The obvious allies in the international community – friendly countries committed to the defense of human rights – should go beyond the scope of passive observation and moral condemnation and advance in their diplomacy and the application of international public law. This is also the responsibility of all the States that form part of the United Nations. The commitment to human rights can’t be merely a salute to the flag: a sense of obligation and joint responsibility for the protection of these rights must be recovered.
It’s time to give full value to the founding principle of international human rights law – that of limited sovereignty. No nation-state can exercise absolute public power; the conduct of government entities and agents towards the people under their jurisdiction is bounded by international human rights laws. It’s a general principle of international law that all governments recognize, and it invests them with obligations. Sovereignty isn’t absolute, and the international community should assert this principle in the face of the flagrant human rights violation that the Nicaraguan regime is committing.
There’s another sector that should add their weight to the exercise of responsibility for the protection of the rights of Nicaraguan citizens – the national and international private sector.
As stated earlier, the regime needs allies and collaborators to continue. They can’t do it alone. One of the ways they maintain collaborators is through granting favors to companies that increase their profits in Nicaraguan territory. Exploiting Nicaraguan resources and profiting from agreements made with a criminal regime should have consequences. Such companies can’t plead ignorance: their continued support for the regime renders them accomplices of illegality and arbitrary actions. An active exercise of responsibility on their part should bring them to break ties with the Nicaraguan one-party state.
To offer an example: Canadian, Colombian, and Australian companies are involved in gold mining, and these companies know who their partner is. Prolonging the ties of collaboration and of mutual benefit makes them accomplices in legal transgressions and in certain concrete cases exposes them to being held responsible by their respective governments. The hour has come to take seriously the famous principle of corporate responsibility.
The regime will continue manipulating the rules of the game, and ways must be found for their abuses to have consequences. On the one hand, the international community can’t stand by passively in the face of Nicaragua’s pivot away from the rule of law. On the other, the private sector should cut their ties with a criminal regime of looters. It’s not a matter of magic formulas nor absolute answers. However, concrete steps in this sense can contribute to the protection of the basic humanitarian values and the recuperation of responsibility in international relations.