The Truth about the April Killings in Nicaragua

The report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Here you can breathe struggle. Nicaragua without repression. Photo: Bienvenido Velasco EFE / confidencial

The next step is to create a “mechanism of international investigation” to establish the right to the truth and to attain justice.

By Carlos F. Chamorro  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The preliminary report on the April killings in Nicaragua from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is definitive in its findings regarding the dimensions of the horrors suffered by the victims of the repression. Its conclusions on the responsibilities of the State for excessive use of police and paramilitary violence are devastating.

Given the nature of the mandate of a mere four-day visit, the report doesn’t establish any findings about the individual responsibilities of those who perpetrated the violence, leaving us still very distant from being able to attain the justice that the victims’ families demand. However, it represents an irreversible step towards dismantling the stone wall that covers the crimes of the Ortega Murillo regime.

The IACHR report has set a foundation for transparency in the new Nicaragua, to the point where not even the regime’s foreign minister himself dared to refute it, and in the name of the government accepted their fifteen recommendations during the national dialogue.

In the Nicaragua that existed previous to the mid-April rebellion, in that kingdom of murkiness and impunity, this would have been impossible, beginning with the fact that the presence of the IACHR was proscribed in the country and the government was absent from all the Commission’s sessions.

After April 18, Ortega objected on three occasions to a visit from the IACHR, alleging that he first they wanted to wait for the conclusions of internal investigations carried out by state entities: the Attorney General’s office, the Police and the “Truth Commission” appointed by his Parliament. It was only because of popular pressure, the struggle of the university students and the backing they received from the Episcopal Conference and all sectors of the country, that the dictator – like Somoza after the genocide of September 1978 – found himself forced to accept the Commission’s visit.

As such, this report against impunity has been made possible against the regime’s true wishes.  It’s the result of the national civic resistance and of the anger and grief of the family members of the victims who poured out to present their testimony and denunciations before the IACHR in Managua, Masaya, Leon and Matagalpa.

Those insulted and vilified by the regime have managed a victory, for the moment a moral and political one, that will require new actions to identify the perpetrators and establish their ultimate criminal responsibilities. Meanwhile, it falls on Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS, and to the other governments of the continent to call together the political organs of the OAS to discuss the responsibilities of those governing for one of the worst massacres that has occurred in Latin America in peacetime.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented the findings from their 4-day visit to Nicaragua on May 21, 2018. Photo: Carlos Herrera /confidencial

Among the findings and recommendations of the IACHR report, I can mention three that require immediate action on the part of the Nicaraguan State and that can only be achieved if pressure continues to be applied via national civic mobilization:

First, the State should make public the identities of all the fatal victims of the massacre and of those seriously wounded, and turn over to their family members the file on each case. Up until a week ago, the regime only recognized the existence of 12 dead, and this unofficially. However, at the last minute on Sunday night, the foreign minister turned over to the IACHR a list of 76 dead, a number that is even greater than the estimates of independent national human rights organizations such as the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights, and of media outlets such as Confidencial that had worked independently to corroborate the victims’ identities. Now the State is obligated to publish this list and publicly recognize the victims of the killing spree.

Secondly, the State should “dismantle the para-police groups and take measures to impede the continued operations of armed third-party groups that attack and harass the civil population” as the IACHR report demands. The Episcopal Conference had also called for the suppression of the paramilitary forces and shock troops allied to the government, although the government still has not complied with this requirement for the national dialogue. Up until now, no member of the paramilitary groups have been arrested or placed under investigation. Disarming these groups and submitting their members, leaders and associates to justice is a sine qua non condition for tomorrow launching a police reform to guarantee that the stability and safety of the citizens will no longer be undermined by the existence of armed gangs.

Third, “a mechanism for international investigation of the violent events that have occurred” is necessary, “with guarantees of autonomy and independence, to assure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.” In formally accepting this recommendation of the IACHR, the Ortega-Murillo regime have committed themselves to facilitating one of the requirements for a democratic transition, by reestablishing the bases for justice. But at the same time, Ortega and Murillo continue determined to remain in power, and refuse to negotiate terms for their peaceful exit.

That’s the crossroads that Nicaragua finds itself in today. While the people are demanding the three inseparable steps of truth, justice and an end to this regime in power, those governing the country threaten to impose a new escalation of violence on the country. Because of this, it’s imperative that the IACHR return to Nicaragua and maintain its presence here, where the Rule of Law was abolished under a dictatorship that respects neither the right to life nor the right to peaceful protest. We need the right to truth at least, to prevail if we’re going to be able to prevent the next massacre.  

4 thoughts on “The Truth about the April Killings in Nicaragua

  • “here’s no mention of the protesters preventing some 160,000 Nicaraguans from going to work,”

    That’s all you people care about! I hear government supporters bemoan this a million times more than the entire family that was burnt alive by police. There’s a video of them exiting the premises. They were practically caught red handed. This was all because the family refused to let a sniper use their 3 story house to shoot at unarmed protesters. How about the baby that was shot in the head, corroborated by many eye witnesses? I have a video of police opening fire, at close range, on unarmed students, which is in no way justifiable. Let’s not forget the trapped students in a church that they shot at throughout the entire night, more than a thousand people were watching the live streaming on facebook. Facebook is inundated with the video-graphic evidence of an unarmed population being shot at by armed police almost every single day!

    “The ‘third parties’ are trickier. Yes, their presence was probably indirectly encouraged by Ortega, but to a large extent they’re informal gangs of thugs who genuinely support him. To call them a para-military implies more discipline in their ranks and more of a hierarchical command structure than exists”

    You do realize many of your “over-zealous” “third parties” A.K.A. homicidal maniacs have been captured and found out to be police, military, or street thugs getting paid to wreak havoc and even kill. They have not revealed this information under extreme and ruthless torture like what has been inflicted on students that are regularity captured, they had badges. Our city mayor was sent to attack unarmed students protesters, this was caught on camera. I could go on, but I trust that you are equipped with a functional set of eyes, and a modicum of intelligence with which to get your facts straight. I can only assume your loyalties lie in a common political vision which you uphold despite the damning footage, or perhaps monetary incentive holds more sway with you.

    In any case, the problem is that many who support the regime see the economy as being more pertinent than the lives lost, predominantly at the hands of the dictatorial regime because they are the ones who have been armed. Therein lies you proof that the casualties are vastly and predominantly civilians. The bullet wounds, speak for themselves. Especially considering that, Alvaro Conrado, a 15 year old boy who wasn’t even protesting, but handing out water to protesters was shot right in the throat and choked on his own blood. I saw the video! Many professional doctors came forth to officially report that the deceased students had predominantly been shot in the throat or head with high caliber weapons and lethal accuracy, thus we can conclude that those who shot them weren’t “informal gangs” and that they shot with the intent to kill. Furthermore, snipers have been filmed shooting at civilians on rooftops. You can declare me a liar and yet the evidence is all around you..

    “The most recent Gallup Poll suggests that even in the midst of the protests, Ortega-Murillo are only opposed by two-thirds of the Nicas. It’s not universal.”

    I would say at least 3/4 judging by the large scale protest, and uprising that has taken place all over the country. The government march was pathetically dwarfed and we have aerial footage taken by probes, that can attest to that. Also, while I was living there around 80% of people I talked to were against the government. Yes! Even your beloved Ortega! This is a now a minority government that is overstaying its welcome and all over the world people from Nicaragua of all ages and walks of life are rising up. They have banded together under Nicaragua’s flag and no other, because this transcends politics. These are grave human rights violations that are being committed and this is self evident.

  • Too bad you don’t live here and see what is happening indeed. The JS shirts and Police Uniforms disappeared from the public eye. Concurrently, they are staging fake attacks to be blamed on students; however, they missed a critical element: everybody has cell phone with camera capabilities. Anytime, the government has staged an attack, people on social networks immediately identify the alleged attackers and victims, who incidentally are sandinistas. Everybody is tired of lies, repression, deceitfulness and murders of this corrupt government, where your job entirely depends on political reasons rather than experience, expertise, education or know-how. Ortega and their supporters have guns and cannot accept any relinquishment precisely because they have guns, so thinking of any compromise by them is falling into being too naive. Rule of Law, what is that for Ortega and family? Ah, fairy tales while the Constitution is a toilet paper. Please, move in to Nicaragua and your mind will change when you witness an assassination or when a casualty is a friend or relative of yours.

  • The “Truth” of many of your statements is also open to question sir. Your comment contains some facts and figures mixed with a lot of opinions and suppositions gathered from who knows where.

  • Did Mr. Chamorro read the report? If he had, he would have immediately seen that although the IACHR counted 76 dead, it was only able to hold either the government or “third parties” responsible for “dozens.” This vague number tells us right off the bat that the demonstrators are responsible for numerous killings too, probably also “dozens.” The “truth about the April killings,” as this headline declares, is that culpability is shared.

    Add that in their attempt to maintain order in the midst of violence, the police were bound to make poor calls and sometimes overreact, especially when two police officers were killed by protesters. Violently overreacting police are never good, but it’s a stretch to fault the government (or as Mr. Camorro prefers to call it, the “regime”) for all the excesses of the police.

    The “third parties” are trickier. Yes, their presence was probably indirectly encouraged by Ortega, but to a large extent they’re informal gangs of thugs who genuinely support him. To call them a para-military implies more discipline in their ranks and more of a hierarchical command structure than exists. Although the “regime” should do more to police the excesses of these overly zealous supporters, it makes no more sense to hold Ortega-Murillo responsible for all their violence than it does to hold say COSEP responsible for the violence of the protesters.

    The report is no doubt correct that numerous government employees in the health system and elsewhere were hestitant to undertake procedures or file reports that implied responsibility for wrongdoing by the government. However, I doubt that this is unique to Nicaragua under the Ortega-Murillo “regime.” Whistle-blowers are rare in any government.

    Interesting also about the report is what it doesn’t include. There’s no mention of the protesters preventing some 160,000 Nicaraguans from going to work, for example, even though the right to work is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Neither is there any mention of the right of people to security, or the obligation of governments to provide it. It is as if the members of the IACHR assume that the only entities that can violate human rights are governments. The main emphasis of the report is therefore on instances in which Nicaragua’s government has violated human rights, even though if read carefully, the report suggests that the protesters have violated human rights to seemingly a similar extent.

    Mr. Chamorro is correct that truth would be an asset in helping Nicaragua out of its current mess. The problem though is that in the same concluding paragraph that he writes this, he himself misleads to the point of lying. No, “the people” aren’t demanding an end to the regime. The most recent Gallup Poll suggests that even in the midst of the protests, Ortega-Murillo are only opposed by two-thirds of the Nicas. It’s not universal. Parsed further, it would appear that opposition to Murillo is stronger than opposition to Ortega; many Nicas are OK with Ortega, just draw the line against the family political dynasty Murillo craves. Add that ousting an elected president is hardly consistent with the rule of law, which Mr. Chamorro seems to want to uphold. At this point, Ortega may well be a dictator, but he’s not one who disrespects the right to life or peaceful protest, as Mr. Chamorro accusingly claims. Neither did Ortega abolish the rule of law, as Mr. Chamorro falsely claims. The rule of law has long been weak in Nicaragua, and when Mr. Chamorro’s mother was president, she wasn’t a staunch supporter of the rule of law either.

    If Mr. Chamorro wants the truth, he should stop twisting it. More importantly, Nicaragua’s political culture needs desperately to break the dialectic of dictatorship and rebellion. Neither is the solution (and neither side is right). The better path is the middle one of compromise and reform.

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