The refusal to condemn a dictator who arrested the entire opposition leadership to save his re-election exposes a brutal disregard for democracy.
By Marcelo Cantelmi* (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Four days before last Christmas, the Nicaraguan Congress, vertically aligned with the biddings of the ruling couple in that wasteland, passed a destructive legislation of just two paragraphs that lumped the entire opposition together as traitors to the homeland.
With a longwinded and pretentious title that these kinds of regimes favor, the Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, ordered that anyone who the Government considers coup plotters and terrorists will not be able to run for public office.
According to the text, “They are traitors to the homeland, which is why they cannot run for elected positions.” This was the foreshadowing and the excuse for the arrests arranged months later by Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime against the key opposition leaders and candidates for the elections this coming November.
This key sector, according to the regime, is not made up of rival politicians, but of “foreign agents working to subvert the constitutional order.”
“He who does not defend Nicaragua … does not deserve to call himself Nicaraguan,” Ortega roared before the legislative vote, clearly signaling what defending Nicaragua means to the dictatorship. Nationality and homeland mean Ortega’s regime.
It is interesting that the terminology and the content of these declarations resemble, not coincidentally, the language used by former dictatorships in the region to refer to their internal enemies.
Proclamation number 5A of a September 12, 1973 communiqué from the newly installed Chilean regime of Augusto Pinochet denounced “the leaders and adherents of Popular Unity (the alliances that had just been overthrown) as traitors to the homeland.”
Next door in Argentina, on December 18, 1977, dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, declared in the newspaper La Prensa that “Argentinian citizenship is not a victim of repression. The repression is against a minority whom we do not consider Argentinian.”
By employing the same formula, Ortega and his vice-president, wife Rosario Murillo, do much more than resemble those despots. They end up vindicating both their methods and their intentions. That is why, quite simply, it is surprising that some governments in the region, especially those with a fresh memory of that sinister past, avoid condemning these abuses to the country’s institutions and to humanity itself.
A few hours ago, Carlos Raimundi, Argentina’s ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), went so far as to call a statement issued by the OAS on Wednesday, “inappropriate and extemporaneous.” The statement demands of Managua, as it did in the 70s in South America, a basic and elementary right: the immediate release of the opposition’s aspiring presidential candidates and the guarantee of free and fair elections.
This proposal had 26 votes in its favor, including all Mercosur (The Southern Common Market) countries except Argentina. Argentina abstained, along with six other countries, including Mexico and Bolivia which also raised the flag of non-interference.
This non-interference doctrine, to which the self-proclaimed progressive wing constantly clings, has undeniable legitimacy. But it also recognizes a limit when a country breaks established rules and violates human rights, as is also the case in Venezuela and Cuba.
However, there is something shoddier going on when we examine this scenario and uncover the true meaning of Argentina’s tactic. According to diplomatic sources, Argentina has just submitted its candidacy for the presidency of the UN Human Rights Council. And for that, it needs Nicaragua’s vote.
The election of the president of the UN Human Rights Council is by regional rotation. Latin America’s turn comes up in 2022. What happened? During the Macri led Government (2015-2019) in Argentina, the country held the vice-presidency of the Council and obtaining the top spot appears to justify any atrocity. As we have already seen, there are echoes of that murky past of the 70s in these political acrobatics.
As everything becomes pragmatic, the rhetorical swordsmanship of the supposed left ends up giving its blessing to adopting the methods of dictatorships. The ESMA [detention/torture center in Argentina under dictatorship] that Caracas replicates should deserve an equivalent repudiation as well as the prisons that Ortega fills with alleged coup plotters.
Condemning these procedures is one way to preserve everyone’s system.
The OAS charter itself states that the member states that signed it agreed that democracy is a right of the people and that governments have the obligation to faithfully practice it.
In case there are any doubts, article 23 of the Charter, also endorsed by Nicaragua, Mexico and Argentina, clearly states that “the Member States are responsible for organizing, carrying out and guaranteeing free and fair electoral processes.”
The legitimacy of the hemispheric protest against Managua is based on the reality that a “self-coup” is being carried out in Nicaragua for the purpose of guaranteeing Ortega’s victory for a fourth consecutive term in the November 7 elections.
If the regime did not repress the opposition, taking away all rights and imprisoning them, it was very likely that it would lose what is now guaranteed: the possibility of winning, in an election without rivals. The favorite candidate, according to Gallup and other pollsters, was Cristiana Chamorro.
She was the first of some 30+ opposition members arrested since June 2 that includes other aspiring presidential candidates, among them: Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena and Noel Vidaurre.
The only candidates left are those allied to the regime or without any chance of winning, sycophants who will applaud the election as a “democratic act,” in the style of those performed every five years by the despot Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, with the results written before the voting ever took place.
There is another paradox to observe in Managua’s allies’ behavior that history buffs will find interesting.
In the time of the Argentinian dictatorship (1976-1983) the countries of Eastern Europe and Cuba in our region in particular, coordinated in the UN Human Rights Council to block a condemnation of the bloody Videla regime responsible for mountains of missing people after their arrest. Now the Argentine government aspires to head the Human Rights Council.
The unacceptable excuse for this protection was that Videla sold grain to the Soviet Union, circumventing the embargo against Moscow imposed by the US in those years.
It is clear that in the past, just like now, one sees only what one wants to see. Defending Nicaragua’s excesses and violations, or those of its Venezuelan and Cuban cousins, is not just solidarity with their counterparts. Barely disguised is the interest to wipe away institutional limits. And why not! Institution comes from the Latin Word ‘institutio’ which in one of its meanings implies limit.
The supposed democratic health of his country, cynically referred to by Ortega and his charming vice president, clashes with all evidence to the contrary. According to Barometer of the Americas Nicaragua holds the record for democracy with the most setbacks in Latin America along with Venezuela.
Democracy at Risk
In 2019 Nicaragua was already in the last place of the Latin American countries followed closely by Honduras and Guatemala. A document from that year highlighted the situation in Nicaragua in a report on Venezuela of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
She argued that “Nicaragua’s democratic setback was evident in the detention of hundreds of political prisoners, arrested by paramilitary forces controlled by the Ortega-Murillo government, for protesting against the regime.
The Organization of American States (OAS), much mistrusted by the regions “progressives” is the body that in the midst of military repression in the ‘70s, sent its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, on a crucial mission to Argentina.
The statement issued by that delegation in September 1979 should be read again by some of the people who today are wearing blinders on what is happening in the region. It denounced the “serious violations of fundamental human rights recognized in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”
It concluded that “the violations listed range from those affecting the right to life, personal liberty, security and personal integrity and the right to justice.” Practically a chronicle of today’s Nicaraguan atrocities.
There is a very uncomfortable question that arises if one looks carefully in that mirror of history. Who or what is being defended, and above all, what is betrayed when the condemnation of the excesses of these dictatorships is described as inappropriate and extemporaneous? The answer to that question would be quite revealing.
*Article originally published in Clarín.