HAVANA TIMES – Wisconsin and Nicaragua have a long history of multiple sister city relationships built on mutual respect, solidarity and close people-to-people ties. As citizens with strong and historic ties to the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua and the many different sister city programs throughout Wisconsin, we are speaking out to express our concern about the violence against the people of Nicaragua being carried out by the government of Daniel Ortega.
What began as non-violent citizen protests in April have escalated in dangerous ways, with police and masked paramilitaries linked to the Ortega government attacking and kidnapping protestors, students, journalists, clergy and citizens of every stripe. According to the Inter-American Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS), at least 322 people have been killed since protests began in April and more than 1,800 have been injured.
While the fury of the rage against Ortega took some by surprise, discontent had been building against the government for years, with the Central American University’s envío magazine referring to the government’s “authoritarianism, abuse of power, absolute control over state institutions and unpunished corruption and crimes of all kinds”. In addition, many researchers have documented the anti-feminist policies of the Ortega government over the last 10 years.
Since the protests began, poet Gioconda Belli notes, “President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, have abandoned all pretense of tolerance and restraint and unleashed a deadly wave of repression. It is as if Anastasio Somoza—the country’s previous dictator, toppled in 1979—has returned to Managua.”
Along with the scores of dead and injured, police and paramilitaries are arbitrarily detaining citizens every day in what one Nicaraguan journalist termed “a witch hunt”. Those detained are frequently tortured and accused of terrorism, organized crime, illegal possession of weapons, and a number of other, equally spurious, charges. There is no due process for those detained or arrested. The fear and uncertainty that are now endemic throughout the country have caused over 23,000 Nicaraguans to flee to Costa Rica, seeking refuge.
In a chilling sign of the Ortega regime’s determination to maintain power at all costs, the independent press has come under ongoing attack – one journalist, Ángel Gahona, was killed in April as he live-streamed a report on the protests. In addition, several media outlets have been temporarily suspended over the last months, and many journalists are facing serious harassment and threats as they attempt to carry out their work. German journalist Sandra Weiss was detained and assaulted in early August by armed land invaders who took all her equipment, documents and credit cards, running up some $2000 in charges at a gas station. Weiss notes, “there was clearly complicity with the government”.
The rhetoric used by the Ortega-Murillo regime against those voicing their opposition is angry, defensive and aimed at riling up the Ortega faithful. Even as it talked dialogue, the government referred to protesters as “tiny, petty, mediocre beings”, and accused them of inventing the deaths of protesters. Their rhetoric resonates with a certain strata of so-called leftists in the US and Europe who refer to what is happening in Nicaragua as a ‘coup’ — and label anyone daring to criticize the Ortega-Murillo government as CIA-US government agents.
The Organization of American States spoke out in July, passing a resolution that expressed “…. its vigorous condemnation of and grave concern over all acts of violence, repression, and human rights violations and abuses committed by police, parapolice groups, and others against the people of Nicaragua …” The OAS has called on the Nicaraguan government to provide them with full access to all documentation related to the violence that began in the country on April 18th, but the government has been unwilling to do that.
For its part, the UN Secretary General noted that, “there is a death toll that is shocking due to the use of force on the part of entities linked to the State.” In late August, the United Nations reported that Nicaraguan government and paramilitary forces have killed, raped, tortured and disappeared many of those protesting the government, and noted that this is fueling the ongoing wave of people leaving the country. According to then UN Human Rights High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, “repression and retaliation against protesters continues in Nicaragua as the world looks away.”
What’s next for Nicaragua? Ortega is digging in, and the repression continues, as the government goes after those who have dared to protest, firing scores of public employees and threatening others. People continue to fill the streets in massive demonstrations, and the flow of refugees to Costa Rica is ongoing. The government has walked away from the national dialogue that started in May, and there is no end in sight to the conflict.
In the spirit of solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, we add our voices to the call for a significant United Nations and OAS presence in Nicaragua to monitor the deteriorating situation. We call upon the Nicaraguan government to immediately stop the repression, engage in an authentic dialogue with the many facets of the broad opposition movement and let the Nicaraguan people speak, and live, without fear.