In Nicaragua, repression and torture hamper presidential elections

Managua (Nicaragua)

From our special correspondent

The travel bag is not yet ready, but the decision is made. The departure is scheduled before the election on November 7. Thursday, maybe Wednesday. Towards Costa Rica. ” I still have all the paperwork to prepare … Carlos Cruz (1) wanted to finish his thesis before going into exile. Tired of the political situation in Nicaragua and the decline, day after day, of freedom of expression.

Carlos was still studying at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua when, in April 2018, the Ortega government announced a pension reform. He remembers that not so distant time; hot April afternoons, demonstrations, young people taking over universities, meetings, blockades, barricades. The parade of April 18, that of May 30 and the mavericks posted on the buildings. Nineteen died that day. Nearly 350 throughout the social movement.

Carlos got to know Chipote, the central prison of the country’s capital, Managua, a destination sometimes without return for political prisoners. To speak, to denounce, is to expose oneself. “I was participating in debates at the time. “ He remembers the prison, that light too strong for such a small cell. A light bulb invariably on to monitor all his actions. “I was released after ten days. Today Nicaragua is a country where there is little hope, so I am going indefinitely. “

As the November 7 election approaches, “Thousands of victims of human rights violations are still awaiting justice for the crimes committed by the authorities”, says Erika Guevara Rosas, Director for the Americas at Amnesty International. And the repression is intensifying. Militants and activists are forbidden to meet, under penalty of being arrested. Taking out a camera, a microphone, also for journalists is a repressed act.

The ballot is not really one. Since June, the seven candidates for the National Coalition primary – bringing together parties ranging from the social left to the liberals – have been put behind bars. Latest arrests to date, those of the president of Nicaraguan employers, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), Michael Healy, and his vice-president, Alvaro Vargas, on October 21. Would the regime fear a distancing from the business world, hitherto spared by the authorities?

Daniel Ortega defends himself by denying outright the existence of political prisoners in Nicaragua. “Here we do not judge politicians, we do not judge candidates, launched in July the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Here we judge the criminals who acted against the country, against the security of the country, against the lives of the citizens, by trying again to organize another April 18, another coup, to provoke what they call a regime change ””.

Young, consensual, Felix Maradiaga aspired to this change. At 45, he was even one of the favorites to become the National Coalition candidate. His mission: to bring down the presidential couple – Daniel Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, has been vice-president since 2017. But like the other suitors, he was arrested. He too languishes at Chipote. “His family has only been able to speak to him twice since his arrest in June, slips Josué Garay, his advisor. He is only entitled to one meal a day, lives in solitary confinement in a windowless cell that is constantly lit to make him lose track of time. This is torture. “

To better repress, the regime has adopted intractable legislative texts. The 2020 law regulating foreign agents prevents the presence of international observers and human rights organizations in the territory. Other laws have made group meetings illegal, resulted in the suppression of opposition parties and the detention of opponents. “Not only the government of Daniel Ortega does not listen to the international community, judge Erika Guevara Rosas, but he makes fun of her by violating human rights. “

Informing has also become illegal. Or at least inform about the abuses of the police and the paramilitaries, criticize the quality of the roads, or the lack of vaccine against the Covid-19. Major dailies – La Prensa, Nuevo Diario, El Confidencial – are all censored. “In April 2018, we were chased by the police, by members of the Sandinista Youth, says Ana Ruiz (1), a freelance journalist. We were just doing our job as a reporter. From now on, I sign anonymously. “

El Confidential chose exile, and is now published from neighboring Costa Rica. “Nicaragua is a police state, there is no freedom of assembly, of mobilization, of the press, of expression, of conscience, castigates its editor-in-chief, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. It is even forbidden to display the national flag at the risk of being arrested. The Ortega regime is a repressive and totalitarian dictatorship. He is responsible for the assassination of hundreds of citizens who were protesting just for free elections. There are more than 150 political prisoners, including seven pre-candidates. We can speak of a fascist regime, which has eliminated most freedoms and centralized power in a single family. ” The journalist’s sister and brother, Cristiana and Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, potential candidates for the Coalition, are also in detention.

He who knew Daniel Ortega at the time of Sandinism in the 1980s no longer recognizes the former revolutionary: “His government cannot even be considered as an extension of the Sandinista revolution of 1979. Daniel Ortega repeats the tragedy of Nicaraguan history: his exercise of power resembles the Somoza dictatorship which he himself contributed to remove. “

So we campaign on the Internet. Hidden, scared. From his lair, Juan Diego Barberena, activist of a Coalition party, connects meetings by Zoom. No direct calls – what if the line was bugged? “We campaign virtually, we mobilize to visit people, explain how the regime is illegitimate with this repression. “

In this context, it is not surprising that, despite the approach of Sunday’s vote, Managua seems far from having a presidential election. No or few meetings, public meetings are prohibited. Even the face of the presidential couple is scarce in the streets, an anomaly for an autocratic dictatorship of this magnitude. Are clearly visible posters of the fictitious candidates that the power has authorized to simulate adversity … The only obvious symbols are the red and black flag with the letters FSLN floating alongside the blue and white flag of Nicaragua on schools, ministries.

For Nicaraguans, Sunday their bulletin will go to “Daniel”, as its faithful daily call it, or the puppets that it would be useless to name. The line sizzles, Juan Diego Barberena’s voice seems distant. “To participate is to justify this electoral farce. By abstaining, we want to discredit Ortega. “ On November 7, the instructions are simple: no one in the streets. A major abstention would at least discredit the election: “The Ortega regime is going through a terminal crisis, Judge Carlos Fernando Chamorro. This does not mean that it will be extinguished tomorrow, but this regime is no longer viable. “


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