Tag Archives: daniel ortega

Nicaragua: Gov’t Repression Batters But Fails To Quell Opposition

Elsa Valle was jailed for three months for giving food and medicine to students seeking shelter from attacks by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries. Days before her release, her father Carlos was jailed, presumably to keep him from speaking out over the abuses his daughter allegedly suffered in jail. The sign held by a sympathizer on the right reads, ‘Less political prisoners and more politicians in jail.’ Since April 2018, hundreds of dissidents have been jailed. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The United States has levied sanctions against Nicaragua in response to alleged electoral fraud and human rights abuses. More than 300 people have been killed since April 2018. Hundreds of others, many of them college students, are in jail. The chaos is triggering large scale flight with human rights workers in Nicaragua’s capital of Managua saying that at least a thousand Nicaraguans are either applying or planning to apply to come legally to the US.

In scenes replayed across Nicaragua. Unarmed anti-government protests over corruption and repression have repeatedly been met by police violence. Much of the international community, with the notable exceptions of China, Russia, Venezuela and North Korea, has condemned the regime of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega but the cycle continues. Ortega’s police are now hunting for dissidents, especially students who initially triggered the protest movement.

In Masaya, Nicaragua, gov’t opponents vandalized the public prosecutor’s office after gov’t security forces attacked the neighborhood. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

One of them, 19-year-old Elsa Valle. “We were intimidated every day and it continues now,” she said.

In June, Valle was giving food and medicine to students when police burst in. She says officers threatened torture and death as they drove her to a notorious jail known as El Chipote. Human rights defenders say torture’s commonplace there. Valle says she was brought into a room of machine-gun toting men. She says they ordered her to admit the students had received arms to fight the government. “I couldn’t do that because it’s not true,” she said. After that interrogation Valle says a guard threatened her. ‘‘I am going to rape you,’ Valle alleged the guard threatened. She said she also was forced to sleep naked at times. At night, she said guards clicked AK-47s outside her cell.

“There was a lot of psychological abuse in there,” Valle said.

Valle was pregnant when she was taken away. Stress took its toll. She suffered a miscarriage in jail. She was released in September without explanation. Her boyfriend was shot dead by paramilitaries days before she was arrested. Her father is still in jail, taken in after being at a march.

Uriel Amador says he had to defend his land from gov’t-sanctioned takeovers by landless Nicaraguans. Amador succeeded but takeovers continue with close to 17000 acres under armed occupation. The lands belong to people who oppose the gov’t. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Terror is not confined to jail. Thousands of people, many armed with machetes, have been dispatched by Ortega’s government to take over lands owned by the regime’s opponents. Close to 17 thousand acres of acres of Nicaraguan farmland are under armed occupation. And you can’t call the police to help you.”The whole world has seen what happened here, how human rights are violated day-to-day,” said Michael Healy, head of Nicaragua’s Union of Agricultural Producers. Between farmers, ranchers, their workers and families, Healy’s union represents approximately one in three Nicaraguans. He explained that armed squatters are just one footnote to a mosaic of state repression. “Unfortunately we’ve been tied up,” said Healy. “And we have to break those chains.”

The ground crew prepares home plate for the start of a Nicaraguan baseball league’s championship at Dennis Martinez Stadium in Managua. Only a handful of spectators are in the 15000 seat stadium. Gov’t paramilitaries are accused of shooting at and killing university students from the top deck in the stadium. Fans are not going to the stadium as a way to protest the gov’t. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
This screen shot from social media urges Nicaraguans to boycott the national baseball stadium until victims shot dead by paramilitary snipers from stadium decks that overlook the street are first honored inside the stadium.

IUS sanctions appear to be hurting an economy that’s been declining since April. However Healy welcomed the prospect of sanctions. “If we want to get rid of the regime, we have to pay a little price, we Nicaraguans,” he said.

At his rallies, President Ortega blames the crisis on the US. He does not offer evidence. The anti-US words resonate in a country with a long and often difficult relationship with the US. The US backed a dynastic dictatorship and when that dictatorship was defeated militarily, US financed the contras, a counter-revolutionary and often violent group that tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the Sandinistas from power. Ortega tells his audiences, which reportedly include government workers ordered to attend his public events, that Washington shouldn’t  get involved.

As for Elsa Valle, the student who suffered through three months in jail, the repression hasn’t ended. Elsa and her 17-year-old sister Rebeca were arrested Nov 13 2018. They were standing outside Managua’s Central Court House as their father Carlos made an appearance before a Sandinista judge. After an hour, the pair was released. Both say they were hit by police officers.  However Elsa Valle said she won’t be intimidated.

“I’ve lost my fear after everything they’ve done,” she said. She added that for all those feeling Nicaragua, she and many more are remaining in place and who will continue their struggle.

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Nicaragua: Gov’t And Opposition Talks On Hold As US Imposes Economic Sanctions

A woman who asked not be identified points to bullet holes above her inside a church in the Jesús de la Divina Misericordia parish in Managua. The gunfire was unleashed by pro-gov’t paramilitaries and police against students taking shelter in the church. (photo: Lorne
Matalon)

KPBS – NPR in San Diego

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua’s government and opposition are accusing each other of undermining the latest round of dialogue after police arrested more than 100 at a weekend protest. The protest took place March 19 2019.

The opposition Civic Alliance, a coalition of business leaders, student movement and human rights defenders condemned what the Alliance termed the government’s “violent repression” of the march. The Alliance claims 164 people were arrested even as the government said publicly it would pursue reconciliation talks with the opposition. The group said in a statement that it was frustrated that the talks had not produced the release of hundreds of people observers across the Americas Europe consider political prisoners.

The Nicaraguan government had freed dozens of people arrested crackdown on street protests hours before government and opposition were due to restart talks aimed at ending the crisis that has paralyzed the country since April 2018.

Relatives of jailed political dissidents line up to pass food to their imprisoned loved ones. Since April 2018, hundreds of people have been jailed for taking part in unarmed anti-gov’t protests. The gov’t has criminalized public protest of any kind. Inmates say they receive rotten, often inedible food. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Nicaragua’s government has received international condemnation for killing at least 322 people since April 2018. In what seems a rare bipartisan move given the current political climate, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, two otherwise polar opposites politically, have been working together to shape US sanctions against Nicaragua.

Opponents say Daniel Ortega has betrayed the egalitarian ideals of the 1979 Sandinista revolution he once helped lead. That revolution overthrew a brutal US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Ortega was previously in power 1984-1990 when he was defeated at the polls. He returned to power in 2007. In the last 11 years, Ortega has abolished presidential term limits, enriched his family and weeks ago, he made protest of any kind illegal. However protests continue where Nicaraguans chant ‘Ortega y Somoza Son La Misma Cosa.’ (‘Ortega and Somoza are the same thing.’)

Rafael Morales stands at his home hours after he and neighbors allege Nicaraguan police burned it down. The motive for the attack is unclear as Morales said he is a Sandinista supporter. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Amnesty International reports that the vast majority of those who have died have victims of extrajudicial gov’t police and their hooded paramilitary allies. Simmering discontent over corruption exploded in April when the gov’t announced cuts to social security. An unarmed citizens movement led initially by students reacted with marches to show disdain for Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega.

‘It’s state terrorism,’ said Attorney Braulio Abarca at the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, known by its Spanish acronym, CENIDH. In addition to killings, the gov’t has imprisoned hundreds of political prisoners. Abarca and his colleagues are also investigating 89 cases of people who have disappeared.  “We’re living in fear,” he said.

Days after meeting with Abarca, Nicaraguan lawmakers allied with Ortega declared the legal status to operate of 10 non-governmental organizations invalid which means those groups can no longer legally operate in Nicaragua. In the eyes of the Sandinista government, CENIDH’s work on behalf victims of alleged government persecution was deemed to be intolerable. The interior ministry said in a statement on Friday their assets will be put into a “fund for the victims of terrorism,” without elaborating.

The government had described the people who took part in mass demonstrations against Ortega over eight months, many of which grew violent, as “terrorists.” It was partially in reaction to that vitriol that the US imposed sanctions on Nicaragua. Fabian Medina is the author of a new Ortega biography. He is also editor of La Prensa, an independent daily.
“I applaud sanctions to punish these corrupt people,” Medina said. Later, I met Byron, a civil engineering student who asked that his last name not be revealed for fear of retribution. He worked with neighbors to maintain a makeshift barricade to defend against attacks by the police.

He said he stays in a different safe house every day

“If they catch us, they’ll kill us,” Byron said. We could only meet in a moving car with heavily tinted windows. Although Byron echoed many here who stay they’re undeterred, chaos in Nicaragua is spurring flight. More than 30,000 have left, many to Costa Rica. Human rights workers in Managua says that approximately a thousand are asking for or planning to ask for asylum in the US.

“Nicaragua’s future is leaving,” lamented Carlos Tunnermann, a former ambassador to Washington.”To be a young and a student is a crime in the eyes of the government.”

Stephanie Leutert studies Central American migration as the leader of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s a volatile situation and it could increase exponentially,” Leutert said. She explained that many Nicaraguans hunkered down in other countries want to go home. However Leutert said that may change.

“If this grinds on, if it gets worse, you’re going to have more people making the decision of, ‘no I really want to resettle and so I’m going to head north through Mexico and try and reach the United States.’ “

Former Sandinista guerrilla Carlos Humberto Silva Grijalva. The sign he made prior to a demonstration in Nov 2018 reads, ‘No more dictatorship, Ortega resign.’ (photo: Lorne Matalon)
Silva Grijalva’s wounds on his right leg were inflicted by rubber bullets that he and others allege were fired by gov’t paramilitaries against unarmed protesters. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Business sector leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro said violence has been a staple of modern Nicaraguan politics, but not on this scale. He recalled the 1959 killing of four students in León, the second largest city in after Managua. Chamorro said those killings were the beginning of the end of the dictatorship that Daniel Ortega helped topple. The student killings of 1959 are still a frame of reference for modern day Nicaraguans. Chamorro contrasted the event with what is unfolding in 2018.

“We have hundreds of people, hundreds of students, being assassinated. That gives you perspective of what kind of tragedy we are living now.”
Willie Miranda took part in a street protest. He says intimidation by government thugs followed.”Chasing us for the last three months, phone calls, you know, ‘We’re going to kill you, burn down your house, kill your sons.”

The Nicaraguan government does not appear to be listening to the multiple calls from governments, civil society and the Nicaraguan diaspora to restore peace.

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