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Tell Congress to Support Dialogue in Nicaragua, not Impose More Sanctions

House Resolution 981 calls on the U.S. government to more aggressively employ the Magnitsky Act as a means to sanction individual members of the Nicaraguan government, while also condemning violence in Nicaragua. The stated goal is to support democracy, but the text of the resolution is not based on a balanced accounting of what has transpired in the country over the last three months. If serious about supporting democracy in Nicaragua, Congress should support the process of dialogue and join with other international organizations in calling for “all political actors” to halt the violence and work toward a negotiated solution.

Contact your member of Congress and tell them to vote against H. Res 981, support the dialogue, and allow the people of Nicaragua to determine their future without the further intervention of the United States.

You can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224- 3121, or send an email directly to your representative using the Alliance for Global Justice’s email platform here.

Background

The House International Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere voted the Resolution out of Committee on July 12. It will be taken up by the full committee in the coming days before going to the House floor for a vote.

The Magnitsky Act is a mechanism that allows the Trump administration to level sanctions against individuals in other countries that it determines have violated human rights or have been involved in corruption. The Magnitsky Act was first employed in Nicaragua to apply sanctions against Roberto Rivas, head of the Supreme Electoral Council last year (he has since resigned). Last week further sanctions were announced against Francisco Diaz, deputy chief of the national police, Antonio Moreno Briones, secretary of the Managua mayor’s office, and Francisco Lopez, vice president of Albanisa (a joint venture between Nicaragua and Venezuela). The individuals sanctioned seem to have been targeted for the perception that they are close to Ortega – not because of specific incidents they are directly responsible for during the last three months of turmoil.

For the past three months, Nicaragua has been in the throes of a political crisis unlike anything witnessed since the 1980s. While the spark for protests in April was an announced reform of the social security system, violence over the next several days led to the deaths of nearly 50 people. Though investigations of the violence make clear that police were not acting unilaterally – as opposition groups burned buildings throughout the country and fired upon police (one of the first deaths was a police officer killed by a shotgun blast), the media has continued to present all of the deaths as the result of state forces firing on peaceful demonstrations. The government annulled the reforms and launched a process of national dialogue, mediated by the Episcopal Conference of Bishops.

As the weeks have gone by, the dialogue has moved forward in fits and starts, with opposition groups blockading major roads and eventually building smaller blockades within cities throughout the country to impede travel and disrupt commerce. The blockades have become the sight of further violence. In international media, accounts all of the violence has been blamed on the police and parapolice forces. However, it is clear that opposition forces have utilized extreme force as well. At least 20 police officers have been killed and hundreds wounded. A Sandinista student representative from the Polytechnic University who was taking part in the dialogue was beaten, shot, and left for dead in a ditch in Managua. Independent analysis of reported deaths over the past three months indicates that many are not related to the demonstrations at all, that opposition forces are responsible for dozens of killings, and that many people have died for simply being near skirmishes between the opposition and pro-government groups. 

Against this backdrop, the dialogue has made some progress. Agreements have been reached to allow investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, UN High Commission for Human Rights, and the European Union to work alongside domestic investigators to document the violence. An agreement was reached to organize the dialogue around three tables of discussion – human rights, security, and democratization. While there are clearly major differences between groups at these tables about how to proceed, working through the process for as long as possible to reach an agreement is the only way out of the crisis. The United States should not be adding to the polarization at this time by taking a hardline position on the outcome.

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Read more of our coverage on Nicaragua here.

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Haiti’s Protests: It’s More than Gas Prices

Update: Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned today (Saturday, July 14). Details here.

On Thursday, the government in Haiti announced a roll back of fuel subsidies that would result in increases of 31% to 50% of the cost of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene.  Gas prices are already extremely high in Haiti, but with the increases, a liter of gas was projected to cost $5 (for perspective, that is almost $19 a gallon!).

The announcement led to protests throughout the country, in which 3 people were killed on Friday, business were looted and buildings set on fire. On Saturday President Moïse cancelled the rollback of subsidies, and yet protests continued, with people calling for Moïse to step down.

It is too early to know where this is heading. But a few points are important to provide context for what is happening.

The first, is that the announcement came as the government is under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the fuel subsidies program as part of a broader set of market reforms the IMF is requiring of Haiti if the country is to be able to access additional funding. Haiti has been under the scrutiny of international financial institutions for decades, with access to funding continually tied to structural reforms aimed at reducing government expenditures. Though Haiti had qualified for debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative some years back, the reductions were highly conditioned, and benchmarks impossible to meet, given political instability, four hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake. The resulting hollowing out of state capacity to deliver social services makes it difficult for the government to meet the demands of the people, and leaves the country dependent on non-governmental and church organizations for the provision of health and education services. Actual debt cancellation is still required – as most of the Haiti’s multilateral debts have been accrued under un-elected governments.

A second point is that the Haiti’s participation in PetroCaribe has not provided the hoped for benefits, with political leadership using the funds for investments into business ventures that had no impact on poverty reduction. PetroCaribe is a program launched by Venezuela. Under the provisions of the program, a country may pay back a portion of the bill for oil sales at a very low rate of interest over an extended period of time. In Haiti’s case, 40% of the revenue from the sale of oil could be held and used for social services, with the payback of the balance over a 25-year period at 1% interest.

Earlier this year, an audit of the program as administered under former presidents Preval and Martelly  showed a number of problems. Questions arose, particularly, around Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe’s facilitation of projects geared toward tourism. An example:

In another case, the Dominican corporation Ingeniería ESTRELLA was given a contract of nearly US$20 million by the Martelly/Lamothe government to build an airport on Ile-à-Vache, which it was trying to develop as a resort for rich tourists. Le Nouvelliste visited the island recently and found that, although the company had pocketed more than $5.2 million in revenue, work on the project ended more than two years ago and left behind an unpaved landing strip half the size contracted for. No planes have been able to land on it.

The release of the audit back in January of this year led to much anger at the government – including the current government of President Moïse, who is from the same party as President Martelly, and has done little to confront these past abuses. Given past anger, Moïse clearly did not have the political capital and legitimacy with the people required to make the controversial announcement about steep increases in fuel costs.

Finally, the question of legitimacy is not a small one. In 2011, the United States intervened in elections in Haiti, demanding that Martelly be included in a runoff for which he did not qualify, according to Haiti’s electoral council (Martelly had come in third in first-round voting that year). The government eventually gave in under enormous pressure, and Martelly won the elections with a very low voter turnout. The United States seemed to embrace Martelly – the first president to win an election outside of the Lavalas movement or Preval’s Lespwa, a political coalition that included many former Lavalas members. Such a victory, long sought by U.S. policy makers, was not greeted warmly by the people of Haiti. This cloud hangs over President Moïse who has struggled to build a coalition within the context of PetroCaribe corruption scandal, controversies over re-establishing the army, and ongoing economic hardship. It doesn’t help Moïse’s case that there are reports that the U.S. State Department indicated he may be on the way out.

As one might expect, people are not simply burning tires and buildings over gas prices. The demonstrations have deeper roots, and thus it is not surprising that they have continued even after the cancellation of the increases. 

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Immigration: In the wake of Trump’s executive order, we still have a lot of work to do!

Last Wednesday Trump signed an executive order to end the policy of separating children from families at the border. The order still mandates that children be put in detention with family members, and does not apply to the over 2,300 children who have already been separated in recent weeks – in total, over 10,000 children are currently in detention. Some of these children may never see their parents again. The temporary stay on this brutal policy is surely a response to the enormous backlash the policy has generated and speaks to the power of mobilization. However, in typical Trump fashion, the stay is also a disingenuous ploy to put pressure on Congress to adopt anti-immigration legislation that gives him what he wants: a wall, even tougher enforcement measures, and limits on legal immigration. If Congress fails to act, it is likely that the nightmare will begin again in a few weeks.

As story after story reveals the true horror that is our immigration enforcement system, we are confronted by the reality that this system has deep roots and has been built over decades by both Democrats and Republicans. The result of this embeddedness is a wide variety of corporate interests who profit from the detention and the monitoring of migrants. The parallels with the expansion of the prison system are enormous. From the companies that build and/or manage private facilities, to the companies that provide “services” in these facilities and get paid to monitor people on parole, the United States has created an enormous private carceral infrastructure worth tens of billions of dollars a year. This system, already in place, was tragically handed off last year to a demagogue, who daily trades in racist and xenophobic rhetoric, magnifying the injustice inherent in making criminalization profitable.

The magnification also makes it impossible to any longer deny the fundamentally inhumane system we have built. And so, we must dismantle it. The mobilization of rage at this system, manifested in the protests against family separation, must continue. The system remains outrageous and the interests that profit from it are wealthy and have extensive reach in Congress. This is a long fight. Where to begin (or continue)?

TAKE ACTION!

A first priority is to insist that government support efforts to reunite children with their parents. The Texas Civil Rights Project is currently representing 300 families – and has only been able to find 2 children!!  “Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care,” said Natalia Cornelio, with the organization. [Update: Tuesday night, the ACLU won a national injunction against family separation that requires the government to reunite all children who have been separated with their parents within 30 days; for children under 5 within 14 days! A huge victory – but sure to be appealed, so we must keep the pressure on!!!].

Take a moment to call and insist that the government do everything it can to support the reunification of families:

  • White House (202) 456-1414
  • Department of Justice (202) 353-1555, (Attorney General Jeff Sessions)
  • Department of Homeland Security (202) 282-8495, (Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen)

There are a number of organizations working on the frontlines of the crisis. If you are in a position to help support their work, every little bit helps.

If you are in the Maryland, D.C., Virginia area, consider volunteering with Sanctuary DMV. Several of our staff in Maryland volunteer with the organization.

Consider one of the many Families Belong Together marches being organized around the country this Saturday, June 30.

Keep posted, and keep engaged. We are in this for the long haul!

 

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Update on Nicaragua: The National Dialogue is back on…for now

Following fighting between the Nicaraguan government and protestors in mid-April during which nearly 50 people were killed in four days, the National Dialogue was set up as a means to discuss the conflict and work toward justice for the victims of the violence. At the table are the government, representatives of the national university system, labor unions, and the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, composed of students from the April 19th Movement, the Superior Council of Private Enterprises, and representatives of “civil society” organizations. Catholic Bishops from the National Episcopal Conference are working as mediators in the talks – they have largely sided with the Civic Alliance in setting the agenda for discussions. The Dialogue was launched on May 16 – but then suspended on May 23, as the opposition refused to remove blockades throughout the country, and the government refused to talk until they did.

After several intense weeks of conflict in the streets, the National Dialogue reconvened on Friday, June 15 with the intention of addressing two broad themes: 1. Human rights and justice for victims of the violence and 2. Democracy. The discussions held in a plenary session in front of cameras did not yield an agreement. However, behind closed doors on Friday and into Saturday agreements were reached on the first theme, including:

  1. Formal invitations to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, the Organization of American States, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representatives of the European Union to participate in investigating the violence that began in April, leaving 170+ people dead and over 2,000 wounded.
  2. Creation of a Commission for Verification and Security, represented by members of the government and the opposition Civic Alliance, to participate in the investigation.
  3. Creation of a second commission, also represented by members of the government and the opposition Civic Alliance, to work to guarantee the security and human rights of all the people of NIcaragua.
  4. Beginning the process of taking down the blockades that have been erected around the country (though the opposition later recanted on this point – clearly seeing the blockades as an important bargaining chip. It is also not clear that the people at the table actually have control over the blockades).

On Monday, the Dialogue broke down again, when the opposition Civic Alliance walked out on the discussions, citing the government’s unwillingness to share official letters of invitation to the international organizations mentioned above, while also refusing to address the ongoing issue of the blockades. The government later made the content of the letters public and international organizations have since verified receipt and acceptance of the invitations.  As of Thursday, June 21, the Dialogue is scheduled to resume.

When the Dialogue gets back underway, the discussion will focus on proposals to end to the political crisis. From the opposition side, members of the Civic Alliance have indicated they will simply demand that Ortega resign, and that an interim council be established to oversee new elections – the council drawn from the ranks of the opposition. Breaking with members of the Civic Alliance, the Superior Council of Private Enterprises (COSEP) joined with the Bishops, who are acting as “mediators” in discussions, to propose that elections be moved up to March of 2019 for all levels of government; the new government then taking office in April. Finally, the government has countered that it is already in the process of reforming the electoral system with the Organization of American States, and that a package of reforms will be ready in January. Elections should be held as scheduled (2021 for national elections), not moved up.

It is hard to read where this will all go at the moment. If the Civic Alliance withdraws its demands that Ortega resign and joins in the call for early elections (their original position), it will put a lot of pressure on the government to agree. However, it will also split the opposition. Some student leaders, for example, have indicated that they want Ortega out and may well continue protests regardless of what the people at the table decide. The resignation scenario – at least as proposed – would be a direct violation of Nicaragua’s constitution. The president can, of course, resign, but the National Assembly has the constitutional responsibility for selecting an interim president, and he or she would certainly come from the ranks of the Sandinista Party. Which is to say, the opposition is essentially arguing for the government to bypass the constitution, and in essence, agree to a coup d’etat. This seems unlikely.

The early elections proposal seems to be where the momentum is heading. This has its own pitfalls. Again, presumably the National Assembly would need to affirm a new elections calendar. If the government agrees to this at the Dialogue, the vote in the Assembly would likely follow suit. However, left out of the discussion at this point are representatives of other political parties in the county, who are not officially represented at the National Dialogue. For example it is not clear where the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), Nicaragua’s second largest party, stands on this process. They currently control 15% of the seats in the National Assembly and several municipalities. Perhaps they will see a chance to gain more seats, but they may also view the Civic Alliance as a threat to their position if the Alliance runs its own slate of candidates. Of course, there is also a strong chance that if early elections are held, the Sandinistas will win again. They remain the largest political party in the country, facing an opposition with no clear ideological framework or cohesion.

The United States government has now begun pressing for early elections as well. Florida Senator, Marco Rubio called for a referendum on Ortega’s government, to be followed by new elections next year. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a “transitions” expert, who advised the opposition to press for early elections. The State Department joined in the call and on Tuesday dispatched the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, to Nicaragua to meet with Ortega and opposition leaders separately, where he also indicated that early elections were the way out of the crisis.

As the United States has not been invited to play any kind of mediating role, taking sides in the Dialogue strikes me as an inappropriate (if far from surprising) intervention. Indeed, whatever other role the U.S. may have played in the current unrest behind the scenes, out in the open it has steadily distorted the electoral process in Nicaragua through financing opposition organizations for over 30 years. It is hard to imagine that this has not contributed to the polarization we are seeing today. And of course, the U.S. has most recently been helping opposition voices build an online messaging machine for which the international media has adopted the role of stenographer since the conflict began in April.  

As the National Dialogue continues, we remain hopeful. The Quixote Center is not advocating for a particular outcome, but we do believe the process should be determined by the people in Nicaragua – not Washington, D.C.  

 

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What the media is getting wrong about violence in Nicaragua

The situation in Nicaragua seems to worsen with every day, and the framing of the conflict in international media has worsened with it. Despite overwhelming evidence of violence and intimidation being employed by opposition groups, articles in the Miami Herald, The Atlantic, the BBC and elsewhere continue to talk about protesters as if all were non-violent students under the gun by a thuggish government. The only violence discussed is then blamed on the government – mostly through alleged support for para-police forces. The goal here is not to deny that the government has at times engaged in violent tactics. But this is far from the whole story.

Certainly the worst day since the original demonstrations in April was May 30, when someone opened fire on the Mother’s Day March in Managua. In that attack and other conflicts Masaya, Esteli, and Chinandega 16 people were killed. In an article that appeared on The Atlantic‘s website, the author claimed the police opened fire indiscriminately on the march and that “government snipers went headhunting.”

But there is no evidence that the police fired “indiscriminately” at protesters – no one I’ve read other than this author has claimed this. Some people at the scene blamed “turbas Sandinistas,” or Sandinista mobs, for the conflict that erupted when people leaving a Sandinista rally ran into the Mother’s Day March. However, no one knows who was doing the shooting. One theory is that pro-government/para-police forces fired on the crowd, a competing narrative is that it was armed groups affiliated with the political opposition. No one – including the Amnesty International statement that was presented as “evidence” of this claim – is able to say “government snipers” went “headhunting.”

Sixteen people were killed that day – but throughout the country. In Managua the death toll was 8. Other people who died included Sandinistas who were killed in Esteli when a caravan trying to get to Managua for a peace rally was attacked. Of course, the political affiliation of many of the people who died that day is actually unknown. They were, however, all men – which strongly suggests that no-one was firing “indiscriminately” but, to the contrary, quite purposefully.  The point is that even on this day, the violence was coming from multiple directions. 

Two-Weeks of Violence

During the two-week period since the collapse of the National Dialogue on May 23, nearly 60 people have died in Nicaragua – bringing the death toll since the original demonstrations were launched on April 16 to 139.  I reviewed local press reports of 41 of the deaths during this two week period and there are a few discernable patterns. Firstly, in only one case was a police officer directly implicated. A witness reported that a police officer shot someone twice, killing him during conflicts in Masaya on the night of June 2 that left 5 people dead. The rest of the deaths in Masaya that night were attributed to fighting between pro and anti-government gangs. This is the case for most of the deaths reported in the last two weeks.  

Secondly, this speaks to a larger pattern in which many deaths have occurred in conflicts in and around the “tranques,” or blockades that have been set up throughout the country by opposition groups. Who is responsible for these deaths is not clear. There is a pattern of armed gangs riding around on motorcycles and in pickup trucks, firing into groups at tranques. This is a tactic that has been blamed on government supporters by some local human rights groups – though the latest victim, Marcos González Briceño, was a police officer, killed on June 10. It is also becoming increasingly evident that organized criminal gangs are involved in staffing the tranques in some areas. 

Thirdly, while many of the people killed are of traditional age for students, many are not, suggesting that many are not students at all. Of the 19 reports of deaths during this two week period where ages were given, 11 people were 25 or older, and 8 of those were over 30 years old. In addition, the people who are dying are not all simply anti-government protesters.  Indeed, a gang attacked the police station in Mulukuku Monday morning (June 10), killing two more police officers. Police have died (three officers killed in one day). Sandinista activists have been killed. And people associated with local government have been killed and beaten. Some people have been killed just for being near a tranque when guns were fired.

It seems obvious that the violence is coming from multiple directions – and not simply state-supported. It is hard to find such discussion in international media accounts.

Beyond Killing

When the Mother’s Day March on May 30 broke up, some of the “non-violent” protesters in Managua tried to burn down Radio Ya, a Sandinista affiliated radio station, while people were still inside (arsonists finished the job the next night, burning what was left of the station to the ground). They also burned the offices of the ALBA Caruna near the University of Central America. These points are missing from IACHR report on that day’s events, though they do mention an attack with rocks on opposition media outlet, 100% Noticias.

Arson has become a tool of opposition groups throughout the country. Just a few examples from the past two weeks include: gangs burned the municipal offices in Granada, burned a high school and family courthouse in Masaya, burned down the Radio Nicaragua station, threw molotov cocktails in the national revenue building in Masaya, burned down a tax office in Esteli, and have set fire to numerous private homes of people affiliated with the Sandinista government. These attacks never register in international media accounts.

Of course, if there is a strategy that will come to define this historical moment, it is the “tranques,” or roadblocks. Setting up a roadblock as part of a protest is not a violent act. Setting up dozens of blockades in just one city, stifling commerce, causing food shortages, making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to receive medical assistance, stopping people at the point of a gun (or home-made mortar) to ask for papers, and then beating and or humiliating people suspected of being pro-Sandinista, on the other hand, has passed the bounds of nonviolence.

The tranques are no longer just roadblocks to disrupt inter-city travel, but have been set up within towns in increasing numbers – over a hundred in Masaya alone – with growing numbers in Managua, Esteli, Leon, and Chinandega. El Nuevo Diario reported Sunday that 4,000 trucks are now halted at the borders with Honduras and Costa Rica because they cannot travel through the country – tranques are not just impacting the domestic economy, but also intra-regional trade.

On Monday, June 11 the government began taking some tranques down in Managua. Though the police were accused of mobilizing alongside “turbas” in some neighborhoods, and of firing guns, no one in was reported to be seriously injured. Certainly in parts of Managua the process of taking down the tranques and cleaning the streets went smoothly.

Responsibility

To raise such points is to be dismissed as an Ortega apologist or some unreconstructed leftist who missed the memo on the neo-liberalization of the Sandinista Party. Meanwhile people who have consistently served the interests of opposition parties throughout the years are read as objective, and their ideas repeated by international media outlets unchallenged. To be clear, whether Ortega ultimately stays or goes is not my concern. My concern is that the simplistic, and ultimately false, narrative resounding in international outlets is feeding the violence. It gives cover to the opposition to continue to employ these tactics, which in turn is making any effort to restart a process of dialogue nearly impossible; unless, of course, Ortega meets opposition demands and pre-emptively agrees to step down.

At this point, the government has agreed to adopt recommendations by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and establish the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts to investigate the violence. The Organization of American States received testimony last week after which it issued a resolution calling on “all political actors” to stop the use of violence. On Friday, Bishops in Nicaragua delivered a letter to Ortega giving their conditions for re-starting the National Dialogue. As I am writing on Tuesday afternoon, everyone is waiting for his response. There seems to be a small window of opportunity here before the situation blows up completely.

In the end, where the government has committed human rights abuses, the people responsible should be held to account. Non-state actors responsible for the majority of the killing, must also be held to account. However, by presenting such a one-sided narrative, the international media is undermining any chance that either of these things will happen. That should concern everybody interested in the truth and in reconciliation, whatever one thinks of Ortega.

UPDATE, June 13, 2018

After publishing this I read that 10 more people were killed yesterday in Nicaragua. El Nuevo Diario covered the deaths in relationship to the mobilization of the police and “fuerzas de choques” (shock troops) to attack blockades in Managua and several other cities. However, the details, as much as are available, make clear that more was going on.

Of the four people killed in Managua: one was murdered while driving to work by armed men in a truck (not at a blockade), another was a man accused of being one of the “choques,” and the two other deaths are unclear (may or may not be related to the protests). In Carazo two more so called “choques” were shot in the head. In Jinotega a member of the Sandinista Youth was shot and killed. A young man was killed during fighting in front of the police station in Diriamba – story does not indicate how he died. In the community of La Bodega on the Atlantic Coast another man was killed in a drive by shooting. An unidentified body was also found in Jinotega. All of this is surely tragic – and yet cannot all be laid at the feet of the government.

 

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Update on Nicaragua: Interview about Situation in Masaya

Over the last week there has been an increase in violence in Nicaragua. In Masaya several people were killed, government buildings burned, a market ransacked, and ongoing blockades of the roads leading into the city.  Much of the media attention about the ongoing political crisis in Nicaragua has ignored the conflicts in cities outside of Managua, or focused solely on accusations of excessive force by the police. We feel it is important for people to understand the complexity of the situation, and the ways in which violence and intimidation are also being used by opposition groups, with most of the people simply caught in the middle.

This week, I interviewed John Perry, who has lived in Masaya, Nicaragua for the last 15 years, and works as a volunteer with a local NGO in the field of sustainable rural development. We talked about the situation in the city over the last few weeks. The views expressed here are John’s, based on his observations.

There has been a tremendous amount of violence in Masaya over the last week. Several people have been killed, a school was set on fire, and people assumed to be supporters of the government have been attacked, or houses set aflame. What have you been seeing and hearing from friends in the area?

Until mid-April, Masaya was a peaceful city (and Nicaragua the most peaceful country in Central America). All that changed when police responded violently to a student protest in Managua. This awoke a lot of resentment in Masaya against the government, including from its previous supporters, and barricades appeared in the streets. There were pitched battles between pro- and anti-government groups. Even demonstrations calling for an end to violence (like one I took part in on Sunday May 6) were attacked.

Since then the violence has become far worse. Ransacking of businesses (with people running off with TV sets and motor bikes), destruction of public buildings (including the tourist market) and burning down the houses of Sandinista sympathisers have become a nightly occurrence. We are in the bizarre situation where Masaya’s people (for the most part) are destroying their own city.

The international media has been focused solely on a narrative that presents protesters as peaceful, and laying almost all of the blame for violence on state forces. It sounds like things are a lot more complicated than that. Does the violence in Masaya seem to be coordinated?

All that can be said for certain is that the media’s simplistic narrative is wrong. Both ‘sides’ are using violence. Protesters claim that government sympathisers are destroying public buildings, but even if this were true, would they then burn their own homes?

If you look at the BBC coverage here, it faithfully follows the narrative. Yet you look at the photo and observe (a) the road has been ripped up to make the barricades and (b) those manning them have lethal weapons. In what other country would this be regarded as exercising a constitutional right to protest (which is what the protesters claim)? In what other country would the police not arrive in force to remove the barricades and arrest those holding the weapons?

Throughout the country, blockades have been the dominant strategy of the opposition to create tension and put pressure on the government.  I understand you are actually trapped between two different blockades, and that travel is difficult, if not impossible outside the city. Can you say what it is like to be in a blockaded city now?

Masaya is effectively cut off by road from everywhere else and has been for several days. We live outside the city so can only enter it on foot. There are two major problems with the barricades. One is obvious – they disrupt the normal life of the city, preventing people from working and getting food, preventing deliveries to shops. In a city where most work in low-paid jobs, this is creating enormous hardship. My wife walked to the Masaya market this morning and came across a young woman trying to walk to the hospital who had started to give birth in the street. She persuaded a passing cyclist to take her to the Red Cross on his crossbar.

But an even more serious aspect is the intimidation. People are being asked for their papers at the barricades by masked youths carrying homemade mortars; they’re having their bags searched. Anything linking them to the government or police means they won’t get past – or worse. A police guy in civilian clothes was ordered to burn his police uniform publicly (it was hidden in his rucksack). In other cases, people have been stripped and humiliated. We had a call for help from a policewoman who lives between two barricades, and who is scared stiff her house with two young children will be burnt down while she is at work.

It seems amazing that the blockades have been allowed to continue – though I assume the government is reluctant to order the police out to break them up in force. It seems like this is a strategy that will turn on the opposition eventually – as it is wreaking havoc on people’s lives. Do you see this going on much longer?

It’s very difficult to say. Many of the Masaya barricades are at head height so it would be extremely difficult for the police to remove them unilaterally. Even the riot police lack the equipment that most police forces have in developed countries. So the only route to peace is through negotiation – the process of national ‘dialogue’ being led by the Catholic church – but which has made only sputtering progress so far.

From a national perspective, you wrote a piece for the London Review of Books’ blogin early May that noted there is little honest discussion about what happens if Ortega’s government collapses. What comes next? How are you feeling about that a month later? Does there seem to be any strategy here from the opposition other than disruption?

Nicaragua has a past history of conflict, but based on clearly conflicting ideologies – people fighting against the repressive Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s, and the revolutionary government against the US-funded Contras in the 1980s. This time the ideological divide is far from clear. On one side, we have a government which mixes a mildly neoliberal economic policy with social investment, but via a party machine which stifles dissent and fails to bring on a new generation of leaders. It supports LGBT rights and promotes the role of women in politics, yet imposes strict abortion laws. But whatever its deficiencies, it stands in contrast to the governments between here and the Texas border, which all have far greater problems of democratic failure, corruption and violence, whether led by the state or by criminal gangs.

On the opposition side, we have two sets of ideas which contradict each other. One says that the government has given up its revolutionary principles and should return to them; the other (despite being called the Sandinista Renovation Movement, the MRS) has aligned itself with the right both in Nicaragua and in the support it receives from the US. Both are temporary allies because they want more ‘democracy’ and for Daniel Ortega to resign, but if Ortega were to leave peremptorily, who would fill the power vacuum and how? The situation reminds me of East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when many activists wanted the coming change to lead to democratic socialism. But those who brought in the capital to transform the country were, unsurprisingly, capitalists.

A lot of the discourse about recent events here has focussed on the failure of the international left to criticise the Ortega government (even though, it seems to me, such criticism has been plentiful, especially over the ‘megaproject’ of the interoceanic canal). But what interests me is how the country moves on from the present situation. Who do those destroying Masaya now think will invest to rebuild it next year or the year after, and at what political cost? How can we avoid a further collapse into the chaos of which Masaya gives us both an example and a warning? How do we help Nicaraguans recover their peace and curb the brutality which has been unleashed? Those on the right who want Ortega out of office now have their own plans to prosper from the chaos: they want a massive civic insurrection to get power and then they’ll enter government with a ‘business spirit’ and start cutting taxes. No doubt in both respects they’ll be cheered on by the Trump administration. But what alternative can the left support that shows a better route out of the current crisis?

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Update on Nicaragua: Amidst Ongoing Violence, National Dialogue Suspended Again

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its preliminary report (available in Spanish and English), following its investigation May 17-21, that 76 people were killed during protests that began in April and in demonstrations since. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, they documented that the government of Nicaragua, especially the anti-riot police, had acted with disproportionate and unnecessary force.

The IACHR is part of the hemispheric human rights system, and as such its mandate is to monitor and make recommendations concerning violations of human rights by state actors. The IACHR’s investigation is not, therefore, telling the whole story concerning violence in the country.

One of the weaknesses of this report, and one issued by Amnesty on Tuesday, May 29, is that there is little effort to contextualize the state response with documentation concerning violence perpetrated by opposition groups, who have burned government facilities, attacked demonstrations, fired guns and homemade mortars at police, blockaded roads throughout the country, and so on. So, while most of the protest activity appears peaceful, there is also violence coming from some of the government opponents.

Against this background, the National Dialogue entered its fourth session on May 23rd with a discussion on proposals from a coalition of opposition groups called the “Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.” The proposed approach called for substantive systemic changes, including:

  • Moving up the general, regional and municipal elections,
  • Non re-election for the president,
  • Reduction of the number of deputies of the National Assembly
  • Application of recommendations of the IACHR.
  • Electing a new Supreme Electoral Council
  • Separating Social Security from the Government (which I read as privatizing these services, a core demand of COSEP).
  • Allowing the Police and the Army to remain subject to civil authority (which they already are, so it’s not clear what specific institutional remedy is sought here).

The government indicated a willingness to discuss the proposals, which are clearly designed to challenge the dominant role of the Sandinista party in all branches of the government, on the condition that the blockades on major highways be lifted. The opposition coalition declared that the blockades would remain. In their view, the blockades are applying the only meaningful pressure on the government to negotiate.

The result was a stalemate, and the National Dialogue was suspended on May 24.

The blockades of all major highways in Nicaragua has had an enormous impact on commerce. Though the blockades are cleared periodically to allow some vehicles through, the delivery of goods and the ability of people to get around has been severely impacted. As the blockades continue, they are predictably leading to skirmishes between the blockaders and others; one person was killed at a blockade near Leon last Wednesday. 

Following the suspension of the National Dialogue, tensions increased further. In Leon and Chinandega protesters and counter-protesters fought in several neighborhoods. Manuel de Jesús Chávez, a young man caught in the crossfire, was killed with a bullet to the head. Another 76 people were injured, some remain in critical condition. 

On Wednesday, May 30, Mothers Day in Nicaragua, the Madres de Abril, mothers of students and others killed in the April protests, held a march in Managua with thousands of supporters.  Going on at the same time was a Sandinista rally, where Daniel Ortega spoke, calling for peace. As the rally ended, and people began leaving, the two marches came into contact. Conflict erupted, and spiraled quickly. Two Sandinista youth were among the first killed. In all, 16 people died, 80 more were injured. While most reports speak of an “attack on” the Mothers Day march, it seems things were a bit more complicated. An account from Giorgio Trucchi, in Managua:

[t]he same ‘peaceful protesters’ again attack the pro-government Nueva Radio Ya, burn, loot and destroy what was left of it. Then they go to the Caja Rural Nacional (Caruna), a cooperative that for years has managed ALBA funds for social projects that have benefited thousands of families. They attack the facilities and burn everything, including parked vehicles.

And so, the bloodshed continues. While everyone is pointing a finger at the government, it is important to point out that since the demonstrations were launched in April, the only groups that have actually benefited from the violence are in the political opposition. Indeed, the opposition strategy seems to be to make the country ungovernable, through roadblocks and attacks on government facilities, until the current administration agrees to a process that will lead to Ortega’s departure.

It is hard to imagine the government agreeing to this. But as the days wear on, the government’s position is weakened by the conflict in the streets – and the perception that it is the government or allied forces responsible for the majority of it. In the meantime, government opponents have little reason to go back to the table. 

Like Manuel de Jesús Chávez, most of the country is left caught in the crossfire.

Following the deaths during the Mother’s Day March, the National Dialogue, scheduled to restart on May 31, was suspended again by the Bishops acting as mediators.

 

 

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Statement of the Cooperative Movement of Nicaragua on National Dialogue

The Cooperative Movement of Nicaragua issued the statement below on May 5, 2018 regarding their participation in the National Dialogue process, which was formally launched on May 16. As of this writing, Orlando Núñez has not been included at the main table of negotiation as requested in this letter. [Graphic with participants listed,  from El Nuevo Diario].  We provide a translation into English below. A scanned copy of the original with the full list of signatories is here

We are reproducing (and, in this case, translating) this document, as we did with the ATC Statement yesterday, in an effort to present the voices of those in Nicaragua that the international media continues to ignore in coverage of the ongoing political crisis.  Major media outlets continue to give voice only to the opposition, and a narrow segment of that opposition – those calling for Ortega’s removal from office. There is a wide range of interests and organizations participating in the National Dialogue. Few are wholly uncritical of the government, but most are looking to construct a new consensus for moving forward.  

Statement of the Cooperative Movement of Nicaragua

“I lean toward a regime of cooperatives” – A. C. Sandino

The Nicaraguan Cooperative Movement, which brings together 5,000 cooperatives and 300,000 cooperatives, organized into Unions, Centrals, Federations and Departmental Councils of cooperatives, announces the following statement on the situation in Nicaragua and on the Table of National Dialogue.

Statement from the Cooperative Movement of Nicaragua

  1. We regret the death of young people and police and we show solidarity with the families of the victims.

  2. We demand that justice be done for the relatives and that the guilty be punished.

  3. We regret the violence unleashed as a result of the student protests, which in a short time have tarnished the image of the country with all the political, economic and social consequences.

  4. We encourage the communitarian identity that the National Police has had until now and we discourage any confrontation between the police and the people, especially any act of repression against the civilian population.

  5. The Nicaraguan cooperative movement has suffered a history of violence from the very first cooperative organized by Sandino in 1934, in which most of the families were bombarded by the National Guard, to the self-defense cooperatives formed during the war of aggression combined with a civil war during the decade of the 1980s, in which our cooperatives were attacked by the forces of the counterrevolution and tens of thousands of peasant families from both sides died. For such reasons we reject all those attitudes that foment violence, war and death, wherever they come from.

  6. We feel concerned and assume the share of responsibility that correspond to us about what is happening and will happen in Nicaragua, but we celebrate more than 27 years of reconciliation between Sandinista families and families coming from the counterrevolution, living together fraternally within our cooperatives, thus contributing to national reconciliation.

  7. We recognize and encourage deepening public policies in favor of the cooperative sector by the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity, as well as the peaceful climate in which we perform our work, particularly our participation in the Bureaus of Production, Consumption and Trade. Thanks to the peace, organized effort and our active participation in institutions, we have achieved food sovereignty, producing most of the food for our rural and urban families, generating self-employment for 300,000 individuals through our work.

  8. Perhaps the young people of the city do not have knowledge of this strategic sector of the national economy, partly because the universities have not managed to incorporate even the peasant sector into the academic curriculum, and even less so have they incorporated the cooperative sector; and partly because there exists the impression, even within our institutions, that private business is the only sector that produces national wealth and employment.

  9. On the reforms to the Institute of the Social Security (INSS), the initial object of the protests, we propose a progressive tax, that is to say that those who earn more pay more. We strongly oppose the privatization of social security and offer to work for cooperative insurance.

  10. We ask the National Government and the Episcopal Conference that we be included, along with small producers in general, in a four-party agreement, since we are neither business owners nor salaried workers, therefore we do not feel represented by COSEP nor by the labor unions, although our sector is as important as theirs.

  11. We invite all the living forces of the nation, the government and the opposition, the business sector and churches of all denominations, the academic sector and the media, political parties and the general public, to unite and work for peace, stability and public safety, representative and participatory democracy, the restoration of rights, civil liberties, reconciliation and national unity.

  12. We respectfully request of the Episcopal Conference and the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity a seat in the National Dialogue and we propose our colleague Orlando Núñez, who has accompanied us all this time, to represent us at the economic table.

  13. The Cooperatives of the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), the Cooperatives of the National Union of Farmers and Cattle Ranchers (UNAG) and the associations of the Nicaraguan Council for Micro, Small and Mid-size Businesses (CONIMIPYME), join this release.

Managua, 5thof May of the year 2018

We attach the signatures of the various organizations.

 

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Take Action to Stop the Killing in Gaza

“it is not the use of violence that leads to peace. War calls on war, violence calls on violence. I invite all the parties involved and the international community to renew their commitment so that dialogue, justice and peace prevail.” Pope Francis, Audience, May 16, 2018

The Quixote Center has never had an institutional presence in the Middle East, or actively campaigned on Palestinian statehood and the conflict with Israel. We nevertheless feel compelled to raise our voices with others at this critical time in condemning the extraordinary violence that the Israeli Defense Forces have employed against demonstrators in Gaza. We wish to encourage everyone to speak out, contact members of congress to suspend military aid to Israel until the killing stops and consider joining the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

The Association of International Development Agencies issued a statement this week (May 15), signed by 80 international non-governmental organizations. They summarize the level of violence:

Since 30 March, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, and another 12,271 injured, including hundreds of children. In addition, medical personnel and facilities have also come under fire, resulting in the injury of 211 medical staff and damage sustained to 25 ambulances, according to WHO. Hospitals are at the brink of collapse, unable to deal with the vast number of injured as a result of a decade-long blockade and insufficient electricity and medical supplies and equipment. Due to the near impossibility of obtaining a medical referral for surgery outside of the Gaza Strip, 21 Palestinians injured during demonstrations have so far had limb amputations since 30 March.

Maryknoll Office of Global Concern has issued a call to action, and we would encourage all to follow through contacting members of congress.

“Palestinians have long asked ‘how long?’ and looked for signs that they are not forgotten…Seventy years of displacement and dispossession, half a century of occupation, and generations of yearning are enough. We trust in God, that the hope the prophets foretold is not only a promise for all of God’s children, but will be realized, and we pray—and recommit to working—for the realization of God’s justice and peace for all peoples.”

Click here to tell your elected officials:  70 years is enough!  Ask them to:   

  • Call for an end to the use of violence by Israeli forces against the protesters,
  • Call for an investigation by the State Department to ensure that US military aid to Israel is not used in ways that contravene established US and international laws,
  • Insist on humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza and an end to the Gaza blockade, and
  • Support policies that promote the human rights of all people, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

As noted in a statement signed by 14 faith communities, the United States government has a large responsibility here.

We know that our own government’s seemingly unqualified and unquestioning support for Israel is a significant enabling factor for Israel’s continuing and repeated violations of international conventions and laws. The United States’ unequaled military aid to Israel, its regular defense of Israel in diplomatic arenas, especially the UN Security Council, national and state efforts to criminalize the use of economic measures as a moral act, U.S. support for the blockade of Gaza, and the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, are but some of the ways the US has acted without regard to Palestinian rights.

Until the violence ends, until the U.S. government ceases its support for militarization of the conflict, enabling the worst human rights abuses, all should consider joining with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement. You can find more information here, as well as a list of action ideas for your local community.

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Nicaragua: An Urgent Call for Solidarity from ATC

Below is a “Call to Solidarity” from The Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (ATC), or Rural Workers Association in Nicaragua in relationship to the current political crisis. As the international media continues to emphasize only the voices of opposition groups, it is important that we work to get out other perspectives on what is happening.

“The ATC represents approximately 50,000 rural workers and small-scale producers in Nicaragua. The ATC has several hundred labor unions and agricultural cooperatives throughout the country. The organization coordinates agrarian sector employment training programs, political formation workshops, agricultural practicums, and advocacy on national policies that protect workers and food systems. It has active rural women and rural youth movements” (Friends of ATC). The ATC has historically been associated with the Sandinistas, though even during the 1980s was one of the most independent of the FSLN affiliated popular organizations. Today the ATC is a leader in the international peasant movement, Via Campesina, and the regional coordination of CLOC. If you’re interested in learning more, the Alliance for Global Justice is organizing a delegation to Nicaragua this coming June to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the ATC.

PDF Version of Statement, English and Spanish.

An Urgent Call for Solidarity with Nicaragua Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo /Rural Workers Association

May 17, 2018

Friends in Solidarity,

We have lived a month full of tragedy in our country. The peace we achieved as a people, so fragile and at the cost of so many lives, is in immanent danger of disappearing irreparably. There are now two sizeable camps of the population with dangerously contrary positions. On one side, there is a combination of private university students, media outlets with rightwing owners representing the oligarchy, Catholic Church bishops close to Opus Dei, the private sector and, of course, the US Embassy, working together to create a situation of chaos in the country in order to remove president Daniel Ortega. This group of actors accuses the National Police of having killed dozens of protesters in the riots that reached all Nicaraguan cities, ostensibly against a reform—since revoked—to the system of social security. As we have described, the reality is more complex, and the violence was generalized and explosive, involving protesters with homemade firearms that often misfired, as well as counter-protestors, paid pickets, unknown gunmen and street gangs. The National Police was really a minor actor in the violence, using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds in a few points of Managua, but not involved in the vast majority of the 50 or more deaths that have been reported since April. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights has been invited by the government and currently is investigating the events of April.

A national dialogue began on Wednesday, May 16th, with the participation of anti-government students, civil society organizations, and the Presidency, and mediation by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church led by Archbishop Leonaldo Brenes. However, the coup-like violence has only grown and currently, rightwing armed groups have all of the main highways in the country closed. On the other side of the conflict, the militancy of the Sandinista Front continues to withstand phenomenal provocations, including:

  • The destruction of its Sandinista homes (party headquarters) in dozens of cities
  • The destruction or defacement of hundreds of historic monuments, murals, and memorials of Sandinistas
  • The arson of dozens of public buildings
  • The interruption of work and the food shortages that have resulted from the road closures and violence
  • The deaths of passersby and journalists by paid pickets and violent protesters
  • Relentless false accusations and lies circulated by corporate media.

It must be added that Facebook has been the primary means for transforming Nicaraguan society that one month ago was at peace into a toxic, hate-filled nightmare. Currently, hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook profiles amplify the hatred and pressure Nicaraguan Facebook users to begin to share and post hate messages. Many, if not most, of these fake Facebook profiles have been created in countries other than Nicaragua, and in particular, Miami is the city where many of the Facebook and WhatsApp accounts behind the violence are managed.

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle. In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the Nicaraguan people.

In this context, the ATC has called for “all national actors to reorganize themselves based on their aspirations.” With this intention, the ATC proposes to confront the national crisis with aseries of dialogues among young people, without party distinction or any ideological basis, in favor of peace and understanding. We propose extraordinary youth assemblies in the cities of San Marcos, Jinotepe, Rivas, Granada, Masaya, Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Juigalpa, Santo Tomás and Tipitapa, as spaces for young people to discuss the national situation and find pointsof unity. It is important to mention that we do not have a previously defined “line” to impose upon these debates—they will be spaces for listening, forming ideas and thinking with our hearts.

We call upon your solidarity and generous support for the creation of an emergency fund for peace in Nicaragua that makes possible this round of extraordinary youth assemblies. The national coordinators of the Rural Youth Movement, Sixto Zelaya and Marlen Sanchez, will have the responsibility of organizing the assemblies and administering the fund with absolute transparency.

It is urgent to organize the Nicaraguan family and win peace!

International Secretariat of the ATC

 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)