COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 65 (En Español)
Pandemic and Misinformation
On March 15, 2020, as COVID made its way into Central America and many countries in the world were taking drastic measures to stop contagion, the Nicaraguan government summoned a massive march to his supporters and public employees to “confront the global pandemic with love ”. The walk was announced by the vice president Rosario Murillo and was baptized as “Love in times of Covid-19”. Health workers led the march through the main streets of Managua in decorated floats, dressed in their white coats, along with beds and hospital instruments, dancing and making parodies of the global alarm for the pandemic. The government’s attitude was branded by doctors and health professionals as “criminal irresponsibility” while the vice president, eagerly repeated in her daily monologues broadcast by the official channels “we are going to walk with the strength of faith and hope in the whole country, in permanent prayer with the peoples, families and brothers of the world affected by the coronavirus ”. ¹
Since the first infections in the region were announced, the government of Nicaragua denied the existence of COVID in the country, continued with his campaign promoting tourism and festive crowds, while at the same time banning the use of masks in hospitals to avoid “alarming the population”. On repeated occasions, the relatives of people who died due to COVID-19 denounced that the death certificates received altered the causes of the death of their relatives. No one could die of coronavirus in Nicaragua, but from diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, or other health complications. Same restriction was imposed on physicians in their diagnoses and prescriptions.
At this moment, we are experiencing a second wave of infections, higher than last year. However, the attitude of the regime remains the same. No information whatsoever provided about infections, deaths or vaccines, or do so in a limited, confusing, and therefore unreliable way. Hospitals and health centers are hermetic instances where providing information of any kind is punishable with dismissal. Independent physicians and epidemiologists who provide information on deaths, infections and prevention measures suffer persecution, threats of imprisonment and suspension of licenses.
This information and communication policy of the Ortega Daniel regime has been imposed since his return to the presidency in 2007² and is characterized by secrecy, lack of access to public information, exclusion of the independent press, as well as the persecution and harassment of journalists and photographers covering the events. The only person authorized to speak on behalf of the government is the Vice President and First Lady, Rosario Murillo.
Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency thanks to an electoral process where he faced a divided opposition³ . Fourteen years later, he is still in the presidency now accompanied by his wife, Rosario Murillo, who was his presidential companion in the 2016 elections. Throughout these years the regime has been concentrating power in the Executive, making changes necessary to modify the Constitution and subordinate the other powers of the State, including the Supreme Electoral Council and the Armed Forces. In addition to the process of concentration of political power, it established an alliance with private capital which he baptized as “Model of dialogue and consensus” assigning it constitutional rank. At the level of civil society, it was building their own networks of activists and shock forces, the only ones authorized to manifest in public , while restricting spaces for the opposition or prevented them through violence any form. Since then the country undertook an authoritarian regression that today places us in front of an autocratic government, very similar to the dictatorship Somocista who was overthrown by the Sandinista revolution in 1979.
The tight control of official information and a misleading narrative that promoted the image of Nicaragua as an idyllic country with growth sustained economic and social peace collapsed in April 2018 when a social explosion brought to light the pent-up tensions and social conflicts and repression.
The April 2018 Rebellion
In April 2018 there was an unprecedented social explosion in Nicaragua. The spark that lit the fire was the brutal repression of the peaceful protests of university students and pensioners, by police and security forces closely linked to the government. Violence against protesters who expressed their rejection of the reforms to the Social Security law, as well as the assault on journalists covering the event, were broadcast live on the television and went viral on social media.
The outrage caused by these events generated massive mobilizations that multiplied in all the cities of the country and put in evidence the generalized rejection of the Daniel Ortega regime and the violence with which he has responded to the social protest since his return to the presidency in 2007.
As we have pointed out, the repressive character of the dictatorship was not new, it had already been shown in rural areas where the Army repressed the peasant movement and the population that opposed the extractive activities encouraged by the self-styled “Christian, socialist and supportive” government , which, however, promotes practices neoliberals in alliance with big private capital. Hence it is socialist and left-leaning, only in the outward speech. Inward, for the past 14 years, the protest social was impeded or repressed, public spaces were privatized to forces related to the government. Likewise, arbitrariness of all kinds and the corruption have multiplied, systematically undermining the institutional framework and the rule of law.
The rebellion of April 2018 put the new generations on the scene as protagonists and vital force of an unprecedented self-convened movement connected on social media. This youth to which the writer Sergio Ramírez called “the grandchildren of the revolution”, took to the streets, occupied the university precincts, mobilized and paralyzed the entire country for six months.
The massiveness of the rebellion took the dictatorship by surprise, which did not hesitate in crushing citizen protest through excessive lethal violence. The regime imposed a de facto state of siege, citizen mobilization was prohibited and the protest was criminalized and prosecuted through a makeshift “Law Against Terrorism.” Under the protection of that law more than 600 political prisoners were detained, imprisoned and prosecuted, men and women, among them the main leaders of the student movement and the peasant movement, journalists, feminists, LGBTQ members, as well as citizens and workers who spontaneously joined the protest.
Several human rights organizations documented the excessive use of force with which the State responded to the social protests as well as the various forms of state violence, impunity and responsibility of the police and paramilitary forces in the repression. Government repression left 328 dead⁴, many of them killed by sniper fire stationed in the public buildings, or paramilitaries armed with weapons of war who fired to kill against an unarmed population.
The repression forced approximately 100,000 people to emigrate and/or seek refuge in third countries. These reports document crimes against humanity committed by the Nicaraguan government, as well as the different phases that the repression escalated and the cruel torture suffered by men and women⁵.
Three years later, the citizen resistance has been dismantled and the repression increases as we approach elections presidential elections scheduled for the month of November of this year. The dictatorship Ortega Murillo has become radicalized and is not willing to endanger his power in a fair election. To do this, it has strengthened its control over all powers of the State and expeditiously passed laws to imprison, threaten or besiege the opposition. In a few months, the country’s National Assembly dominated by the regime has passed a dozen repressive laws that broadly and ambiguously define criminal types that facilitate all kinds of accusations, without proof some. Among them, the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents, aimed at criminalize non-governmental organizations; the Special Law of Cybercrimes, called the “gag law on journalism”, of employee control state and the establishment of life imprisonment for hate crimes; the law of Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-determination for Peace that inhibits the nomination of candidates for the presidency which applaud international sanctions against the regime and its officials; and the reform of the Criminal Procedure Code to extend up to 90 days the period for which a person can be detained without being charged, while the Prosecutor’s Office invents and fabricates crimes to convict opponents.
This normative frame has created the conditions so that in the last two months unleash an onslaught against any sector that dares to question power absolute rule of the regime or that put the re-election of the Ortega-Murillo marriage at risk. Thereafter, 34 people were taken to prison and incommunicado or forced to remain in their homes, including six Presidential candidates representing different social sectors. Likewise, peasant leaders, students, journalists and feminists from different social organizations were kidnapped along with relevant historical FSLN cadres, including Dora María Téllez and Hugo Torres. These kidnappings join 110 other innocent people who unjustly remain prison for months and some for years. The arrests were carried out in operations that in some cases took place at night and in weekends, without exhibiting court orders and with ostensible demonstrations of violence that reveal the intention to intimidate and silence critical voices. In addition, immigration restrictions were ordered to affect journalists, businessmen and social leaders without an open court case.
On November 7, elections will be held in which Ortega will seek to access his fifth term of government, the fourth in a row and the second for his wife. It will do it by means of a fraud because they do not exist guarantees of a transparent electoral process and, furthermore, without competition since the main opposition candidates and leaders of society organizations civilians have been kidnapped and are being held in solitary confinement or subjected to different types of torture. Among the detainees are two journalists and the general manager of Diario La Prensa. Three weeks ago, facilities of the newspaper La Prensa were raided by the police and remain busy. Journalism has been the target of the persecution and siege of the regime. Many journalists have fled the country, their media outlets were closed and the facilities raided, looted, occupied or burned.
Persecution of journalists and systematic violation of freedom of expression
On July 13, the Inter-American Society of Journalism (IAPA in Spanish) presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a report on the chaotic situation in Nicaragua and the systematic violation of freedom of the press and of expression by the regime of President Ortega. The IAPA expressed its solidarity with journalists and the independent media reporting despite the climate of general anxiety. After a series of interviews with media directors, academics, businessmen and other members of civil society, the organization concluded that “the fence on free journalism is closing day by day.” Among the main problems for the exercise of journalism in Nicaragua the report highlights: “the exodus of media personnel and managers; difficulties to access essential supplies; pressure on advertisers; police checkpoints in front of newsrooms or journalists’ homes; stigmatizations and threats to generate self-censorship; less social media activity for fear of being pursued; lack of access to public information; media concentration in hands of the state or the ruling family and the growing demand for sources to remain anonymous. ” The report concludes that “guarantees are urgently needed to secure the full exercise of the freedoms of expression, of the press and of meeting, keys to reestablishing an open and plural citizen debate, which the government insists on aborting and without which it is impossible to speak of the validity of democracy”.
Other international organizations have analyzed the situation in the last two years in Nicaragua and they conclude that the government Nicaraguan has perpetrated different types and phases of attacks against the independent press. The first phases were evidenced by assaults and attacks against the press followed by a process of disqualification and stigmatization of the journalistic exercise. The person in charge of spreading stigmatizing language and threatening is the first lady and vice president Rosario Murillo, the only voice authorized by the government. They also point out that the work of the media has been systematically obstructed.
In particular, the regime has been cruel against the media Confidencial and 100% news. Both media were subject to police raids and raided in December 2018. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of Confidencial and the newscasts Tonight and This Week, is currently in exile. Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, from 100% Noticias, were both jailed for 6 months. In June of this year, Mora was captured again and accused of treason. The facilities where these media operated were raided, looted and confiscated.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro⁶ pointed out that “there is no freedom of the press in Nicaragua, the media are under police occupation, the journalists are attacked, censorship is increasing and there is no access to public information. A reporter can be the target of an assault in any moment while on the street covering a fact. ”
For his part, Pedro Vaca, rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS), present at the forum entitled The Latin American Press under site, freedom for detained journalists⁷, after hearing the testimonies of two Nicaraguan journalists, pointed out that in Nicaragua there is a state policy of silence that uses sophisticated censorship mechanisms with the participation of the judicial system, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police and other public security institutions. The entire institutional framework is not in favor of human rights and freedom of expression, but only to protect those authoritarian mechanisms. The Independent journalists and media in Nicaragua lack elementary guarantees for the exercise of their rights and face a systematic persecution ”.
Faced with this situation, the demands of citizens are focused on the urgency of freeing the 130 people kidnapped for political reasons, the cessation of the persecution and harassment of journalists and the media, and the realization of a transparent electoral process that allows leaving the dictatorship and open a transition period with justice and without impunity.
In this fight with an uncertain future, journalists, independent media and young communicators creatively using new digital media, represent an immeasurable force to denounce the crimes of the dictatorship and illuminate the new paths through which pursue the democratic fight.
By Margarita Vannini
1 Wilfredo Miranda Aburto. Love in times of COVID 19: Government of Nicaragua calls a march to face the coronavirus . 03.15.2020. aa.com.tr
2 Paradoxically, that year the Law on Access to Public Information was approved (Law 6211, May 16 2007).
3 The electoral results were: 38% for the FSLN, 29% for the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance and 25% for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party.
4 See reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2018, 2019 and subsequent years.
5 See the report of the Special Monitoring Mechanism (MESENI) and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) for Nicaragua.
6 Interview with Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of the Confidencial Magazine and the newscasts Esta Night and This Week. https://www.confidencial.com.ni
7 The Forum was organized by Fundamedios, Voces del Sur and other organizations that watch over the freedom press in the hemisphere. In: Confidential September 8, 2021. https://www.confidencial.com.ni
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, OAS) 2018. Graves violations of human rights in the framework of social protests in Nicaragua . https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/informes/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-es.pdf
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, OAS). September 2019 . Situation of Human Rights in Nicaragua. https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/actividades/visitas/2018Nicaragua/BoletinMESENI-September2019.pdf
Confidential. https://confidencial.com.ni/giei-regimen-orteguista-cometio Crimes against humanity/
Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) https://gieinicaragua.org/gieicontent/uploads/2018/12/GIEI_INFORME_DIGITAL.pdf
Digital 19 https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:101226-nicaragua-realizara walk-love-in-times-of-covid-19
United Nations. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Rights Humans. Situation of human rights in Nicaragua. September 3 of 2019. https://reliefweb.int/report/nicaragua/situaci-n-de-los-derechos-humanos-en nicaragua-report-of-the-high-commissioner-of
Ortega, M; Gomez, JP; Agudelo, I. (2020). Nicaragua 2018. The insurrection April civic (2020). Managua, UCA Publications Editorial Fund.
Pedro Vaca, Rapporteur of the IACHR-OAS: In Nicaragua there is physical and legal censorship and symbolic. https://www.confidencial.com.ni/nacion/periodistas-perseguidos-y no-rights-in-nicaragua-cuba-and-venezuela/
Ramírez, Sergio. Nicaragua: The grandchildren of the revolution . In: El País, May 30 from 2018 https://elpais.com
Rocha, José Luis (2019) Self- convened and connected. The university students in the April revolt in Nicaragua. Foreword Elena Poniatowska. San Salvador. UCA Editors and Editorial Fund UCA Publications.
IAPA delivers critical report on Nicaragua to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) . https://bit.ly/3wJex6M
Vannini, M (2019). Power and Memory. A perspective from Nicaragua. Keynote speech presented at the opening of the Memories Meeting for the future. Guatemala City.