Jose Miguel Vivanco: Nicaragua is already a one-party regime

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José Miguel Vivanco / Photo: EFE

“Ortega is betting on international fatigue; I hope that Boric in Chile, and other governments, can relaunch the pressure on the dictatorship, outside the OAS.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidential)

HAVANA TIMES – Human rights defender and former director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jose Miguel Vivanco, argues that “Nicaragua is already a one-party regime.” He believes that actions such as the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity and the coup against the offices of opposition mayors, “will not be the last cases, (and) Ortega will continue his plan to eliminate all type of entity that can eclipse it”, because there is no way to stop it.

Daniel Ortega “is betting on the weariness of the international community”, says Vivanco in this interview with Esta Semana and Confidential. He advocates “a renewed pressure against the dictatorship”, led by the Chilean President, Gabriel Boric, and other Latin American and European governments, outside the Organization of American States (OAS).

Last week, the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship expelled the Missionaries of Mother Teresa of Calcutta from Nicaragua, after closing their charities, along with 850 other nongovernmental organizations that were cancelled. How do you interpret this aggression from the angle of human rights, the right of association and even religious freedom?

We are faced with a tyrant who rules Nicaragua, with his wife, as if it were a private farm, and a property where he can do and undo as he pleases. He has no significant obstacles, because he has complete control of the country, and there is no way to restrict the absolute exercise of power.

What we have seen is more arbitrariness and, if these circumstances do not change, it seems to me that these will not be the last cases. He will pursue the plan of eliminating any type of entity that could overshadow him, that could represent an alternative. We are not even talking about a media that can criticize the government, because the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta is not a communication media that criticizes the government. They carried out an essentially humanitarian activity. And what Ortega is doing is showing the country and the world that he can do whatever he wants and there’s no stopping him.

To this crime against the Missionaries of Charity is added another, which is the persecution of the journalists and staff of the newspaper La Prensa, who covered the expulsion of the nuns. There is an act of censorship. It was forbidden to take a photo or video during the expulsion of the nuns. And there are three people in jail for this alleged crime, which is being investigated by the police.

Ortega’s persecution is carried out in such a violent manner and has been unleashed in such an overwhelming manner that it “will spare no one”. If a photographer has taken a photo that Ortega or Murillo does not like and which is simply a photo that reports a fact, such as the expulsion of the nuns, that is punished. And this photographer can even end up in prison. It is the brutal and arbitrary exercise of power, which is typical of a dictatorial regime, which we experienced in the 20th century or in the 19th century.

The regime ordered the police raid on the only five offices of opposition mayors, with only four months left for other municipal elections. Will a one-party system be consolidated in Nicaragua?

Nicaragua is already a one-party system, and what Ortega is doing is consolidating a model based on arbitrariness and fear. What happened with the nuns, the Catholic Church, the non-governmental organizations, the media, has only one objective, and that is to be able to govern on the basis of fear, where people arrive to a situation of total paralysis.

How do you assess the reaction of the international community to this protracted crisis in Nicaragua? For example, Central American governments are proposing to normalize relations with Nicaragua to elect Ortega’s candidate for the position of Secretary General of the Central American Integration System.

I regret what I am about to say, but it seems to me that we are in danger of entering into a kind of international fatigue. An exhaustion around the question of Nicaragua, when the international community has so many problems on the table and hears that there is a dictatorship in Central America, which rules arbitrarily, and seeks to establish itself in power forever. Some are already in an attitude of almost resignation, and others, on the contrary, adhere to resolutions of support of condemnation. So it’s almost kind of a routine. Ortega and Murillo are betting on this, on the weariness of the international community.

But, of course, it is absolutely unacceptable that the neighboring countries of Central America allow the election of a candidate of this dictatorship to such an important regional post. But can we expect anything else from Xiomara Castro, in Honduras, who decided not to attend the Summit of the Americas because Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua were not invited? Can we expect anything different from El Salvador’s (Nayib) Bukele, who is another apprentice dictator? Or Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala?

But it seems the one tipping the scales now is the Costa Rican president himself, who says he is weighing whether he will give his consent to Ortega’s candidate for the post of SICA secretary general.

We will see if President (Rodrigo) Chaves is ultimately inclined to reward Ortega with such an important position as SICA, without the necessary democratic conditions. Costa Rica is part of a triumvirate, which has just been joined by Ecuador, as well as the Dominican Republic and Panama, which are governments that uphold democratic values ​​throughout the region. But the truth is that it seems that the current Costa Rican president has an ambivalent attitude towards the need to protect, promote and defend democracy in Latin America.

The World Bank approved a $116 million loan to the Nicaraguan government to implement health programs against Covid-19, despite the regime failing to meet any of the basic transparency standards in response to this humanitarian tragedy. And we saw that the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Italy voted against this loan, but there was a majority of countries that approved it.

It is very serious that the World Bank, against the vote of the United States and European nations, has gone ahead with a loan of this type. They usually say that the main reason is that the loan aims to improve the living conditions of Nicaraguans and that the suspension of a loan of this nature does not harm the dictatorship, but rather the people of Nicaragua.

But what is regrettable is that there has not been a sufficiently broad debate, because no one claims that it is not a question of punishing the Nicaraguan people, already severely punished by the crimes of the dictatorship Ortega-Murilllo, but to empower a regime that operates on the basis of corruption and a lack of transparency, because here there is no accountability. That the World Bank gives a blank check, without considering that this system of government is a dictatorship, seems to me to be a serious error.

Relatives of political prisoners demand the opening of El Chipote prison to check the state of health of their family members, victims of isolation and torture for more than a year. But, until today, the regime has not allowed the International Red Cross to enter; and the commission of three independent international experts, appointed by the UN General Assembly, was also rejected. Will this impunity of the regime prevail?

I think so. Ortega is convinced that the decision to prevent any accountability before the international community has no political cost for him.

If the international community does not relaunch a process of strong and concerted pressure on this dictatorship, Ortega will continue to do what he wants without paying any price for his actions.

The only possible way is for governments, like that of Chile, for example, whose president and foreign minister have expressed strong solidarity with the democrats of Nicaragua, to design a process where other democracies, both regional and other parts of the world, are organizing outside the OAS, in order to put pressure on this dictatorship.

You speak of a possible renewal of the democratic demands of President Gabriel Boric, recognizing that the OAS is paralyzed; also, of President-elect Petro, in Colombia, who made very direct statements on this subject. But there are other governments in Latin America, called progressive, like those in Mexico and Argentina, that point completely in another direction. So, how to renew the demand for human rights and democracy?

I think it’s unrealistic to expect anything from the Mexican government. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has shown that his solidarity or appreciation is greater towards dictatorships than towards the victims of dictatorships or towards citizens. Expecting anything from Argentina is unlikely.

I think it’s realistic to expect that the Chilean government can engineer a coalition where hopefully Petro, the new president of Colombia once he takes power, and other countries; but also Europeans, the United States and Canada. It doesn’t have to be a broad coalition of governments. It could be six or seven governments that are deeply committed to the Nicaraguan cause, and that are ready, for example, to send a high-level envoy to negotiate, not only for the political prisoners, but also with the aim of achieving a timetable, in the short term, which will allow the return to democracy in Nicaragua.

You experienced the change of the dictatorship of (Augusto) Pinochet in Chile, in your country, and also of the other dictatorships of the 20e century in South America. What would you say to the Nicaraguans who are today in this state of resistance and who are also beginning to have a kind of despair in the face of the difficulties they are encountering in regaining their freedom, and even more, in accessing truth and justice ?

What you are suffering is something we have experienced in other times in Latin America. These are tough, discouraging times, of great anguish because of the levels of repression, of rights violations, because of the lack of protection. There is no protection. You are totally open to the arbitrary exercise of power; and what we must do is not to lose hope, not to lose faith. Continue to seek ways to unite all who can oppose this brutal and savage regime of Ortega and Murillo and try to survive with peaceful mechanisms of protest or rejection of the regime, reporting and documenting abuses.

It is a complex and difficult task. But what history shows us is that these regimes do not last forever and that circumstances (of change) occur, insofar as there is a civil society which tries to defend its spaces, and a community international solidarity. I hope that soon Nicaragua will find a path that will allow it to achieve institutional normality.

Read more about Nicaragua here on Havana Times

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