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A Funeral for Justice in Nicaragua

The illegal release of more than eight thousand prisoners, represents the last shovel of dirt to the claims of justice in Nicaragua

The illegal release of more than eight thousand prisoners

Sofía Montenegro

1 de marzo 2016


I believe it was Sophocles who said: “A State where disrespect and the freedom to do anything are left unpunished, ends by sinking into the abyss.” Last Monday’s confirmation that the opaque and autocratic government of the Ortega-Murillo couple has been quietly arranging the illegal release of over 8,000 prisoners, represents the last shovelful of earth over our judicial power and the aspirations for justice in Nicaragua.

During her customary midday harangue, co-president Rosario Murillo slid over this very serious event as if it were nothing. “Under the Family Life regulations, procedures have been established to free all those condemned for minor offenses whose sentences are equal to or less than five years in prison. All this is being done within the framework of a Humanitarian Policy for the reconciliation and unity of Nicaraguan families in strict adherence to the Constitution and the Penal Laws of the Republic.”

However, this isn’t the case; rather, according to the experts all normal proceedings have been violated. Under the law, the government should solicit a pardon or amnesty and analyze each case to provide a clear list of beneficiaries and then request the approval of the National Assembly.

This arbitrary decision is particularly damaging to women, since it marks the end of the applicability of Law #779, the Law against Violence to Women. This law had already been undercut by the reforms imposed by another of Ortega’s illegal rulings, which reduced the crime of femicide to the scope of the couple and opened up a process of “mediation” for crimes of violence against women. Now in addition, there won’t be any sanction for fathers who fail to pay child support. What’s more, the Women’s and Children’s Division of the Police no longer exist, at the same time that the judges are going to stop doing what the law establishes and the police aren’t going to follow through on the arrest warrants. As the change played out, the splendid magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice clarified to the lower judges that “it was a higher order that must be applied, whether or not you agree with it.”

With this illegal prisoner release, Ortega’s regime kills several birds with one stone: rendering violence and its victims invisible, thus “improving” the “security” indicators; alleviating overcrowding in the jails to leave room for future prisoners jailed for political reasons; leaving judges and police free to pursue their adversaries in place of delinquents; reducing expenses in the penal system; and gaining a new force of “grateful” prisoners who should then be at the regime’s disposition.

Moreover, with a stroke of the pen they have erased any recognition or obligation to the rights of victims, defined by UN resolution 40/34 as “those people who individually or collectively have suffered harm, including physical or mental wounds, emotional suffering, financial loss or any substantial drop in fundamental rights as a consequence of actions or omissions that violate the penal laws in effect in the Member States, including that forbidding the abuse of power.” With this, the Ortega regime turns a blind eye to the victims’ right to justice and fair treatment, to compensation, indemnification and assistance. Worse yet, they and all Nicaraguan have themselves become victims of the abuse of power.

The forerunners to what this portends are beyond shameful, including the unbelievable reduction in sentence given to the rapist Farinton Reyes whose “extenuating circumstance” was that he was drunk, or the more recent denial of justice, compensation and indemnification to Yelka Ramirez, a victim of the massacre in Las Jaguitas, whose perpetrators will surely end up beneficiaries since they received minimum sentences. In other words, even if they rob us, beat us, rape us or kill us, the guilty will not be pursued. It’s doubtful that judges and police will dedicate themselves to doing so if they know that the law is worth nothing and that at the end of the day the guilty will be freed by order of “Ortega and his partner.”

For women, the “instructions” that Ortega sent to the judges who specialize in cases of violence are devastating: some three hundred prisoners condemned for psychological violence, property damage, intimidation or threats among other “less serious” offenses will be set at liberty (or are already free) in the name of family coexistence.

All of this represents an incentive to crime, considering that rapists of women and children, irresponsible fathers and perpetrators of femicide will be left unpunished, able to escape investigation, detention or criminal processing; or, as a last resort they can expect to be freed by orders from the presidential duo. All of them, together with Ortega-Murillo will laugh in the face of the women when they demand justice for themselves and their children.

The principal mechanism that society counts on to deter offenders is an efficient penal system. Because of that, the level of trust that citizens have in the effectiveness, honesty and impartiality of its functionaries is also the best measure of their trust in justice.

This latest ruling from Ortega has left that trust level at zero, and this will surely have dangerous effects on society’s behavior. The government’s complicity with the wrongdoers and the insecurity and risk to the victims represents an invitation to take the reins of justice into one’s own hands. If there’s no longer even a place to denounce abusers and rapists, nor police who will detain them, nor a judge who will condemn them – will the deaths of perpetrators at the hands of the women or their family members increase? Will groups of “avengers” appear to target the offenders? Time and the increase in tragedies and scandals will tell.

Cartoonist PXMolina has portrayed very clearly the dramatic situation that Nicaragua is going through with this illegal pardon: Ortega’s most important and only prisoners are democracy, transparency, the elections and justice. Disrespect for the law, plus the “Comandante’s” absolute power have already sunk us into the abyss that Sophocles warned of. Today that we hold a funeral for justice, it’s time to get ourselves definitively out of it.


This article has been translated from Spanish by Havana Times

Read the original version here

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Sofía Montenegro

Sofía Montenegro