A 50-second video of an armed group loyal to Daniel Ortega during military and tactical combat training, began circulating over the weekend on social networks. It fueled the national demand to disarm the paramilitary groups accused of repressing the population since 2018. Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Army says “categorically” that they are “police.”
A group of armed men and women, wearing combat uniform, shout slogans in chorus at a political indoctrination session at an unidentified training camp. The exact date the filming was made is not known either, but what they shout out is the following:
“We are Daniel, builders of peace! This 2021, 42 years later, we will continue defending our right to a revolution with Commander Daniel and comrade Rosario Murillo.”
“Always loyal!” says the leader to the group.
“Never traitors!,” they respond.
“For those dead, we swear to defend the revolution!”
“Long live Commander Daniel Ortega and comrade Rosario Murillo!” says the leader.
“Long live, long live,” they repeat.
“Without the participation of women,” a female intervenes.
“There is no revolution!” responds the group.
Over the weekend, former guerrilla commander Dora María Tellez, a critic of Ortega, describes the high command, headed by General Julio César Aviles, commander-in chief of the armed forces, as “undignified and servile.” She holds them responsible for the training carried out, presumably at the El Papalonal military shooting range, located 52 kilometers northeast of Managua, in La Paz Center. A site from where you can see the Momotombo volcano.
“This is an undignified and servile command that forces the soldiers to respond to Ortega slogans in the Papalonal maneuvers. The video speaks for itself,” said Tellez in her Twitter account.
The opposition leader said on Monday, before the military statement became known, that the Armed Forces are the ones to answer whether they are officers or paramilitaries.
Army denies existence of paramilitary
The Police have not responded to a query made by Confidencial about the content of the video. We asked where this military training is taking place, the activities of these apparently irregular groups, and the identification of their leaders. The Army, on the other hand, through the chief of the public relations office, Coronel Alvaro Rivas, categorically denied that they were his troops. “They are from the National Police,” he said.
“There are irresponsible and unscrupulous people, who slander and disclose information without consulting about it,” Rivas complained.
On July 2, 2018, when the third month of state repression against opponents began, which left 328 murdered, 2,000 injured and 100,000 exiles, thirteen civil society organizations asked Aviles in a formal letter to disarm the paramilitaries, whom they described as “an occupation army.” They reminded him that article 95 of the Constitution establishes that “there can be no more armed forces in the national territory than those established by law.”
On April 26, Rivas denied their existence. “In Nicaragua there are no paramilitaries. We reiterate that the personnel seen in said video are members of the National Police. The Nicaraguan Army is an institution whose actions are based on what is established in the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Nicaragua,” said the military chief.
According to the report of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, which investigated the human rights abuses in the country between April 18 and May 30, 2018, the irregular armed groups in the repression had the “acquiescence, tolerance and collaboration” of State authorities, mainly the Police, whose leadership they denounced for committing crimes against humanity.
Although the security expert, Roberto Cajina, rejects that the military forces have any legal mandate to disarm the irregular groups, he explains that he received information that in the weekend video those who participate are policemen receiving military training. For him, the questions asked during the filming correspond to “military tactical” training. However, he has several doubts about the type of uniform, the color, the faces of the protagonists, since it was done from far away.
Aggressive offensive in electoral year
“In any case, the regime is preparing to maintain its aggressive offensive because we are in an electoral year. That is, all the restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly demonstrate the lack of willingness to hold elections as they are normally done,” said the specialist.
Cajina explained, on the issue of military participation in the April 2018 crisis, they can only do so in serious disorders at the request of the Police and with the authorization of Ortega, which is not going to happen. [Referring to the paramilitary] “That would mean the regime disarming itself. The Constitution does not say anything to the Army about that or the law. There is a constitutional and legal limitation for it to act. It cannot just do it. It must be requested, because there is no other option. The regime is not going to request it, nor are the Police,” he emphasized.
Since the crisis erupted in April 2018, the Nicaraguan command has resisted disarming irregular groups, despite the criticism from civil society and the international community.
On several occasions, the military institution has officially denied its participation in the repression. On May 22, 2020, when the United States sanctioned Aviles, the then Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, identified him as “the Commander-in-Chief of the Nicaraguan Army, who provided support to the Police and the paramilitary gangs that committed crimes against the Nicaraguan people, including attacks against protestors during the mobilizations that began in April 2018.”
Recently the former magistrate of the Supreme Court, Rafael Solis, a former member of Ortega’s inner circle who went into exile in Costa Rica in 2019 after publicly distancing himself from the Sandinista ruler, said that the weapons used in the repression gave “the perception that they were from the Army. That is an exceedingly difficult thing to deny.”
Coinciding with military maneuvers at “El Papalonal”
Sociologist Elvira Cuadra, a researcher on security issues, demanded an explanation from the military, after the site denounced by opponents coincided with the location of some maneuvers recently carried out by the military forces.
According to the press release 049/2021, between April 21 and 23, between nine o’clock at night and four in the morning, a movement of troops and military equipment was carried out from the departments of Madriz, Estelí, Chinandega, León and Managua to the National Shooting Range for Maneuvers located in the El Papalonal region.
“What (the video) shows is a clear bias in case that these troops were military, or of those people that do not comply with what the law establishes in the sense that the Army has to be non-partisan,” said Cuadra.
The expert said that if it has to do with paramilitary groups, the questioning made by the citizens in relation to the lack of action of the Army to control and disarm those groups is put on the table again. “There is a clear evidence of an activity that is being carried out and the institution should take action on the matter. We must demand an answer to this,” she insisted.
FSLN seeks to intimidate the population
Retired general Hugo Torres, also a critic of Ortega, said it is noteworthy that different training sessions have been given to paramilitaries since 2018. He notes that Ortega has sought to improve their training in tactical elements, in the use of various weapons, to act against the population, if necessary.
In November 2018, the direct participation of the Police in a course called “Police Military Tactical Intensive Training” was disclosed in the local press. When the second chief of the Managua Police, High Commissioner Fernando Borge, took the floor, he told 36 officers who participated in the training that they would defend “the tranquility” that the country was experiencing, coinciding with the discourse of the ruling party.
“They (the FSLN) themselves have given themselves the task of disseminating those videos with three objectives. One is to boost the morale of their followers. Two: try to intimidate the population and, to persuade people not to dare to rebel again against the regime. In the context of the elections, they have another purpose: try to discourage the population from participating in electoral campaigns of the opposition and from participating in the elections themselves,” said Torres.
Torres said the paramilitary groups are an “expression of organized crime from the State,” which makes their disarmament a priority, a public demand since 2018. “The actions of these groups are a danger to peace and the stability of the country. The disarmament of these groups is urgent,” said the retired military officer, who believes they could even be a destabilizing element for the region.”