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Arturo McFields: "I am the proof that there are many more, do not lose hope"

Ambassador denounces cruelty against political prisoners and tells public servants: “lose your fear”

Ambassador McFields denounces cruelty against political prisoners and tells public servants: “lose your fear”

Carlos F. Chamorro

28 de marzo 2022


The word “cruelty” is repeated several times when the ambassador to the OAS, Arturo McFields, tries to explain the reasons for his break with the Ortega Murillo dictatorship. 

The father of a five-year-old girl cried when he learned that political prisoner Tamara Davila, isolated in the Chipote prison for nine months, faces a ban that prevents her from seeing her daughter of the same age. And on the day when retired General Hugo Torres died as a political prisoner, he exclaimed “I told you so, I told you so”, recalling the failed proposal he made at the Foreign Ministry to free 20 political prisoners.

“One thing is politics and another thing is cruelty,” which cannot be justified by any ideology, insists McFields, a public official in the Nicaraguan embassies in Washington and the OAS since 2011, until his surprising denunciation on Tuesday, March 23, against the regime he defended in international forums, during his five months as ambassador to the OAS.

In a wide-ranging interview with the television program Esta Noche, the journalist and diplomat defended his condition as a public servant, and addressing the State workers he said: “I am the proof that there are many more, do not lose hope, lose your fear”. 

The statement you read this morning, as the Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS Permanent Council, denouncing the atrocities of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, has caused a huge surprise in Nicaragua, within the regime, and in the international community. How many people knew about your decision to publicly break with the regime today? 

Only my wife. I wish I could tell you something else, but only my wife and my five-year-old daughter. It was a hard but necessary decision. I feel free, I feel that my chains have been removed. Today, I was a child. It has been more than 30 years since the Sapoá (agreement, March 1988), those talks that began to unleash a peace process, and we are close to the month of April. This statement was my offering to those who gave their lives.

Cruelty to political prisoners

Why did you decide to make this statement at the Permanent Council today and not before, in other forums that were held at the OAS, special ones on Nicaragua, or in the General Assembly itself? 

This is something that has plagued me internally for a long time. I have been dealing with it, but it is a family decision. At the end of the day, the point is not: Arturo gave such a nice speech! I have family in Nicaragua, I have my brothers, which is better not to mention. And you and I know that the regime does not go around handing out candy: it sends people to jail.  And it’s not just about jail, it’s the inhuman manner in which they are kept in jail. The famous Mandela principles do not exist. 

I am going to tell you something, I cried when I heard the testimony of this girl who has a five-year-old child and has not been able to see her. My little girl is five years old, and I cried.  Because I thought, I am here, comfortably in the United States, I kiss my daughter, I pray with her, and this young woman is rotting in jail. Her name is (Tamara) Davila. Tamara Dávila has a little girl the same age and she has spent nine months without being able to see her, without being able to hug her. There comes a time when ideology is not enough to cover so many things. You can argue political, electoral, diplomatic issues. But how can you argue that a mother does not see her daughter? That cannot be argued with ideology or rhetoric.

That hurt me very much. I was very hurt about Miguel. Miguel studied at Loyola, I studied at Loyola; and he studied at UCA, I studied at UCA. I was hurt about Cristiana, your sister; Pedro Joaquín, your brother. 

Imagine, Pedro Joaquín in prison. Your sister may have been in the spotlight because of the role of journalism, but when I saw your brother, immediately in prison, just because for a moment he said that maybe he would consider entering the electoral race! Another trigger was the people that I know, Don José Adán Aguerri, who was at my wedding, he hugged my wife, he hugged me. José Adán Aguerri had the same thing as me, he believed in the project that was being proposed by the Government, businessmen, and workers, he sincerely believed in it. But, one thing is politics and another thing is cruelty.

You are describing events that occurred even before you accepted to be the ambassador of the Government of Nicaragua to the OAS. In your statement, you speak and denounce the regime for more than 350 murders that remain unpunished, more than 170 political prisoners. But all this had already happened before you accepted to be ambassador to the OAS in November. Why?

The point is how far the lies and truths go. (Those who work) in the Government we live in a bubble, we are told that these things never existed, that it’s a product of the empire, a product of the CIA, of the media, that they never existed. And there comes a time when, after a lie is repeated so many times, you don’t believe it, because I never believed it, I questioned it, I have to say. 

You were a diplomat at the Nicaraguan mission in Washington, worked as press attaché for more than seven years, and then minister-counselor at the OAS, until last year when you were appointed ambassador plenipotentiary on the eve of what happened on November 7. Who appointed you ambassador and why? 

The Government of Nicaragua appointed me as ambassador. The President of the Republic is the one who makes the appointments to be an ambassador; in the case of the other positions, it is the Chancellor. When I was appointed press attaché it was Mr. Samuel Santos; when I was appointed first secretary it was Mr. Denis Moncada, and later, in the minister's post it was also Mr. Denis. But in the case of ambassadors, it’s a decision of the president. And I tell you, I always believed that changes could happen from within.

I thought, okay,  if I leave, what will change? Being inside I can help, and I tried, I tried. But as I said in the speech, the problem in government is not that people don't talk, it's that people don't listen. I remember one occasion I was asked if I was the ambassador of Nicaragua or the ambassador of Almagro. And many, many quite difficult situations in which I thought if I at least help free ten people. There were some talks with Almagro in which something was being attempted at a certain point, for Christmas without prisoners, there was a movement, an effort with the OAS, but it was not achieved. I had hopes, but they were not achieved. 

It is not easy to break the silence

In your statement, you say, forcefully, that "there are no credible elections in Nicaragua". But when you were the ambassador of the Government at the OAS on November 10, you said: in Nicaragua, the vote was free, free of pressure, free of blackmail, free of interference, free of sanctions. Is that a speech of Arturo McFields or of the Foreign Ministry? What has changed from November 10 to today?

I had to do it or else I would be fired, and once I arrived in Nicaragua my passport would be taken away, and if I kept on talking more, a presidential suite would be arranged for me at the Chipote.

It is complicated, Carlos Fernando, people think it is very easy to work for the Government, people think it is a walk in the clouds. It is not. The psychological warfare being inside is more difficult than you think.  There are people who have resigned five times from their position, then they come back, then they regret it because they have a tremendous moral and spiritual conflict, it is a very big spiritual struggle.

I think it is important to break the silence, and it is not easy to break the silence. My pay was not bad, my wife works well, we were rounding off an income. So why do you do it now? Because if I don’t do it now, when will I do it? Because if I don't do it while I am an ambassador, when will I do it? When I am no longer in office?

It is now, from this position you have, that you can speak the truth to the powerful. When I was Minister-Counselor I did not talk to Rosario, when I was Secretary I did not talk to the Chancellor, I never talked to them. It is only when you are an ambassador that you have the opportunity to speak the truth to those in power, those are the only spaces in which you have the opportunity.

In your statement, you explain that there was a meeting you participated in, in the Chancellery, with presidential advisors, in which you proposed that the Government release 20 elderly political prisoners and that this proposal was rejected. Why? What is the regime's argument for keeping political prisoners in such cruel and torturous conditions in jail?

You said a keyword: cruelty. We were coming from a beating in the Permanent Council, and we were summoned to this meeting. I said, this meeting is to evaluate, analyze, regroup and see what we are going to do, what we can improve; maybe we make some concessions, release some prisoners; see what we can do to improve politically, diplomatically. 

And I said, I am going to plan something, I am going to bring a proposal. And I brought my proposal. We discussed it with the family, he told me to tone it down a little bit because it seems that I am the lawyer of the political prisoners. And I told them: we can free some 20 political prisoners who are in deplorable conditions, among them the late, national hero, Hugo Torres. And I don't like to say “I told you so”, but the day he passed away I said, - I told you so, I told you so. 

I told them in October.  In October I told them: please, let's free around twenty,  those who are most mistreated, those who have fungus, those who have covid, let's free those who are about to go to the hospital, who don't even know what day it is today. Let us free them. It will be a humanitarian gesture, politically intelligent, and at the same time, we open a space to decompress the pressure on Nicaragua. Thinking, then, that we could do a little diplomacy.  Because during the time I have worked for the State, I took advantage of the opportunity to study international relations, so that is what they teach you in the academy. They teach you negotiation, to give in a little, to dialogue, to decompress, on the one hand, to look for alternatives to oxygenate the situation on the other; but there was no interest in that.

What was the answer? Who made that decision in that deliberation?

I cannot identify them, I do not want to affect them. But I was told: look, in the report of this meeting, we are not going to include what you have just said because you know very well what can happen to you. And, apart from that, remember something, that when you’re dealing with the right, first you release one, then you release ten, and then you release all of them. We better pretend that this comment did not exist, it does not remain in the memory of this meeting.

So I tried because I said to them: you have this experience, but well, I am not going to go into details because I do not want to get anyone into trouble, but I appealed to the wisdom of people who are older than me, and who perhaps have been through wars, and who, perhaps because of the things they have lived through, know how to negotiate. But this is not a problem of knowledge, it’s a problem of will, and there is very little one can do against that. I have nothing personal against anyone, but I believe that when there are human lives rotting in prison, we cannot play politics.

What impact did the death of the retired general and political prisoner Hugo Torres, in a hospital under police custody, have on public officials, with whom you had this conversation and others? The Government did not say anything about the death of Hugo Torres, nor did the Army, there was absolutely no pronouncement; except for a communiqué from the Public Prosecutor's Office that even changed until the day the political prisoner Hugo Torres died.

This subject is not talked about within the Government. I do not know the reason. With that proposal I made, I was afraid when I suggested freeing the prisoners because I thought, now they are going to keep an eye on me, they’re going to keep a register on me. I was afraid, but after what happened with Hugo Torres, the slogan was: do not talk about it anymore, because it is too sensitive a subject, too sensitive, and there is no ideology with which you can argue the death of a national hero. He is a national hero.

Public servants

In your statement, you say that you speak for thousands of public servants, civilian and military, who are forced to repeat slogans in order to keep a job. What is the climate, the state of mind of the public employees, of the workers who are in the different ministries or even in the Police and the Army, about this situation you are describing?

I believe that there are people who have not lost their humanistic vocation, I am referring to the humble policeman who is in jail and who passes a New Testament to someone or who says -I am going to read the Bible to you today-,  those gestures of humanity are there; or the secretary who says: I am passing you the Covid-19 report, these are the real results; even some ministers and high officials who ask for their passports. It is complicated to talk about all these issues.

But the humanity of the people is there, in spite of the pressures, in spite of the difficulties, there is a seed of tiredness, there is a seed of change, I believe that hope has not died in Nicaragua. People experienced democracy when your mother became president (Violeta Barrios de Chamorro), and they liked it, and those who live in democracy do not want to go back. People remember what it means to live in a democracy, what it means to have freedom of expression, university autonomy. Do you think people have forgotten what university autonomy, municipal autonomy means? People know that these things existed.

You say that people are tired. You talk about inside and outside, and that more people are going to say enough is enough. What impact do you expect from this statement of yours, this gesture, this fact that has had such an impact today?

There is a doctrine called to kill the messenger. So, I believe that many people will insult me and speak ill of me; but, many other people will say, go ahead, I encourage you. And I encourage the thousands and thousands who have the desire for hope to return to Nicaragua. It is not hatred against the government, it is just the desire to live in freedom, that people can speak freely, give their opinion, to say I like this political candidate, even if he is a madman, he’s the one I like, and have the freedom to vote. There is nothing better than going to vote, and feeling for a few moments that your vote is worth something, that is one of the most beautiful things. Someone who has experienced that, never forgets it. And people in Nicaragua have not forgotten how nice it is to go to vote, people have not forgotten how nice freedom of expression is.

Today we learned about the resignation of two daughters of Congressman Wálmaro Gutiérrez from the diplomatic service. I do not know if this is a mere coincidence with your statement this morning at the OAS, if it is known what the reasons are and if there are, perhaps, other decisions of public officials in the Government, in the spirit of what you stated today.

Some have said it in a low voice because they may have some property, some hacienda, some farm, some car, some mansions, so in order to protect those mansions, those properties, they leave the Government quietly. 

An enormous amount of people have left the Government quietly, quietly, in a low voice. But I have nothing for them to confiscate, the only thing they could confiscate is the desire to want a free country, but I don't think they can.

You said this morning that this is a decision you are making with fear. Do you have any protection? Have you requested any protection from the OAS, from the U.S. Government?

I don't know, I don't know how that works, but the IACHR contacted me, the Panamanian lady who is the rapporteur for Nicaragua (Esmeralda de Troitiño), and we are looking into it.

There are things that I cannot say for my own safety, but I felt that there was support from the member states, as you could see in today’s session. And I believe that there is an even greater support, which transcends borders, and that is the power of God. And as I said in my speech, God sometimes takes time, and it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But I am the proof that there are many more. Do not lose hope, I say to you who are there, to you who have a political prisoner with scabies, with covid, with kidney disease, do not lose hope.  Even in prison, there are people who pass them a piece of bread, there are people who read the Bible. Do not lose hope, that is the only thing I can tell you. God is good. God does not delay. And God loves Nicaragua very much. If once he brought hope to Nicaragua, I know he can do it. I am speaking from the hope that there are many of us; and not with hatred, but with the desire to see those prisoners released, Cristiana Chamorro, Miguel Mora, José Adán Aguerri, the husband of Berta Valle (Félix Maradiaga), so many. 

And I am going to tell you something, everybody talks about 177 (political prisoners), but there are other names that neither you nor I know, so we have to be careful with the number 177 because there are many more that we do not know of.

You said a moment ago that for these changes to take place, it is a matter of will. We all know that this government for which you have been working all these years, or this dictatorship, as you have called it, is centralized in two people, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. How do you see the future of Nicaragua, Can that hope, that way out, be achieved with Ortega and Murillo in power or with Ortega and Murillo out of power?

I believe that hope is built with the people. The bearers of freedom are those who are in jail, the moral reserve of Nicaragua are those people who are rotting in jail. They are the bearers of that hope; the officials who are working there, and who help in one way or another. You have no idea, that the people of the Government, there are many people who say, look, I cannot talk but I am going to help you with this, I am going to pass this to you; look, I am going to send your picture to the prisoner, I am going to send an audio message. People feel compassion for those who are imprisoned, and those who are imprisoned are the ones who have the seed of freedom. They are the hope of Nicaragua. 

The Government's press release says: Arturo McFields does not represent the Government, it is Ambassador Campbell, so I do not know if that means that the Government is discrediting you within the OAS, it is dismissing you.

They have to do all the formal procedures for that to be valid, that is, a document is sent and must also be published in the Gazette. They cannot say he is dismissed just like that. An appointment has to be made, published in the Gazette, and the document that is published in the Gazette, is taken to the OAS protocol office; without an official document published in the Gazette, I don't know how much weight a press release has.

What would you say to other people in the public service, public servants, civilians, and military, who are facing the same dilemmas you have had throughout all these months, about the decision you made?

I would tell them not to lose hope, lose fear. Do not lose hope, lose fear. I said it clearly, I am not Superman, I am afraid, and I was afraid when I read those words. They said all sorts of things to me. And they told me, neither those on this side nor those on that side are going to love you. I don't care, I will love myself, my wife will love me, my daughter will love me, and I will be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning and say: I am fine, I have peace with God, I have peace with myself. Nobody can give me that.

I invite those in the Government not to lose hope, lose your fear.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff



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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.