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At the OAS, the voice of the continent condemns Ortega's repression in Nicaragua

Ambassador of Uruguay: “The OAS will not be indifferent to Nicaragua. The exit of a dictatorship is not from one day to the next”

Washington Abdala y Luis Almagro

The president of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Washington Abdala (right), next to the Secretary General of the organization, Luis Almagro, during an activity of the 53rd General Assembly. Photo: EFE/Lenin Nolly

Carlos F. Chamorro

28 de junio 2023

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The president of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Washington Abdala, ambassador of Uruguay to the regional organization, highlights the unanimous vote of 32 nations in the OAS condemning the worsening repression of the dictatorship in Nicaragua. “It is the voice of the continent”, he remarks, “Ortega will be able to do what he considers pertinent, as he has done all this time, in which he has ignored the voice of the continent. It is a gigantic mistake because it is becoming more and more insistent and the voice is increasing in its intensity.”

The diplomat described as “an unequal battle” the democratic claim of the OAS against an autocracy like Nicaragua, where there is no separation of powers and authoritarian violence prevails, but warned that “the breakdown of dictatorships does not happen from one day to the next, but is a gradual process.”


The ambassador said that he does not “lose sleep over” the fact that the Ortega regime will disassociate itself from the OAS in November, “it is a legal fact,” the OAS will not “disengage” from Nicaragua “as long as there is an autocracy” in the continent. 

The OAS Assembly of Foreign Ministers unanimously approved a resolution on the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, condemning the political repression, and demanding the release of prisoners. What made it possible for countries that usually abstain such as Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, and some other Caribbean countries to join the condemnation?

When one looks at the resolution that took shape in the Assembly, there is an explicit statement that in Nicaragua there is a worsening of the political and humanitarian crisis and this is recognized in the document. And then there is an expressed concern about an escalation in the repression. It has been very clearly stated that it has been increasing to a point where it is very intense and very complicated. So, in the face of an escalation of repression, that is to say, in the face of these excesses of autocracy, what should be done is a response that takes this into account and that is objective. That is what happened. The situation in Nicaragua is so bad, it is so aggravated, and you know it as well or more than I do, that there comes a time when it is undeniable and there is no way to avoid addressing this with the seriousness of the case. 

Does the fact that it is adopted unanimously mean that the Ortega dictatorship has no defenders in the OAS and that it is completely isolated politically?

I think the Ortega dictatorship has fewer and fewer defenders. I don't know if it has any defenders left. It is not for me to speak for others, but for the Permanent Council, I am still the chairman of the Permanent Council for a few more days. The resolution is of all the foreign ministers, of all the active members of the OAS. There was a draft resolution that became a resolution, which speaks of the alarm, of the deep concern, and forgive me for being insistent with the diplomatic wording, but it is not minor when one clarifies four times if you urge a government to respect civil, political and religious rights. If you urge that the presence of a commission be respected, if you urge the Government to implement measures to ensure the independence, accountability, and impartiality of the justice system. If you urge a government to refrain from repression, four times you are urging. To the wise, it is obvious. And then, in the end, the resolution puts a specific addendum on the issue of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, saying that it should be left to work and be allowed to continue with the Follow-up Mechanism on the issue of Nicaragua and return to the Permanent Council -which is the active heart of the OAS- to remain attentive to what is happening in Nicaragua. A resolution of such volume is a phenomenal wake-up call. 

Mr. Ortega may do whatever he deems pertinent, as he has done all this time, which the vast majority of the time has ignored the voice of the continent. It is a big mistake. It is a gigantic mistake because it is becoming more and more insistent and the voice is increasing in its intensity. It is what can be done because those are the weapons we have in a multilateral body. Those are the instruments we have.

Brazilian diplomacy presented a draft proposing some changes in the language of the original draft resolution. For example, it proposed to talk about the alleged abuse of human rights. In the end, Brazil adopted this resolution along with all the other countries unanimously. Was there a political negotiation with Brazil?

I confess that there was not. There was an evolution of documents. To arrive at a resolution, each country makes its contributions, generates its own tonalities and the final document is, in a way, a synthesis of thought, as collective as possible. In this construction, everyone tries to contribute. I headed the General Commission that works in the internal lungs of the Assembly, it has no visibility, but it is the one that prepares the documents on democratic strengthening, of the situation in Haiti, this document on Nicaragua was a long time coming. The documents vary in intensity, and we have to try to adapt them to reality. 

I believe that the document that was reached is a good document, but documents are not worthwhile in themselves.  In other words, as diplomacy is not worth in itself, they are worth every rhetorical resource, claim, demand, demand, and in any case, a lofty word, said with a lot of stature, because here it is not a question of raising our voice to anyone. I believe that on the contrary, saying things in the rational tone that they are being said. But if one reads this unanimous resolution of the Assembly of Foreign Ministers of the OAS, of the OAS plenary, well, Mr. Ortega should reflect.

The exit of a dictatorship

Despite this unanimity and the consensus of all nations on the violation of human rights in Nicaragua, the dismantling of democratic institutions, and the repression, it has not been possible for the OAS to apply the violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, why?

There are different opinions on the matter. There are those who maintain that it is convenient to have a hyper-radical position, and there are others who maintain: let us continue building some line of eventual dialogue, and conversation to see if we can find a bridge to a way out. 

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I lived through a dictatorship in my country, Uruguay, a few years ago and the way out of a dictatorship is never simple and there is never a manual for a way out. Each dictatorship has its own characteristics, and its own way of understanding the autocratic, intolerant, violent, totalitarian world. You may say well, but there is a certain similarity between the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Yes, there is a matrix, there was a certain ideology, but each of them had its own way of understanding the exercise of authoritarian violence. Each of them had different paths to democracy. 

What I can tell you is ours, and we had to go through many years to find a zone of understanding, a path of recovery, to find the possibility for people to understand and have the confidence that it was indeed possible to return to democracy. There are moments when in the midst of an authoritarian process, people lose faith, lose confidence, and do not see the light on the way, and in the region, there are several cases where there are people who have the perception that this is becoming very difficult. I am a militant democrat and I always believe that there is a path to follow. It is not easy, it is not easily identifiable. It requires, in addition to the region's support, the willingness, because we are very clear that there is a principle of non-intervention here, that is quite clear. The OAS is a multilateral body, it can only do what it is doing, but it can do it with intensity. And I am a great believer in insistence. So, that is why I was saying that the ways out of the authoritarian processes are their own and the peoples find their own paths according to the situation and the exercise of resistance they are having. 

The president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights says that Nicaragua is in contempt of court because it has refused to comply with the Court's mandate on the release of prisoners. And he says, well, the Court cannot impose this sentence, it is a political matter, that depends on the governments that make up the OAS. What can they do to make the regime comply with this sentence?

Mr. Ricardo Pérez Manrique is the president of the Inter-American Court, and yesterday (Friday) afternoon I was talking, among other issues, about Nicaragua, in a generic way, of course. Governments can do what they are doing, which is to insist, to be concerned, to express their voice, and to be explicit, but there is no way to generate spin, where you do not have the possibility. In this, we have to be very cautious as well. You will say to me: “But I am suffering from a dictatorship.” We agree, but there are areas of cooperation and conciliation that are complex and we cannot enforce a sentence within an autocratic society. When the separation of powers does not rule in the classical, Montesquieu-like manner, as we would like, one observes with phenomenal concern. So, consequently, as the rule of law is being denaturalized in your country, what can be done is what we are doing from the political-institutional drive of a whole continent. 

Ricardo Pérez Manrique, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). Photo: EFE/Lenin Nolly

An unequal battle in Nicaragua 

As of November, the Ortega regime withdraws from the OAS. What will happen? Does the OAS have the means to continue influencing the situation, or will Nicaragua drop off the OAS radar?

I don't see the OAS not worrying about Nicaragua, because it is an issue that worries us a lot. When what has happened with the deportations, the withdrawal of nationality, the exercises of violence, the condemnatory sentences of decades of deprivation of liberty, and the opprobrium of the incarnation of human rights, there comes a moment when one feels violated. You tell me that at the end of this year's period, legally there is a dissociation of the Nicaraguan organization from the organization, it is a legal, formal, procedural fact. That, for example, does not keep me awake at night. Because a multilateral organ has the freedom and the legal and moral obligation, based on the Inter-American Charter, the Charter of Rights, and the principles of the creation of universal rights, to continue reflecting on the autocracies in the continent. I do not feel that it is either legally or morally right to disregard the case of Nicaragua. On the contrary, I believe that if the situation continues to worsen, we must also take a persistent, constant, and insistent stance. To dictatorships, the media exercise hurts them a lot, it bothers them a lot, and they do not like to be told what they are. And well, that is part of the activity that we democrats have. Those of us who feel democracy is the construction of a space of freedom in a rule of law where the key is precisely people's freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of communication. 

We must continue to insist and we must continue to do the J'accuse. I accuse this because this is not the right thing to do and this is the wrong thing to do. And there comes a time when there is one I accuse, two, three, four, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, it is not enough; there comes a time when Europe too. Those are the mechanisms we have, those are the instruments we have. We have a disadvantage with autocracies. Autocracies use violence, we do not. What we do is to speak, to insist, to claim, to petition, to write, to speak. It is an unequal battle.

Following the withdrawal of the Ortega regime from the OAS, who is in charge of following up on this crisis in the Permanent Council itself, apart from the rapporteur for Nicaragua and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights? This resolution was promoted by a group of countries: Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the United States, Antigua and Barbuda. Is this a permanent group on the Nicaraguan crisis?

These are countries that are very committed to the Nicaragua issue, but there are also others that are very committed, and sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it depends on how one can contribute more. Sometimes being outside a text, one can contribute to a negotiation, to try to fight for it. These countries were the driving force and the others, all the rest of us, have been accompanying them. But when there is a decision of the majority, as there was yesterday (Friday), it is the voice of a continent, except for some that are not there, they are very few. 

You can do two things with that: you take the paper, throw it away and pay no attention to it, or you worry. Because if the voice of a continent, plus the reflection in the United Nations, plus a Europe that is always attentive to this kind of thing, that is the objective data, and you will tell me that it is not enough, but it is a little step forward. This is one step at a time. There is no such thing as breaking a dictatorship from one day to the next. This is relatively gradual. In other words, there is no fall of the Berlin Wall for our autocracies, the process is different. That is the reality.

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.

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