Logo de Confidencial Digital




Atmosphere of Fear in Nicaragua's Judiciary Following Wave of Dismissals

Former Judicial Branch official recounts impact of massive sweep and new political power at the service of Rosario Murillo

Corte Suprema de Justicia

Fachada de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Nicaragua. | Foto: Confidencial

Carlos F. Chamorro

15 de noviembre 2023


Two weeks after the purge began in the Judicial Branch, it is estimated that between 900 and 1000 judicial officials and administrative and service personnel --approximately 10% of the total staff of this branch of the State -- have been removed from their positions, agree three former Judicial Branch officials, consulted by CONFIDENCIAL. Before the mass dismissals took place, police intervened at the Administrative Secretariat and the Directorate of Information Technology, and Alba Luz Ramos, President of the Supreme Court, was evicted from her office.

"Emma" is a former official who worked in the Judicial Branch for 18 years and deserted after the first captures and dismissals took place several months ago. She now resides in the United States, from where she gave her testimony on the program Esta Semana, which is censored on national television. "There are offices in which they have swept away all those who worked there, from judges, court clerks, janitors, security guards, everything, and other larger offices have been left quite devoid of personnel", describes "Emma".

The former official confirms that there have been sweeps in the "fiefdoms" of personnel close to magistrates Alba Luz Ramos, Yadira Centeno, Armando Juárez, and Armengol Cuadra, among others, but assures that the sweep is indiscriminate and affects "Sandinista militants, who were loyal to Daniel Ortega and Rosario, who danced "El comandante se queda", and service workers such as janitors, messengers and drivers who were "waiting for their Christmas bonus".

In the coming weeks, ten magistrates are expected to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Justice, to fill the existing vacancies in a power composed of 16 magistrates, meanwhile, "a new fiefdom has been strengthened" that "Emma" associates with Néstor Moncada Lau, the national security advisor of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, "supported by (magistrates) Marvin Aguilar and Juana Méndez, who are empowered in the Judiciary, especially from 2018 onwards".

You worked 18 years in the Judiciary in different areas and responsibilities in the administration of justice, but left your job a few months ago. Why did you resign from your career in the Judiciary?

Because since last year I saw how they were persecuting a series of colleagues, a series of male and female colleagues. Then not only I, but other colleagues began to desert.

Colleagues who were judges, judicial secretaries, even from the administrative staff, when we saw that they were throwing other people out of jail, we made the decision to leave, before we could take on these repressive waves that many colleagues of the Judiciary are suffering now.

But you presented a formal resignation?

None, because I knew that if I resigned they could persecute me or put me in prison, and I could not expose myself or my family. In fact, I knew of a case of a person who submitted her resignation and when the 15 days she had to work after submitting her resignation were approaching, the police started to chase her and she had to leave the country from one day to the next before she was thrown out of jail.

So, in order not to put myself in that risk, one weekend I simply grabbed my children, grabbed my husband, and we left through blind spots and then we had to move to the United States.

Sweep affects Sandinista Supporters

Central Judicial Complex in Managua. | Photo: Confidencial

Three weeks ago a sweep began in the Judicial Branch that included the president of the Court herself, Alba Luz Ramos, who was evicted from her office by the Police. What is the atmosphere in the Judicial Branch at the moment?

I have been in contact with some people who have been calling me and telling me how I managed to get to safety and they tell me how the situation is inside. It is horrible. There is an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty, of persecution. You arrive at the judicial offices and from one day to the next, they confiscate your cell phone, they run you out without prior notice. There are many people who have had their homes raided, their telephones, computers, laptops taken from their homes in the presence of their families, their children. It is an atmosphere of terror and even many judicial offices are becoming almost totally empty. In the case of the municipal courts, the local courts as we call them, there have been offices that have swept away all those who worked there, from court clerks, janitors, security guards, everything, it looks like a ghost town and other larger offices have been left quite devoid of personnel, from judges or judges, to people of lower levels.

These dismissals began in offices that were directly subordinated to the president of the Court in the administrative area, in the IT area, where they were supposedly investigating alleged acts of corruption. But, the dismissals are nationwide and in different areas. What is the scope of this sweep and why?

That is the question we all ask ourselves. But it seems to us that the corruption story was just an excuse, as if to justify this intervention. But in the end everything indicates that there is a group within El Carmen itself that wants to take absolute control of the Judicial Power, which it already had for years.

In fact, everybody knows that the Judicial Power helped Daniel Ortega to return to power. Daniel Ortega had been accumulating power in the judiciary since the 90s. I am a witness to that. It was known from all the structures, what happened is that before appearances were kept. Since 2018, appearances have been lost.

What they want is to have a micro-control of the Judiciary, just as they have in the Executive Branch, in the Electoral Branch. And Daniel Ortega himself is behind all that, of course, with the support of Rosario Murillo, possibly to prepare at some point a dynastic succession to Rosario Murillo herself and her children, but also, in case of another social outbreak, like the one that happened in 2018, they want to have everything at hand to do and undo with the Judiciary, as a stronger repressive mechanism than it is today and that there is absolutely no one who can question, or hesitate when an instruction that is evidently criminal comes down.


Get the most prominent news about Nicaragua, every Wednesday, directly to your inbox.

Who are executing these massive layoffs? It is known that this began with Commissioner General Horacio Rocha, who occupied some of these offices with the police and also evicted Judge Alba Luz Ramos, but now it is known that several judges of the Court itself are involved in this sweep.

Yes, in addition to Commissioner General Rocha, Commissioner General Zhukov Serrano has also been seen operationally in different judicial offices, executing this sweep, who is the new head of intelligence at national level of the Police and, within the Judicial Power, the two magistrates who are operationalizing everything are: Magistrate Marvin Aguilar, who is the political secretary of the Judicial Power since the departure of former magistrate (Rafael) Solís and Dr. Juana Méndez.

Can you estimate how many officials and employees have been dismissed in these three weeks?

The figure is around one thousand officials, there are those who speak of more, but certainly confirmed I have one thousand people who have been dismissed. This is 10% of the total personnel of the Judiciary, which is a lot of people, and among them very poor people. That is to say, security guards, security workers, who were living from day to day, who were only working to survive, who perhaps had their hopes set on the Christmas bonus to solve some debts and now they have been left without a bonus, without a severance payment.

I have even been told of very specific cases of humble people who worked for the Judicial Branch, who have tried to go to the INSS to process their pensions and since they have not been given a letter of discharge from the Judicial Branch, they cannot even have access to their pensions. Plus the judicial officials who had contributed to the Pension Fund of the Judiciary, which has also disappeared.

The "new fiefdom" controlled from El Carmen

How does this sweep affect the functioning of the Judiciary? On the one hand, there is no president and there are only six of the 16 magistrates in office, but, on the other hand, there are several hundred officials, judges, secretaries, assistants who have been dismissed. How does it affect the administration of justice?

Both the jurisdictional and the administrative apparatus are paralyzed, because that is where the sweep began, starting with the president and the administrative secretary general, who were the maximum signatories of checks and funds at the national level. In other words, not even the basic services can be paid, not even the people who provided services or goods to the Judiciary can be paid. The payroll cannot be paid, absolutely nothing can be done from the administrative point of view.

Apart from the fact that most, if not all, of the administrative directors of the Judiciary at the central level and also in many of the agencies have been dismissed. They have dismissed a lot of judges, which has serious implications for the population. Because the criminal judges, for example, who had already carried out trials under the principle of immediacy, had already evacuated the evidence, should be the same ones who would dictate the final judgment in a criminal case. Now, under the same principle of immediacy, all those trials are going to have to be done again with the new judges, who will be appointed at some point, and new resolutions will have to be issued, because otherwise those resolutions would be absolutely null and void.

This means a great delay in the access to justice, a great delay in all the judicial processes and obviously this has an impact on the victims, on the children who were seeking their alimony, who had cases for breach of alimony duties. This affects the population in general, beyond the more than one thousand cases in the Judicial Power at a national level.

You said that this is also the result of a political decision executed from El Carmen, behind which are Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. But how does it affect the structure that existed in the Court, the fiefdoms that each of the magistrates managed in different zones, territories?

The information I have is that relatives of all the magistrates have been removed. There is much mention of all the relatives that have been removed from Dr. Ramos and indeed there was a niece who was a magistrate, there were relatives who were judges, court clerks, but the same happened with all the other magistrates. Relatives of Judge (Yadira) Centeno, Judge (Armengol) Cuadra, Judge (Armando) Juárez, all of them have had their relatives and acquaintances removed.

All these fiefdoms have been dethroned. But beyond that, they have affected many people who were even Sandinista militants, who were loyal to Daniel and Rosario, who danced "El comandante se queda", who were the first to go out to the marches, who were there raising the masses. All of them have been swept away.

What has become clear is that no matter how loyal, how fanatical you are to the Ortega-Murillo, the day they want to throw you away they will throw you away without any consideration, without any consideration and they will pass over all your rights.

The new fiefdom that has been strengthening for several years, which everyone knows, is that of Néstor Moncada, supported by Marvin Aguilar, by Juana Méndez, who have been empowered in the Judiciary for many years now, especially from 2018 onwards.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


Your contribution allows us to report from exile.

The dictatorship forced us to leave Nicaragua and intends to censor us. Your financial contribution guarantees our coverage on a free, open website, without paywalls.

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.