Yorlenis, a woman from the rural area around Posoltega in western Nicaragua, began planting on a small patch of land in 2014 because her youngest daughter was seriously underweight. “This way, I managed to get her healthy, and I discovered the importance of growing my own food,” she says.
She now owns a small field she cultivates, in both the wet and dry season. “In the dry season, I use an irrigation system that a local organization working with Oxfam financed,” she explains.
The irrigation system uses a well, from which she draws water with a pair of pedals. “I climb up and pedal, and the water begins to flow into the barrels. From there, I open a little spout that sends the water to some hoses set up in the field. The hoses then begin to drip water onto the plants,” Yorlenis outlines.
Thanks to this method, she can support her family. “I feel proud that I don’t have to spend one peso on food, because I produce it myself.”
This change in her life gives Yorlenis a feeling of empowerment. “From that time on, I abandoned that mentality of depending on someone else. I discovered that I could be self-sufficient,” the young farmer stresses.
Yorlenis says she deeply regrets the closure of NGOs that the Ortega-Murillo regime is carrying out. “They [the regime] say they support the people, but their expulsion of international organizations that have supported us is affecting thousands of families seeking to get out of poverty.”
“They commit one crime after another. They want to rob us of even the opportunity to be economically sustainable, not to rely on any man, to get out of extreme poverty,” she laments.
A hard blow to communities
Since 2018, the Ortega-Murillo regime has stripped 55 organizations of their legal status, and hence their permission to operate. Forty-five of them had their status cancelled in the first eight months of 2021. This year, they’ve particularly targeted medical and women’s organizations, and those working far from the urban centers.
Six of the canceled organizations were based in the US and Europe, like Oxfam Intermon. The closure will impact hundreds of Nicaraguan families who were benefiting from development projects, disaster prevention activities, and projects in support of democratic rights. These projects were being carried out all over the country, but especially in the Caribbean region.
Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam’s regional director for Latin America, stated that the organization benefited 129,705 Nicaraguans in different projects for humanitarian aid, human rights, sustainable agriculture production and environmental protection. To carry out these projects, Oxfam partnered with 56 local NGOs, he noted.
More than half the beneficiaries were women like Yorlenis, since the organization promoted “small and medium farm producers’ initiatives for sustainable agricultural production which allowed them to improve their food and nutritional security, especially in territories affected by climate change and poverty.”
“Women left defenseless”
Another of the canceled organizations is the Oyanka Association of Jalapa Women against Violence. Elgin Morales, who coordinated the NGOs legal and psychological attention, lamented the fact that hundreds of women in the department of Nueva Segovia and even beyond were “left in the cold”.
“It’s a feeling of great sadness. This forced closure now leaves hundreds of women defenseless, because when they experienced machista violence, they came to our offices,” she denounced.
Morales affirmed that they received at least 100 women a day who were facing dangerous situations. “We attended to any woman who came seeking help. Now, unfortunately, there’s no organization left to back these women, at a time when there’ve been some horrendous femicides in Jalapa.”
Since their founding in 1993, this organization has attended 15,000 women victims of violence. The women received legal attention, psychological attention, or physical protection in a shelter. They also worked with 35 rural groups in different communities in the north of the country.
Oyanka’s “Life and Hope” center began functioning in 2006 to provide a space to women who were suffering physical and sexual violence. Morales noted that over 1,000 women with their children were “safeguarded” there.
Now she doesn’t know what will happen with this site, which has been confiscated by the government. Even though their statutes established that it should be donated to an organization carrying out similar work, “there’s no one who can do that”.
The group had already experienced one confiscation in 2014, when all their equipment was stolen to set up a community radio station. “We already had permission to operate, and suddenly they came and took everything. Even today, we don’t know where it all went,” Morales said sadly.
“Civil society is at stake”
For Amaru Ruiz, coordinator of the now-defunct Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development Federation: “What’s at stake here is the right to receive development aid.” He added: “Also at stake is the third fundamental pillar of a democratic state, which is civil society.”
“According to international standards, civil society plays an important role in the social audit process and in the local population’s development. Regrettably, the regime isn’t willing to allow this in the country,” he warned.
The Federation brought together over 20 organizations from all over the country. In 2019, Ortega’s Police raided their center. “It [the closure] was an expected blow. We knew it was a question of time, because the regime wants to get rid of those who have influence in the outer territories,” Ruiz asserted.
Although they had attempted to bring their required documentation to the Interior Ministry several times, the Ministry refused to accept it. They wouldn’t certify the new Board of Directors, which in turn “paralyzed” their certificate of completion, tantamount to government approval to continue operations.
Ruiz recalled that the regime began to view all organizations with ties to the territories where there’d been protests “as enemies”, even prior to April 2018.
“We were working in at least 40 municipalities in the country, elaborating public policies and conducting social audits. Our more than 20 projects benefitted over 200,000 people in vulnerable zones of the country,” Ruiz specified.
“They can’t erase the fruits of our labour” in Nicaragua
The Matagalpa Women’s Collective, whose legal status was ripped away on August 26, published a statement denouncing the arbitrary action. They said the government decision was “based on “legal ruses and lies,” seeking to “impose fear and silence.”
“The fruits of this decades-long work have been planted in the people’s consciences. No National Assembly, no government, can wipe them out, because they belong to the rural women, the children and the youth,” they manifested.
They affirmed that the proof of their work lies in the thousands of women and children who received “comprehensive attention” in their diverse community projects, such as: community centers, revolving loan funds, community libraries, sustainable agriculture projects, rainwater storage, construction of houses, cooperative stores, and creative initiatives in theater, choir, stilt walking, pamphlets, manuals, handbooks, and more.
“We denounce the violation of the right to organization, to justice, to free expression and to the right to live without violence,” they emphasized.
One of the members of this NGO spoke with Confidencial and the online television program Esta Noche. Speaking anonymously for security reasons, she related how the Collective developed, “a series of projects tied to bettering the living conditions of women in every sense of the word (..) in the sense of health care, education, care for the environment, the exercise of rights.”
“This effort for social organization is enormous, because it has deep roots in the work with children, work with teens and youth in all the communities [around Matagalpa], with a broad network of cultural promoters and rural libraries,” she explained.
“There are 17 rural libraries that have been functioning for over 20 years in all of the communities. They’re the only such spaces there are, and they’re spaces that are educational, places of personal formation, where children find a place to exercise their rights and to learn,” she added.