On September 27, four Nicaraguan citizens – Julio Martinez Ellsberg, George Henriquez, Manuel Orozco and Ligia Gomez – appeared before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. The session was held in Washington, presided over by democrat James P, McGovern, a congressman from Massachusetts.
The written testimony of economist Ligia Gomez, former manager of Economic Investigations for the Nicaraguan Central Bank, was disclosed for the first time on November 15. In it, she revealed that during the four years that she served as political secretary for the Sandinista Leadership Council at that state institution she received orders from Rosario Murillo via Fidel Moreno [the secretary general of Managua City Hall], and also from Bank President Ovidio Reyes.
In this interview with Confidencial, held via Skype from the United States, the former FLSN secretary at the Central Bank expands on her testimony with documents and first-hand information. She also explains how the repressive State-Party machinery, under orders from Rosario Murillo, reacted during the first days of the April rebellion.
Why did you decide to present this testimony to the United States Congress? What relevance does your word as former public functionary and as ex-political secretary of the FSLN in the Central Bank have?
Several things were fundamental in this: first, to be able to present the reality of our country as witnessed by a person like myself, who was directly involved in political management within a state institution. As such, I could tell them how the party apparatus functions, how everything has developed in this process that Nicaragua is suffering. My greatest interest is to have some political influence on the decision-makers who can help us untangle the situation that the country is going through. The other reason is that I feel I have a debt to pay for having participated as a supporter of the government. I feel that I have a debt to pay to the young people who’ve been killed and to the political prisoners who are currently in jail. I feel obligated to do something to achieve what we all want: justice, democracy and a future for our children.
Ortega’s party controls the Nicaraguan Central Bank
You were the FSLN political secretary in the Sandinista Leadership Committee of the Bank for six years. As political secretary, what kind of mandate did you have in the Central Bank?
As political secretary, I received direct orders from Fidel Moreno, but these were previously approved and authorized by the superior authority, in this case was Ovidio Reyes, the bank’s president. The work of a political secretary consists in mobilizing the employees around the party tasks and transmitting the orientations that we received from Fidel Moreno, orientations that originated with Rosario Murillo. These orientations were practically read verbatim during the meetings or they were given us as bulletins. The other task was to guarantee the logistics for these activities.
Are the party mobilizations of the public employees voluntary, or do the employees receive some economic remuneration for participating?
They’re voluntary, but, yes, the participants receive economic remuneration. For each time an employee participated, they were given 400 cordobas (approximately US $12.50); however, those stipends would be left to accumulate. There’d be a report at mid-year, and at the end of the year they’d be paid out.
After April 18: “We’re going in with everything”
In your testimony before the Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives, you said that you passed by the Camino de Oriente in Managua when the protesters were first beginning to gather and saw what was happening. Were you a witness to the repression?
I live close by that sector, so I was going by to get ice cream for my daughters at the POPS ice cream store. The youth that were there to protest were also eating ice cream there. There weren’t a lot of them, only a few. To my horror, I learned that just as I was arriving home, the protestors were being beaten up. So, I didn’t see the beatings, but it all happened nearly at once. It gave me a huge scare, and after that the tension began to accumulate.
The president of the Central Bank called me to ask what on earth was happening. I told him: “the people protested for this, but the repression was out of proportion.” [Then I said] “You who can speak with them, please, talk to them because you’re in a position where they might listen.” But he only insisted on asking me: “What orientations did you receive from Fidel Moreno?”
The directions that we did receive from him came during the meeting that was held the next day. They were: “We’re going in with everything we’ve got, we’re not going to let them steal the revolution from us.” And that “going with everything”, really meant everything,
So, then he said, “Okay, there’s nothing more to discuss. I have nothing more to say. We just have to carry out the orders.” And he told us that we should make a list of the people who were expressing negative opinions against what was happening, or opinions against the government, and we should pass the list to him because he had no problem working with fewer employees.
Did you pass him a list of people in the Bank who didn’t support the repression?
No, I didn’t give it to him, and of course I would have been the first one on the list. At that moment, my ethical and moral dilemma began. It’s one thing to support activities like going house to house to work on eliminating mosquitos; such work may be politically motivated, but I don’t consider it work that went against my moral principles. However, it was something else when this kind of repression began to happen. I reached my limit regarding what I could allow or not.
That emergency meeting with Fidel Moreno on April 19 that you mention: Where was it held, and who else was present?
The first one was in the [auditorium of the] Japanese Park, and the second was in the Miguel Larreynaga [auditorium at Managua city hall]. At the second meeting, Lumberto Campbell [magistrate who is vice president of the Supreme Electoral Council] was present. He showed us a video where they said that they were proving to us that everything that we were seeing [on the news] was a montage, that none of these things really existed. That we should tell our family members and all the workers that they should only watch the official channels, that everything we were seeing was pure theater. Lumberto Campbell, who was asking us to do that, said that he was even asking his wife to stop watching, because she was driving him crazy with the questions she asked him. He claimed that he told her: “Ok, are you going to believe us or what?”
That second meeting took place after the weekend of April 21-22, in other words on Monday the 23rd. Did the party structure that met view the 20 deaths that had taken place and that huge peaceful march towards the Upoli as an armed rebellion against the government, or a massacre of the population?
The first thing that they did was to get us all into line: as a party functionary, first you receive what you should accept as the response. In this case, the response came from a meeting that Rosario Murillo had held with the ministers. Then Ovidio Reyes arrives, and he repeats it. And what was the argument? There’s nothing happening here, the power structure is totally secure, and you all should remain calm. That there’d been just a small mistake made, of having touched some young and elderly people, which we know shouldn’t be done. But the opposition is totally divided, there’s no opposition, no one has a Daniel Ortega like we do, so that the power will be with us for a long time.
What’s more, in the managers’ meetings Ovidio was already openly supporting the repression. At that point, it all formed part of that moral and ethical problem we were experiencing – not only myself, but probably many colleagues who are still working within.
The failed taking of Managua on April 20
There’s an e-mail dated Friday, April 20, in which the national direction of the FSLN with Rosario Murillo at the head orders the takeover of 61 strategic points in Managua including all the districts of the capital for an indefinite period of time. Nonetheless, what occurred on that day was a spontaneous rebellion of the population. Were the FSLN structures unable to take those 61 sites at that time?
Yes, that’s right. We tried to do so. I tried to follow orders. We were dispatched to the Suburbana Road.
When you say “we”, who are you referring to?
To the Sandinista Leadership Council. At that time in the Central Bank we established a schedule where two groups would go from Friday on, another two on Saturday, another two groups on Sunday – two groups were scheduled per day, because it would be a 24 hour stretch. We put up the canvas awnings, we put up the sound equipment, but in the time it took me to leave the team and get back in the vehicle, I began passing through the neighborhoods that are closer to the Polytechnic University, and I saw that this was an insurrection. I saw it with my own eyes: people were in the streets banging pots, and I felt like I was back in 1978. I was eight years old [during the insurrection against Somoza], but I lived through all that and I remember everything perfectly clearly. So, then I called my people and I told them – “Go home.” And on Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t carry out the order, I completely dismantled them, and that was my first act of indiscipline. That’s how the [Central Bank] president classified it – that I had been guilty of an act of indiscipline.
According to your testimony, you tendered your resignation as political secretary on April 25th. What happened that day?
I was going to work and everything was barricaded up. It was really hard to get there, because at the National University you couldn’t get by, you couldn’t enter Managua. Then, a young woman named Blanca Garcia called me. She’s the link between Fidel Moreno and the institutions, and she told me that the last shift was ours, the one that started at 6 pm, and that we had to go to the Hugo Chavez monument. So, I told her: “As I see it, that’s very dangerous. Why do you want to expose people to such danger to get there?” And I then said: “Look, the Central Bank isn’t going to send people.” It was my decision, and I later communicated it to the bank president (Ovidio Reyes). The president then told me. “No, you have to carry out your orders. The orders must be carried out.” I replied: “No, I’m not going to carry them out, because I’m not going to have it weighing on my conscience if something happens to a worker that I’m in charge of.” And I then said, “you can relieve me of my responsibilities if you want to, but I’m not going to do it.”
He immediately called a meeting and told them that I had chickened out, and that I was no longer the political secretary. From that day on, he never spoke to me again. I disappeared, they took my telephone away, they blocked my e-mail access and I was immediately cut off from the technical work.
In your testimony before the House committee, you stated that you received a letter of dismissal on July 17.
The human resources manager called me saying that the president of the Central Bank had ordered him that day to proceed with the cancellation of my contract as a permanent worker in the Central Bank. I asked him what the motive was, and he said that I had been in a position of trust. So then I accepted, I presented my immediate resignation and I immediately left. From that day forward, I haven’t set foot in the Central Bank.
Why did you decide to leave the country with your family? You had left the Bank, you had already left the Sandinista Party. Why did you emigrate?
There was no other way. I began to receive threats via different media: they accused me of being a traitor, an infiltrator from the MRS [Sandinista Renewal Movement, an opposition party]. Or they’d say: “The comandante’s staying and you thought he’d leave. You added it up wrong.” I was afraid to go out on the street with my children, we couldn’t go out in one vehicle together any more. Where I live, we have [security] cameras, and there were three ugly attacks on the place where I live; they even shot bullets. All this added up to something very risky, more so, if I wanted to contribute by putting this denunciation before the United States Congress. I wanted to do so in order that such things not happen again in Nicaragua. Because if we don’t take on the responsibility that’s ours, this is going to keep happening, and we can’t go on this way.
Ligia, some people who will read your testimony might accuse you of being an accomplice of the regime for many years; others may celebrate your words as a brave denunciation; and some followers of the regime, as you’ve said, will accuse you of treason. How do you feel after giving this testimony?
The truth is, I’m torn between two emotions. First, I feel liberated, because I’m me and I can say what I feel and think, and I can respond to my commitment with society. I studied and I got my education and I’ve dedicated my whole life to working against inequality. On the other hand, I’m afraid for my family, for my friends. I’ve had to shut down my Facebook page, but I’m not sorry. I believe that this is the example that I have to set for my daughters who are growing up. You can’t support something that surpasses the limits of being human, just to take home a salary. Killing the young people like they have, torturing people as they have tortured them, and imprisoning people just for demonstrating is something that you can’t support. If I did so, what example was I going to give my daughters? I’d rather be living through difficulties that be furthering the things that were happening.