Invisible patterns of human rights violations in Nicaragua

Report from the Intercultural Human Rights Association identifies “invisible patterns” of human rights violations in Nicaragua

Photo: EFE

30 de marzo 2023


A report from the Inter-Cultural Human Rights Association (Asidehu) shines a light on the “invisible patterns” of human rights violations in Nicaragua between 2018 and 2023, with especial emphasis on the Sandinista Front’s “modus operandi,” used to repress and control those citizens it considers opponents.

The 30-page document, published in San Jose, Costa Rica the third week of March, presents a compendium of “constant violations to citizens’ rights that aren’t documented, because they aren’t denounced. As a result, they’re not in any report, they don’t appear in the media, nor are they summarized in any document reflecting that pattern of conduct.”  That’s the opening affirmation of Jhoswel Martinez, Asidehu president and the report’s main author.

Constant surveillance of the “traitors”

Martinez’ report focuses on the “modus operandi” of the Sandinista Front: “Many allege that the Councils of Citizen Power (CPC) and the Sandinista Youth (JS) repress, make out lists, but they never explain how. In this document, we detail their methods step by step: What’s their orientation?  What’s their structure and hierarchy?  How they work? In what ways do they repress? What investigations do they carry out against their victims?”

In detailing the modus operandi with which they implement actions to intimidate the citizenry, the document makes clear that the victims of graffiti, for example, “aren’t selected randomly. There’s a “justified” motive behind whose homes will be defaced, based on lists elaborated by people allied with the Sandinista National Liberation Front, including the location, name and other data about the victims.

According to the denunciations and testimonies, such “FSLN allies” form part of the “Councils of Citizen Power” or CPC, groups that guide the paramilitary and police groups. The CPC members receive specific orientations from the local FSLN political secretaries, who indicate whether the aggression will involve graffiti, or setting the house on fire; whether to stick with verbal threats or issue a police citation. Such decisions are based on the “level of treason” or “danger” that the person is tagged as representing.

Those disclosing the abuses explain that the “level” is determined by the person’s having participated in opposition demonstrations or other dissident actions; or by their having expressed anti-government opinions in the social networks. In other cases, they’re seen as neutral, not participating in party activities. There are even cases where they’re simply viewed with disfavor by the person responsible for compiling the information – either a government employee or an FSLN sympathizer.

Another possibility is that the CPC may request an investigation through the Sandinista Youth and the Police. These bodies will then review the target’s social networks and realize “preventive visits” to invite the person to participate in party activities – if they refuse, they’ll be harassed. If they’re not home, the delegates will leave them a formal invitation to FSLN activities, and if they don’t attend or don’t receive the invitation, they’ll be accused of being a traitor, and their level of “danger” will then be measured according to their reaction to the accusation.

The espionage exercised against public employees, includes assigning them “points” for participating in party activities, even when it’s obligatory, threatening them with being put on a Party black list, and from there being blacklisted by the CPC from the zone where they live. They also receive periodic reminders that “only Sandinistas can work as public employees.”

Diverse forms of harassment

The “investigation” or “preventive visit” may be followed by consequences, including a false accusation of verbal or physical aggression filed by the person charged with the “visit”; a false accusation of cybercrimes, especially if some “inappropriate” post is found on their social media; or a citation to make them sign a contract of commitment, promising to desist from all actions that could put the FSLN at risk.

Another possibility is that they receive threats on social media, be it through posts with smears, warning messages or death threats. These always come through orientations of the CPC, utilizing bots and fake accounts that are then replicated by other fake accounts.

If the chosen option is to scrawl graffiti on the victim’s house, the party sympathizers – generally members of the Sandinista Youth – are advised to do this work in the early morning hours. They may also leave warning or threatening messages, or opt directly for telephone harassment, such as calls from unknown or private numbers, scheduled at different times, where the callers issue death threats or tell them: “Terrorist, we know where you live and what you’re doing,” in order to scare them and torment them psychologically.

On other occasions, they threaten the victims via shots fired at their house; or by leaving bullets, or hand-written threats on placards or letters; or even leaving bags containing bombs and other artefacts. In addition, the CPC may request an effective form of home harassment in the form of numerous FSLN party members or members of the Sandinista Youth roaring by on motorcycles. The police may also use this tactic if the victim is considered a real danger. In the latter case, a police patrol car will park in front of the victim’s house and take photos of those entering and leaving, or possibly keeping the victims from leaving their house.

“All these actions take place under the protection and shadow of the judicial system and security forces, so that in the majority of cases it’s impossible to denounce what’s happening.” The victims refrain from complaining for fear of being taken prisoner of receiving more reprisals, the document notes.

Attacks against the Catholic Church

More than a third of the document is dedicated to graphic descriptions of attacks on the Catholic Church and how freedom of worship is being persecuted. The report details, “the violations to freedom of worship, as well as the illegal detention, criminalization and trials of priests, and persecution of lay figures linked to them; the closure of Catholic media outlets that, in turn, represent a violation of the right to free press and expression.”

The report continues: “Forcing [parishioners] to join a list of false witnesses and be included in farcical trials against the priests, especially Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of Matagalpa… with the objective of repressing and closing off the spaces where people can reflect on the socio-political situation of the country in the light of God.”

The document notes that “the hostility demonstrated by the Nicaraguan government is rooted in the assistance the Catholic Church’s gave the students during the peaceful anti-government demonstrations [of 2018].” It recalls: “the temples opened their doors, offered spaces for dialogue; they promoted special days of prayer, attended to the wounded, and consoled the families of citizens who were murdered or abducted.”

In the context of Nicaragua’s socio-political crisis that exploded in April 2018, the Report specifies: “the Church has suffered over 190 attacks and profanations.”

In terms of the year-by year tallies: “In 2018, there were 46 attacks against the Church, including a mob that entered the Managua Cathedral.” That year there were death threats sent to priests and different centers of worship were profaned.

In 2019, 48 attacks were counted, including death threats against Monsignor Silvio Baez, assistant bishop of Managua. Baez was sent into exile that same year. In 2020 there were another 40 attacks, profanations, and an incendiary bomb that was placed in the Managua Cathedral.

“In 2021, 35 attacks were registered, including profanations, and burglary of the churches, as well as Daniel Ortega’s insults to the Catholic bishops and priests. The year 2022 saw 21 acts of aggression, of which the most noteworthy was the police harassment of the Matagalpa bishop, culminating in his detention, imprisonment, bogus trial and prison sentence.”

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

Iván Olivares

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Durante más de veinte años se ha desempeñado en CONFIDENCIAL como periodista de Economía. Antes trabajó en el semanario La Crónica, el diario La Prensa y El Nuevo Diario. Además, ha publicado en el Diario de Hoy, de El Salvador. Ha ganado en dos ocasiones el Premio a la Excelencia en Periodismo Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, en Nicaragua.


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