Is Daniel Ortega a World Advocate for Human Rights?

If Ortega would like a reconciliation with the truth, he should suspend the police state and free the political prisoners

Organizations reporting these include the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center

9 de diciembre 2020


The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), part of the OAS, issued a new report on December 2nd. The report focused on “the human rights violations of those deprived of liberty in Nicaragua”. It revealed that the Nicaraguan State has carried out 1,614arbitrary detentions since April 18, 2018. The victims of these have been people who participated in or supported the social protests. Over one hundred of them remain in the country’s jails.

Further, the report documents serious human rights violations in the country’s prisons. These include mistreatment, acts of cruelty and a systematic pattern of sexual violence against women.

The 139 pages of this exhaustive report summarize the testimonies of 266 former political prisoners. They speak of the inferno they experienced in the jails, both official and clandestine ones. The dictatorship’s current 109 political prisoners are still suffering these conditions. Moreover, the IACHR noted that this is merely a fragment of the Nicaraguan tragedy, one the State denies and conceals.

The report demonstrates the collusion between the justice system and the Executive branch to criminalize the social protest. It confirms that over three hundred assassinations – all occurring during the 2018 protests – have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

Finally, the IACHR dismisses the idea of an attempted coup in Nicaragua, the official narrative used to justify the repression.  Instead, the report substantiates the fact that Nicaraguans have been living under a police state for the past two years. Citizens’ public freedoms have been infringed by extrajudicial means, closing off all the democratic spaces.

The police state is only the latest phase of the repression. Between April and December of 2018, national and international human rights organizations documented the killings perpetrated by police and paramilitary. Organizations reporting these include the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights in Nicaragua, the IACHR, the OHCHR, the Inter-disciplinary Group of Independent Experts, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Abuses they documented included the government’s “Operation Clean-up”, and the massive jailing of protesters. They also established how thousand were forced into exile, to escape the regime’s persecution.  As Paulo Abrao, former executive secretary of the IACHR, phrased it, the repression in Nicaragua was reported “in real time”.

This new report of the IACHR caps these efforts. Its recommendations also mark a path for a national human rights agenda to respond to the demands for truth and justice.

Ironically, given such overwhelming evidence of his regime’s abuses, last week President Daniel Ortega proclaimed himself a champion of human rights. This occurred during a virtual meeting of the heads of state of countries belonging to the Central American Integration System. The Central American leaders met with Antonio Gutierres, UN Secretary General. During the meeting, Ortega issued a call to “raise the flag of justice and human rights, to shake up the consciences of the great powers.”

His regime has been guilty of massive violations of human rights. Ortega himself has been accused of crimes against humanity. His government expelled the international human rights organizations of the OAS and the UN from the country. Given this, it surpasses credibility to have Ortega present himself before the UN as a “champion” of human rights.

Cynicism and lies have been a habitual practice for Ortega, constructing an alternative reality for his followers. The really novel element in his recent speech is his desperation to take over the agenda for justice and human rights.  This agenda is ingrained in the national consciousness, and the regime has never been able to silence that demand for justice. It appears that they now want to abduct it.

During the meeting with the UN, Ortega also spoke about the pandemic. He urged that the “tragedy of the pandemic be combatted with justice and respect for all peoples’ human rights.”  In his own country, however, he has created a mockery of the tragic situation.

The regime has covered up the victims, the number of Covid-19 tests realized and their results. His government has hidden the pandemic’s death toll – a toll due, in part, to the State’s negligence. The regime merely recognizes 161 deaths from the novel Coronavirus. However, the mortality rate from diseases associated with Covid-19 suggests that the true number of dead could top 7,000.

The gulf between the official discourse and reality could be resolved with an on-site inspection from the Pan American Health Organization. But up through today, Ortega continues to refuse an audit from this international organization.

In his speech before the UN Secretary General, following the passing of hurricanes Eta and Iota, Ortega spoke of the consequences of climate change. He did so, despite the fact that his government initially refused to sign on to the 2015 Paris Accords. Two years later, he did adhere to the agreement. He did so to escape his government’s international isolation and gain access to international funds. Now, the chief promoter of the failed interoceanic canal megaproject once again roars under the flag of “climate justice”.

With this new demagogy in favor of human rights, the leader is recognizing the State’s commitment to the international conventions. However, these are the same commitments that he has systematically violated. If he really wants a reconciliation with human rights, Ortega should begin by freeing all the political prisoners. He can then suspend the police state and allow the IACHR and the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights to return to the country.

The objective of Ortega’s new rhetoric could merely be gaining greater access to international aid for the emergency reconstruction. If so, then High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet should be empowered to certify what the country’s true human rights situation is.

In effect, the UN could support the creation of a Truth Commission to lay the foundations for justice. Such efforts can only be implemented in democracy, with the assistance of an International Commission against Impunity.

To end the dictatorship, the first imperative is to lift the police state. Afterwards, an electoral reform could be undertaken, with or without Ortega and Murillo. Only then could the country move towards free, transparent and competitive elections.


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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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