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Julio Lopez: “The main coup leader, besides Ortega, is General Aviles”

“The dictatorship broke the military succession, violated the Constitution,repressed in 2018,and canceled the elections,with the complicity of the Army

Army General Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo (left) walks next to his boss Daniel Ortega, September 4, 2023. Photo: Presidency

Army General Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo (left) walks next to his boss Daniel Ortega, September 4, 2023. Photo: Presidency

Carlos F. Chamorro

11 de septiembre 2023

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On September 4, during the Army's anniversary ceremony, General Julio Cesar Aviles launched a virulent attack against independent journalists in exile, whom he described as “mercenaries of information,” “greedy and employees of foreign interests,” and “scum that all they do is defile, sell and destroy the homeland.” 

The Army chief denounced an alleged campaign of “slander” by the independent press, but did not deny a single word of the journalistic investigation published by CONFIDENCIAL about the 20 generals, headed by Aviles' 13 years in office, who represent an “institutional cap” for promotions in the military career in the Army. 


“The Army chief spoke like a chayista,” says political scientist Julio Lopez Campos, using the popular term used to describe those who support Vice President Rosario Murillo, commonly known as La Chayo

“The well thought out language that I was accustomed to hearing from all the chiefs that have passed through the Army, has nothing to do with these speeches that indicate something very serious. The Army also started to endorse the conduct and purposes of Chayo (Murillo) in a direct way, not only as co-president but in her aspirations to try to give more continuity to the dictatorship,” considers the former director of International Relations of the Sandinista Front. 

In an interview with Esta Semana and CONFIDENCIAL, Lopez questioned Aviles' allegation that there is a campaign to pressure the Army to carry out a coup d'état. “In reality, the coup perpetrators are them,” said Lopez, alluding to the dictatorship and Aviles' command in the Army: “They broke with the military succession, violated the Constitution, repressed in 2018, and canceled the elections in 2021, with the collaboration of the Army. Coups d'état are those actions, and not only troops advancing towards El Carmen,” concluded Lopez.

With General Julio Cesar Aviles, Daniel Ortega broke the institutional rule of changing the Military Command every five years. Aviles has already been in office for 13 years, and in 2025 he will complete 15 years and his third term. What is Ortega looking for by imposing this model of command in the Army?

It is very difficult to have a regime like Ortega's and have a disciplined, apolitical, non-partisan, coherent Army in front of him, from the institutional point of view. Necessarily he has to look for coherence in the whole system of the dictatorship and I think he has managed to make the Army a reflection of Ortega's regime.

But, besides Aviles, there are 19 other generals who are enthroned in their posts. What are the consequences of this blockage for the institution, for the military career, and the aspirations of the officers, lieutenant colonels, and colonels?

That must necessarily be a source of frustration for a number of people who have aspired to a military career. And obviously, it is a complicated situation that Ortega has tried to resolve, to introduce some palliatives. In addition to the big cap present in the General Command, with its two chiefs, plus other high commanders, the truth is that Ortega, faced with the impossibility of changing that at the top, has been taking measures on the flanks, he is trying to increase the number of generals. He has practically appointed 35 generals since he returned to power. 

However, that does not necessarily solve the problem, rather it complicates it. It is always good to remember that under the Somoza dictatorship, many times the officers repeatedly revolted, and rebelled, and it had to do precisely with these problems of continuity, corruption, and nepotism.

This same Army commanded by Aviles, during the repression of 2018 refused to disarm the paramilitary army that Ortega implanted, even though the law says that there cannot be two Armies. What role does the Army play now in this stage of radicalization of the dictatorship?

It has really become a vital support. An indispensable support for Ortega. He knows perfectly well that he could not commit all the abuses he has committed, all the crimes, the outrages to the institutionality, to the State, and to the Nicaraguan society. He would not be able to do so if he did not really count, as indeed he does, with the direct or indirect support of the Army, depending on the case.

In the speech given by Aviles on September 4, in addition to attacking and threatening journalists in exile, he reiterated what he had already said in 2019, that the Army “is not going to carry out a coup d'état”. Why this reiteration about an alleged coup d'état?

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It is trying to justify the unjustifiable. The truth of the matter is that they are the coup perpetrators. Those who have really carried out the coup d'état, besides the dictatorship, is Aviles himself. Aviles did everything to break what had been an absolutely substantive and fundamental procedure for the construction of the National Army, which was to respect the question of succession. By breaking that, what he is doing is precisely striking a blow to a fundamental institution of the State in classical terms, what happened there is a coup d'etat. 

Afterward, they continued breaking the Constitution in a perpetual manner. The construction of the National Army was a painful process for Nicaraguan society, until we reached 1995, when for the first time an apolitical, non-partisan, obedient, non-belligerent army was established. That was an essential issue for the existence of Nicaraguan society. To have stability, to know that we would no longer be killing each other and that political differences would be established within the framework of political life. 

Aviles comes and totally breaks that crucial issue for the Nicaraguan State. 

Then came the crimes of 2018. All these crimes, all these abuses, the 80,000 people who had to go into exile, everything, this disruption of Nicaraguan society could not be done without the complicity of the army. 

It is not possible to think of the accurate blows to the head, to the chest of the young students, without thinking of the snipers, without the PKMs carried by the paramilitaries. All these are authentic coups d'état. 

But the worst of all and which is the most concrete evidence of the complicity of the Army and the fact that Aviles, in particular, is one of the main coup plotters and responsible for the disaster that is our country is what happened in the supposed elections of 2021. If we review, for example, the CID Gallup poll of October of that year, 65% of Nicaraguans said they were willing to vote for any of the pre-candidates who were in prison, and Ortega only had 19%. 

When you realize that, you understand why the coup d'état constituted the suppression of political parties, the imprisonment of all candidates, and the deprivation of the rights of citizens to organize themselves and to have their own candidates. These are coups d'état. The coup d'état is not only the tanks advancing on El Carmen. Coups d'état are precisely these actions.

When Aviles swears allegiance to the presidency, is he bowing to Daniel Ortega or to Rosario Murillo?

Those of us who have followed more or less the development of the life of our armed institutions know very well that for a very long time, the relationship with the Army was a privileged relationship between Daniel Ortega and the head of the Army, not even with the commanders but with the head of the Army. Rosario (Murillo) was totally on the sidelines because in colloquial language they used to say: ‘That one is crazy, we don't mess with her, we’re with Daniel,’ and that was the end of the matter. Now, in this process of degradation of the Army, we are witnessing something absolutely unusual. The head of the Army talking like any other chayista. The thoughtful, balanced, sensible language, which I was used to hearing from all the chiefs who have passed through the Army, has nothing to do with these speeches which indicate something very serious. Actually, the Army is also beginning to endorse in a direct and clear way the conduct, styles, and purposes of Chayo (Murillo), not only as co-president but also in her aspirations to try to give more continuity to the dictatorship.

This Monday marks the anniversary of the National Police and Daniel Ortega promoted 33 new general commissioners and also installed a system of co-chiefs in all police delegations and police directorates. What is the objective of having a male and female chief in the police commands? 

In April of this year, you will remember that Rosario (Murillo) appeared announcing with great fanfare that ten new female chiefs had been appointed in different instances and regions of the country. And these sudden and unexpected promotions, when you listen to one of these officers who has become a chief, she says more or less like this: “Thanks to the vice-president, because she gives us the opportunity to occupy spaces.” 

That is to say, it has nothing to do with the institutional development of an institution like the Police. It is simply Rosario Murillo's personal model, acting as if she were deciding things in her own kitchen. Truly, we are facing an extremely complex situation that should be the subject of concern and worry in other police bodies of the continent.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.

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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.

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