Luis Carrion: “Ortega Wants to Exchange Hostages for Sanctions”

Carrion declares: “A unified opposition is what can make possible the realization of free elections, before or even after November 7th.

Luis Carrión, dirigente de UNAMOS. Foto/ EFE

25 de junio 2021


On June 12 and 13, six leaders of the former Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) – today known as United Democratic Renewal or “Unamos” – were arbitrarily taken from their homes and imprisoned by the Ortega regime’s police.This is a demonstration of Daniel Ortega’s “thirst for vengeance” against a political force founded by Sandinista Front dissidents.

Today, it includes of young leaders who had no part in the revolution of the eighties. The arrests are a blow to them “as an institution”, states Luis Carrion Cruz. The former revolutionary commander and Unamos member explained his position in a June 23rd interview, broadcast on the internet news program Esta Noche.

Carrion was one of the nine top leaders comprising the Sandinista Front’s National Directorate during the eighties. He believes that the witch hunt launched by the Ortega regime is aimed at accumulating hostages, to force a political negotiation with the United States.

As of June 24, the regime is holding twenty prominent figures in its jails. Those imprisoned include presidential candidates, opposition leaders, former guerrilla leaders, influential businessmen and independent journalists. Nonetheless, Carrion is convinced that the regime’s plan to force negotiations is untenable, given the US policy of not negotiating with kidnappers.

Despite the recent nights of terror, aimed at squelching all civic resistance through warrantless home raids and illegal detentions of opposition leaders, Carrion maintains that the only way out of Nicaragua’s sociopolitical crisis is through peaceful struggle.

He says that one of the first steps must be the unification of all the opposition forces. “[Opposition] unity is what Ortega fears most. The unity of all the opposition is what could force the realization of elections that are truly free and honest. That could happen before November 7th, or even afterwards,” Carrion asserts.

The police roundup of Unamos leaders

Was the recent police roundup of six members of Unamos an expected blow, or did it come as a surprise?

In reality, we’ve been expecting a blow of this kind for a long time. The members that were imprisoned were mentally and spiritually prepared for the situation that occurred. It didn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

On an international level, this repressive action has been interpreted as an act of political vengeance on the part of Ortega.  An attempt to squash the dissidence that arose from within the Sandinista Front itself, and that now is represented by several generations of Unamos members. What’s the background to the conflict reflected in this furious attack?

Since the first days of the MRS – the Sandinista Renewal Movement – [in the mid 1990s] the Sandinista Front has responded with an extremely aggressive reaction. Lately, we’ve been under intense harassment. In 2008, the legal standing of the MRS was summarily cancelled with no motive and no legal basis.

In the years that followed, we were under threat, and there was an attempt atblackmail.  At no time did Ortega stop his direct persecution of the MRS, which today is Unamos. They continued right up until June 12 and 13, when they conducted this massive roundup. No other organization or party has been targeted in this way. They’re trying to completely decapitate its leadership.

There’s a thirst for vengeance. Hatred, aimed especially at MRS, manifested from 2018 through to the present, with all kinds of fantastic accusations and all manner of threats against different members of our leadership team. The only real dissidents in our party, if you can call us that, are those of us from the old guard, those who were in the revolution. But there are other leaders, especially women leaders, who had nothing to do with the revolution, who were young girls at that time. Their political commitment has been with Unamos, or the MRS, many years after the revolution. So, this is a blow directed against the MRS as an institution, as well as against some of the people involved.

Unamos is part of the Blue and White Unity (UNAB). In addition to the six members of the Unamos leadership, two other UNAB leaders were captured: presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga, and Violeta Granera. What impact do these arbitrary arrests have on civic resistance?

It would be wrong to say they haven’t had an impact. We’re talking about very visible figures, very representative, people who were constantly denouncing the regime. Tamara Davila, [an Unamos leader] was also on the UNAB political council. Nevertheless, the civic struggle will continue, because the only thing Ortega’s actions are accomplishing is to deepen indignation and stupefaction and increase the sensation that something must urgently be done. That this cycle, this direction the dictatorship is going in, is leading us to disaster as a country.

It’s a disaster not only politically, not only in terms of human rights – where the rights of all the citizens are being massively violated by the regime – but also from the economic and social points of view.

Among the imprisoned Unamos leaders are figures who played an exceptional role in the guerrilla struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. I’m speaking of Dora Maria Tellez, Hugo Torres, Victor Hugo Tinoco. What’s different today, when the struggle is a civic one?

Unamos has been absolutely committed to the civic path, and to an electoral way out of this crisis. To us, it’s now intensified, but it began, practically speaking, when Daniel Ortega took power in 2007 and began to systematically construct his dictatorship. At that time, he began solidifying his control over the repressive apparatus, the judicial system, the Public Prosecutor’s office, etc. And later, there came the successive electoral frauds.

We don’t feel that other forms of violent or armed struggle are valid options. We’re absolutely committed to peaceful struggle. We’re very aware of the enormous difficulties implied in maintaining a peaceful struggle against a violent and repressive dictatorial regime, such as the one we’re facing. However, we have no other option.

That’s the road we’ve chosen. We trust that the people’s resistance, and the very errors and abuses that the dictatorship is committing, are going to create a situation that can no longer be sustained. It’s hard, but feasible. The important thing is persistence, tenacity, resistance that shakes up the regime.

The blow to the private business sector

After the blows struck to Unamos on the weekend of June 12-13, the assault continued, now aimed against the private business sector. Luis Rivas, president of Banpro, a private bank, was jailed; an investigation was launched involving 13 former board members of Funides [Foundation for Economic and Social Development]; an order was given for the arrest and subsequent home raid of businessmen Gerardo Baltodano and Humberto Belli. What is Ortega’s political objective in this assault against the private sector?

The assault directed against political leaders, presidential candidates, and opposition group activists like Violeta Granera and Jose Pallais seem to me to have the same aim. On one hand, the regime is trying to completely squash citizen struggle and resistance, chopping the head off the struggle by imprisoning the principal opposition leaders. I include the business leaders in this, people from the private sector who are also being repressed by the regime. In Ortega’s scheme, these have been the ones who’ve given material support to the resistance activities. On the other hand, I also see a spirit of vengeance against the private sector business leaders.

Ortega wants, and his circle believes, that by rounding up all these people – political figures as well as economic and business leaders – they’re going to have a set of hostages. According to his thinking, they can then force the United States to negotiate. [They believe that] such a negotiation wouldn’t be about elections any more, about democracy, about civil liberties, but it would involve freeing the political prisoners in exchange for lifting sanctions. Ortega wants to exchange the political prisoners for sanctions. They’re acting like any band of kidnappers, who take hostages in order to demand ransom. They operate like a mafia, who respect no legal or ethical limits, nor scruples of any kind.

Is Ortega’s intention of obtaining such a negotiation with the Biden administration before or after the November elections feasible?

I believe it is not viable. I greatly doubt that the US would be willing to enter into a scheme of this kind. They’ve always maintained a policy of not negotiating with kidnappers in situations where there are hostages, not even when the hostages are US citizens. I don’t know exactly what Ortega is thinking, but I definitely don’t see the US and the Biden administration negotiating that issue with Ortega.

I believe they’re maneuvering themselves into a dead end, deepening their international isolation. That isolation has clearly deepened in the last days and weeks, as a result of these actions. This has significantly affected the possibility of renewed economic growth in the country. Without a doubt, any investors are going to think 40 times before putting money into a country where the rule of law doesn’t exist; it’s all at the will of an arbitrary and dictatorial regime.

Ortega announced that he’s going to call for a national dialogue after the elections. With whom? Who’d go to such a dialogue? What credibility can Ortega have? He has no chance of restoring the famous model of dialogue and consensus. I don’t believe he has the possibility or any interest in repairing the political situation in the country. What he aspires to do, is to maintain himself in power through repression.

There’s no way out if Ortega is reelected without free elections or political competition. What are the possibilities at this time of returning to the path of electoral reform? What position do Unamos, the UNAB and the National Coalition hold today on the electoral crisis?

The first step is to achieve a true and broad unity, with all the groups that oppose the regime. I believe that one of the weaknesses we’ve had as an opposition is that we haven’t been able to make real that great unity. It should be understood that no political party, even if they conserve their legal party status, has any possibility of exerting pressure or forcing change on the regime.

This is a moment for unity. Unity is what Ortega fears most. The unity of all the opposition is what can permit us to force the realization of truly free and honest elections, before November 7 or even afterwards. Without that, those who participate in the elections are going in like little lambs. They’re serving Ortega’s plan to hold elections with opponents that he himself has chosen, against candidates he chooses, with zero conditions imposed on the ballot counting process, with no transparency. Such elections are nothing more than a formality, in order for Ortega to proclaim himself, once again, the dictatorial president of Nicaragua.

The FSLN, the public employees and the army

You were an FSLN leader up until 1994. In this party, that today is controlled by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, does the FSLN or the Sandinista ideology have any role to play in finding a political way out of this national crisis? Or do you think they’re going to line up behind Ortega and Murillo and drown with them?

Obviously, there’s a group within the Sandinista Front that’s going to sink and die with Ortega and Murillo. But I’d bet that there are sectors who see that the crisis has no solution. These could become pressure groups within the FSLN. Eventually, if the crisis is deep enough, they could break with the party or seek their own ways out of the situation. We’ve still not seen many signs of that. A few desertions, but the pressures build up. The pressure is more intense because we’re not at war, we’re in a civic struggle. It’s in that context that important contradictions are going to arise within the Sandinista Front.

The public employees don’t necessarily form part of the Sandinista Front party. Some of them also say, “we’re hostages of this system”. Could they play some role in this national crisis, in the search for a civic solution?

The workers in the public sector are part of the people. The great majority of them, like the rest of the population, are clearly opposed to the regime. That includes even the police.  On many occasions, we’ve run into police who say: “I don’t have anything to do with this, I’m doing my job. I’m not like the others.” It’s not true that there’s a monolithic cohesion within the public institutions, even in the repressive forces that surround Ortega.

The public employees aren’t a political force, but an adjunct to the struggle being waged against the population. The moment that ruptures appear among the upper political echelons or the mid-level political sectors of the FSLN, that’s when the commitment of many of the public employees who reject Ortega will be seen more clearly and actively.

The Nicaraguan Army, under the leadership of General Julio Cesar Aviles, have declared on different occasions: “We’re subject to the Constitution. We support the initiatives for dialogue; we’re going to fulfill the job we’re invested with, by assuring that the electoral process goes forward. But the presidency has executed a coup d’etat in the country, by attacking the electoral process and eliminating political competition. Is the Army aligned politically with Ortega or with the Law and the Constitution?

The Army has been aligned with Ortega. [They have] space as an institution to exert pressure, and to contribute to a peaceful solution. I’m not talking about a Coup, or anything like that, but, yes, right now, they’re one of the elements Ortega is counting on to assure he remains in power. In case the Police weren’t able to adequately confront a situation, the Army has the possibility of doing so.

General Aviles and others of the high command are clearly committed to Ortega. However, there may be officials in the middle ranks who have family members or friends and fellows who’ve suffered repression, or who are in the opposition. These members won’t necessarily share that same [pro-Ortega] position. But for the moment, the upper echelons are all completely aligned with Ortega.

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

Archivado como:


Your contribution allows us to report from exile.

The dictatorship forced us to leave Nicaragua and intends to censor us. Your financial contribution guarantees our coverage on a free, open website, without paywalls.

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.