Political scientist Manuel Orozco has been accused in absentia by prosecutor Heydi Estela Ramírez Olivas, of allegedly coordinating the Nicaraguan dissidents who “conspired” against the nation. The opposition leaders in question are: Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Violeta Granera, Tamara Davila, Jose Adan Aguerri and Jose Pallais. All of them were formally charged with conspiracy in a preliminary hearing held on September 3, in the same El Chipote jail where they’ve been locked up for months.
Orozco is based in Washington D.C., and considers the trial “political work, to fire up support from the Sandinista Front’s militant base.” The regime wants to be sure these core supporters will vote in next November’s presidential elections in Nicaragua. These elections will be held with no real opposition, aside from small collaborationist parties known as “mosquito” parties. The true opposition has been left without candidates or a party.
The accusation dossier against Orozco stated: “Since 2009, Manuel Orozco has been linked to the financing of destabilization campaigns, using a network of political organizations and media outlets. Through these, he’s pressured to depose the Nicaraguan government through violent means.”
In an interview broadcast on Sunday, September 5th, via Confidencial’s online television news show Esta Semana, the political analyst explained his work with the Inter-American Dialogue. The project organized forums and encounters. Those participating even included some Nicaraguan government representatives, such as Valdrack Jaentschke, formerly Nicaragua’s deputy foreign minister, and Francisco Campbell, Nicaragua’s ambassador to Washington, who issued a positive critique of the group’s efforts in favor of defending democracy in Nicaragua.
The interview was broadcast on Confidencial’s YouTube and Facebook channels.
This past Friday (September 3), a court hearing was held in the El Chipote jail to charge seven political prisoners: Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Violeta Granera, Tamara Davila, Jose Adan Aguerri and Jose Pallais. During this hearing, you were charged in absentia with coordinating an alleged conspiracy against national sovereignty. Does this accusation have any legal basis?
None. It’s political work to fire up support from the Sandinista Front’s militant base. In practical terms, there’s no legal or judicial basis to support the accusations. Apart from the fact that the contents of all the accusations are false, there’s information that’s been completely invented by those who filed the accusation.
The accusation alleges that since 2009 you’ve been working through the Inter-American Dialogue to promote the destabilization of the government through violent means.
That’s totally false. Under other circumstances, it would be laughable. Unfortunately, they’re serious accusations, and there are also many colleagues in jail under these types of false charges. I’ve been working on an international level for thirty years. I’m known for the efforts I’ve made on topics of migration and development, and also in governability and democracy in the Central American countries.
My work has to do predominantly with financial inclusion, strengthening the political party system. In no way do those components have anything to do with threatening or undermining the Nicaraguan State. On the contrary, they have to do with strengthening the Rule of Law and the democratic spirit in Nicaragua. My work speaks for itself; people recognize it, it’s in full public view.
It’s a falsehood, and an effort on the part of Daniel Ortega’s government to create a timeline that supports their own arguments regarding what they call a failed attempt at a coup d’etat. That’s a narrative they invented to defend themselves from the blue and white movement that arose in 2018.
The accusation presents the creation of a WhatsApp work group that was supposedly for channeling funds and destabilizing the government of Daniel Ortega as proof.
That’s part of the government’s rhetoric, to make people believe that the world gives money to movements to subvert Ortega’s totalitarianism. There’s no reality to that accusation. In 2018, a 16-member commission was created within the Inter-American Dialogue. They formed part of a Task Force or a Commission for Policy and Mediation in Nicaragua.
It’s a public group to promote efforts to establish an inter-American dialogue. The aim is to promote an internal dialogue, including coordination and conversation with the Nicaraguan government. In 2018, for example, the Inter-American Dialogue invited Valdrack (Jaentschke) who at that time was Nicaragua’s deputy foreign minister, to speak on the Nicaraguan political crisis.
We’ve held meetings with Francisco Campbell, who admitted that the work of the Inter-American Dialogue was important for Nicaragua. Yes, he also used the forum to make an accusation - at one moment, saying that Carlos Fernando Chamorro was a coup promoter. He said that in front of other OAS ambassadors, and it was seen by the rest of the participants as a joke.
But this is a Commission that had members such as Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Violeta Granera, as well as former Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla and Eduardo Stein, who was Guatemala’s vice president and in charge of the UN’s Commission on Venezuelan Refugees. It’s an effort that tries to make the Nicaraguan political crisis visible and find negotiated and mediated solutions for a democratic political transition in Nicaragua.
The others accused of this supposed conspiracy are in jail and have no way to defend themselves, since they’re being tried from jail.
That’s the logic of the Communist countries of the sixties. For example, in East Germany it was the main procedure that the totalitarian state historically utilized. But it’s an outdated concept.
The Ortega forces have designed a legal structure that considers any type of democratic activity a menace to the State. Hence, they dispatch the police with the aim of detaining anyone they consider a threat. Afterwards, they enter a legal accusation as a formality, simply to be able to mount a trial and accuse them. The right to defense doesn’t exist in that context; it’s eliminated, because what the government is doing is criminalizing democracy. The Constitutional rights are absent.
Arturo Cruz is a university professor; Violeta Granera has devoted more than 40 years of civic activity to promoting human rights and citizens’ participation in all contexts, including working with Sandinistas.
The only logic this has is that of concentrating the repression, so as to finish the elections and declare victory. Now, in these two months they’re going to finish up the accusations and enter into the regime’s electoral celebration, telling their base that everything is fine. The best bet is that less than 2 million Nicaraguans will vote, and that – as they’ve already announced – the FSLN is going to win with 65% percent of the vote. The show has been programmed for a while, and that’s the narrative they’ve been developing. However, the sacrifice they’ve subjected the nation to - dividing the country and causing pain by locking up a lot of people, all of them innocent - is totally disproportionate.
What international impact could this political trial for alleged conspiracy have? The government’s foreign ministry sent a document to the different diplomatic missions, claiming that they’re defending the rule of law. Will any credibility be given to the government when they declare the accused guilty?
No, the government has no international credibility. To the rest of the world, Nicaragua is a dictatorship. Some associate this dictatorship with events in Belarus, for example. Nicaragua is being referred to as a totalitarian regime, with its only allies being Russia, Iran, and North Korea. If you measure the international community by that standard, then Nicaragua is totally isolated. Not only isolated, but it’s also being condemned for the abuses that it’s been repeating, again and again. Everyone is clear that the aim is simply to eliminate the opposition, the dissidence, to criminalize democracy, and conclude a fraudulent electoral process. Beyond this, the international community isn’t going to recognize the Ortega forces.
You’re being accused of a crime because of your effort to promote diplomacy and solidarity. What impact might this have among the thousands of Nicaraguans living outside the country?
At these moments, the solidarity that has been produced (by this accusation) on the part of international organizations, human rights organizations, and also from the diaspora itself, has been gigantic. There’s been a reaction of disappointment in the face of what the regime is doing. I think that the diaspora feels even more threatened. The immediate reaction is that the 750,000 Nicaraguans living outside the country, plus the 100 (thousand) who have left this year, are resending the message to their family members in Nicaragua about the extent of the repression existing in the country. Your rights are always under threat from the totalitarian state.
Might the fact that they’re charging you in absentia provoke a kind of silence, or fear and self-censorship among the Nicaraguan communities outside the country?
I believe that the majority of organizations are reacting just the opposite. They’re organizing, mobilizing and looking at how to rebuild the national opposition from the outside. That doesn’t mean they’re setting up provisional governments, or anything like that. Rather, they’re looking at how to maintain the civic struggle from outside, but with internal connections. There are many speculations about how the Ortega regime will react to what the international community is organizing, but the diaspora is an integral part and they’re going to increase their voice against it. I’ve received contacts from different organizations of Nicaraguan exiles that are organizing and mobilizing. Bianca Jagger is very active, and she’s letting the Central American Bank for Economic Integration know about the inconsistencies that come from financing a dictatorship, when the dictatorship is repressing the population in an exaggerated manner.