The mass cancellations of NGOs in Nicaragua, ordered by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, affects more than a million Nicaraguans who benefited from various social programs worth more than $41 million, an investigation by the Inter-American Dialogue reveals.
“Most of these organizations had projects linked to community development, social infrastructure, projects for access to drinking water, citizen participation; that is, everything that has to do with community development in rural areas where these organizations worked,” says environmentalist and activist Amaru Ruiz, who participated as a consultant in the study and is president of the now-canceled and confiscated NGO Fundación del Río (River Foundation).
The study analyzed a sample of 53 canceled non-profit organizations, out of a universe of 1,000 outlawed organizations selected by the investigation, that were implementing projects worth $41 million when they had their legal status —and operation registrations in the case of international organizations— taken away.
However, the financial loss, as well as the social and economic impact, is even greater if the work of all of the organizations are taken into account. According to a projection by the Inter-American Dialogue, the losses due to the closures of NGOs could exceed $200 million a year.
Two thousand jobs lost
“The sample that we have of the impact allows us to identify that at least one million Nicaraguans who were being served by the development projects carried out by these civil society organizations have lost these services, and we are also talking about losses in employment of around 2,000 formal jobs”, added Ruiz, during the presentation of the study in an interview with the journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, in the program Esta Semana (This Week).
"The impact also translates into increased vulnerability of the Nicaraguan population, as people stop receiving services, and above all because there is no process for delivering these services by the Government once the civil society organizations close," Ruiz commented.
A CONFIDENCIAL report had already revealed that the economic losses of the closing of international NGOs amounted to “$25.5 million a year in aid to Nicaragua for programs that directly benefited 550,000 people, especially in rural areas," according to a source familiar with the practices and impact of international development aid.
In total, the regime has eliminated 110 international NGOs between August 2021 and October 2022, mostly from the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.
Most NGOs were active
The Ortega regime claims that many of the non-profits were inactive at the time of their being stripped of their legal status or operation registrations. However, the Inter-American Dialogue study reveals that 53% of these were implementing projects that remained unfinished.
“Of course, there were organizations that had closed before 2018, and others that were not implementing activities. That is, they did not have projects due to the reduction in development aid. But it is important to refute [that discourse] because here more than 50% of the sample tells us that they did have activities in the country, that they did have development projects,” Ruiz emphasized.
Some of these organizations were carrying out projects on democracy, women's rights, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, children and adolescents, sexual diversity, and human rights. Other projects were related to education, health, environmentalism and community development. The government has not followed up, leaving the beneficiary populations vulnerable.
"All these service programs were left unattended, there was no substitution of these programs by the Nicaraguan regime. In the end, the big loser is the population because their vulnerability is increased as they are left unprotected," adds Ruiz.
The analysis of the sample by the Inter-American Dialogue reveals that most of these organizations carried out their projects in Managua, but they also covered vulnerable areas of Matagalpa, Estelí, the Caribbean Coast, Chinandega, Nueva Segovia, Río San Juan and Jinotega.
Among the canceled organizations, the Padre Fabretto Foundation stands out. It implemented nutrition and education projects that benefited 40,000 boys and girls. After its closure on February 16, 2022, it was moved to Honduras.
The Egdolina Thomas Foundation, founded in Bilwi in 2013, did not continue to operate after its closure. According to their description, this NGO promoted the rights of indigenous peoples in 31 communities, with its programs benefiting 500 people each year.
Ruiz believes that despite the closure of these organizations, which has already caused negative economic and social impact, these organizations could in fact continue to support the Nicaraguan population and that this could be achieved by making aid mechanisms more flexible.
“It is important to call on development cooperation agencies to continue their support of work in Nicaragua and to make some procedures more flexible. The organizations can continue as long as they have a connection and can maintain their territorial social network with the community. The general population also has an important responsibility to support the work that civil society organizations have been doing,” says Ruiz.
These non-profits had been working in Nicaragua for an average of 25 years, such that, Ruiz adds, “they have created relationships of trust that would allow them to continue working in the midst of repression and what it requires to work in a country with a dictatorship."
How cancellations of legal status and operation registrations are carried out
To justify the mass closures of non-profits, the Ortega-Murillo regime claims that the organizations have failed to comply with their filing requirements at the Ministry of Governance (MIGOB) and, in some cases, have failed to register as foreign agents.
Several members of these organizations denounced that MIGOB refused to receive the documentation required by law in order to carry out the cancellation orders. The closures of these NGOs were also accompanied by the confiscation of their assets. According to the Inter-American Dialogue investigation, the regime’s closures of these civil society organizations seeks to “protect” its political model to order to control everything.
Ruiz suggests that “The regime not only closes and criminalizes, but it also wants to take control of the common good, of who manages the common good, and who manages programs for vulnerable groups so that they don’t have competition. That is, they are monopolizing the civic space and all the activities (...) to maintain the 'political hegemony' of those who administer the common good so as not to allow counterproposals to their politics,” says Ruiz.
Initially, the Ministry of Governance implemented their cancellation orders through the National Assembly. In this process the legislator Filiberto Rodríguez López was in charge of submitting the petition. However, in August, a reform to the General Law of Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations was approved such that MIGOB can now cancel the legal status and operation registrations directly.
The amendments to the law went into effect on August 16, 2022. Since then, MIGOB has outlawed 800 national and foreign organizations, associations and foundations. The most recent hundred cancellations occurred on October 5. These orders are now being handled by Governance Minister Amelia Coronel Kinloch.
An analysis by CONFIDENCIAL revealed that between January 19 and October 5, 2022, the Ortega “guillotine” eliminated 2,207 non-profit organizations. The month with the most cancellations was June, with a total of 514, followed by September with 500.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Our Staff