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National Police Receive Sanctions: What about their Commander in Chief?

Daniel Ortega is an organic part of the police structure. He’s the top of the command pyramid. Does the weight of the sanctions fall on him or not?

Enrique Sáenz

11 de marzo 2020


Let’s begin by citing two legal dispositions. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be lawyer to understand the precise meaning of these norms. My intention is that you accompany me in drawing conclusions and understanding the implications of said legal norms.

I’m referring to the Law of National Police Organization and Functioning, a law that Ortega imposed in 2014, to culminate the process of subordinating the police institution to his dictatorial designs.

Article 9 of the Police Law reads: “Institutional Command. In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua and the present Law, the National Police is a hierarchical organization that is subject to the strict discipline of its commanders and personnel. For the effective fulfillment of its missions and functions the institutional command is organized and made up of:

-The Supreme Leadership
-The National Leadership
-The Leadership of the National Specialties and their Support Structures
-The Leadership of the Police Delegations.

Note that at the head of the institutional command structure is the Supreme Leadership.

And who exercises the Supreme Leadership?

The answer is found in Article 10 of the same law: “The Supreme Leadership of the National Police is exercised by the President of the Republic.”

What conclusion can we draw? You don’t need more than common sense to be clear that Daniel Ortega is an organic part of the Police structure. He’s the very head of the command pyramid.

It’s also worth mentioning that before Ortega’s reforms, this wasn’t so – previously, the police were subordinated under the Ministry of Governance. It’s true that the President of the Republic is the head of the government apparatus, but the ministers are the ones responsible for decisions that fall within their competencies, according to Article 151 of the Constitution.

Ortega needed the Police to be under his direct rule, and for that reason repealed the previous law in favor of the disposition noted above.

Now, let’s go on to examine the official declaration from the US Treasury Department that announced the sanctions. According to the announcement, the sanctions were applied to the Police for “Being responsible or having participated directly or indirectly in serious human rights abuses in Nicaragua.”

The press release adds that the Nicaraguan National Police “is responsible for using live ammunition against peaceful protesters and participating in death squads, as well as carrying out extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and kidnappings.”

It’s the same thing as that asserted in the reports from the international human rights organizations. The difference is that now we stand before an official declaration from the United States government.

Going back to our common sense analysis: if the sanctions are applied to the institution of the Police, and Ortega is, by disposition of a law dictated by Ortega himself, the head of that repressive organ – Does the weight of the sanctions fall on Ortega, or not?

Of course, it’s an absurdity that the sanctions would only affect the body and leave the head intact.

If we wanted, we could also look at Article 11 of the same law, which establishes the following: “The National Leadership is exercised by the General Police Chief… under the direction of the Supreme Leadership.

If Ortega has decorated his in-law the Police Chief, and he maintains him at his post, it’s because he has loyally carried out his orders.

The other conclusion is that the sanctions don’t extend to Ortega on an individual level, as it does the commissioners that were individually singled out by name. They also don’t extend to him in his character as Head of the Executive Power, since such an imputation would bring with it a rupture in diplomatic relations. The sanctions do affect him in his role as Commander in Chief of the Police, and in everything that concerns his functions as such.

However, this is no small thing. If we examine it well, it’s a very serious situation. The United States government has issued official notice that specific crimes were committed: extrajudicial executions, disappearances and kidnappings. In other words, we have a president that has been formally charged by the US government of being the direct head of an institution that committed crimes against humanity.

We could pour more salt on the wound. This action of the United States Executive branch enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. Ortega is one of the very few cases that enjoy bipartisan agreement and consensus between Congress and the Trump Administration.

Obviously, the first consequence is strictly political. That’s clear. But there’s another more complex possibility. If the US government has officially charged Ortega with heading an organization that has committed crimes against humanity – Could this act serve as a basis for actions in the US courts?

That part is fodder for the attorneys, so, as far as our concerns go, I’ll leave the question out there.


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Enrique Sáenz

Enrique Sáenz

Economista y abogado nicaragüense. Aficionado a la historia. Bloguero y conductor de la plataforma de comunicación #VamosAlPunto