Nicaragua’s public employees and even Sandinista party militants are victims of the confiscation of public freedoms imposed on the country by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. That’s the view of several State workers, who denounced the increase in ongoing surveillance on the part of the dictatorship’s forces.
“There’s no freedom for anyone in Nicaragua,” laments Karla*, who works in a government institution. She’s not blind to the human rights violations in the country. “We’re muzzled, and there’s a lot of fear. No one wants to be fired or go to jail,” adds Lucia*, who works in Nicaragua’s Social Security Agency (INSS).
Maria*, a functionary in the Judicial System, comments emotionally that she has colleagues who “can’t stand it anymore, and are leaving.” They leave not only their jobs, but the country, abandoning their positions without a formal resignation, although they lose their benefits and severance pay. They do so because they fear that any discontent or disagreement they express will be punished by police harassment of themselves and their families, or even arrest.
September 28 marks four years since the police state was imposed in Nicaragua. On that date in 2018, the Ortega regime formally prohibited civic protests, declared all gatherings illegal, and threatened jail for anyone engaging in such activities. Today, the suppression of all freedoms has even extended to the Sandinista party militants themselves and the public employees, who feel they have no right to dissent from the orders of Ortega and Murillo, under threat of police harassment or prison.
At least 21 Sandinista militants in the municipality of Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, have been detained since mid-September for expressing their disagreement with the mayoral candidate imposed on that city. For the upcoming municipal elections, the Sandinista party is recycling some 100 mayors who have been in power for decades, in an election essentially without opposition.
Another prominent Sandinista has been locked up in the El Chipote jail since May. Long-time militant Marlon Gerardo Saenz Cruz, better known as El Chino Enoc, is a “historic Sandinista” who even served as a paramilitary to help repress the 2018 April Rebellion. However, he subsequently “fell from grace”, when he criticized Rosario Murillo’s control of the FSLN, after she ordered the dissolution of all the historic organizations of the governing party, including groups of war veterans, and mothers of the heroes and martyrs of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship.
“They leave the country without resigning, because they’re afraid.”
Karla agreed to speak with Confidencial under guarantee that she not to be identified with her real name nor any details of the public agency where she works. She hopes to avoid being fired or suffering party repression – because she assures that questioning any decision of the Sandinista Front, even if the questioner is a party militant, can lead to unemployment or even jail.
“There’s no freedom for anyone in this country,” Karla laments. She asserts that public employees like herself have only one option: “We have to bear up, and swallow so many injustices,” like watching colleagues get fired “just because they expressed or thought differently,” she states.
Silence is obligatory, Karla has concluded. She feels she has no other possibilities of employment that would allow her to leave her job. Her income supports the family. “There’s no longer any value placed on talent, only on political work – that’s what’s important to them,” she comments with disappointment.
As she describes it, the repression has escalated so much among the State workers and the Sandinista militancy itself that some have left without tending their formal resignation nor waiting for their severance pay. “People don’t even appear at work, they leave the country without resigning, out of fear, because you don’t know what could happen to you,” she states.
“We’re muzzled.. no one wants to go to jail”
Carmen*, who also works for the government, feels that the only option the public employees have is to “shut up and obey”, because for them, as for the rest of Nicaraguans, “there’s zero freedom”, in terms of their stripped-away rights as citizens.
“Here, it’s as if Daniel Ortega were the country’s owner and the daddy of all Nicaraguans, to put it like that. No one can speak up or utter an opinion that’s different from what he or his wife want. Otherwise, you receive punishment – in this case, jail,” she denounces.
Lucia, who works at INSS, coincides in saying that she feels no freedom of any kind.
“We’re gagged. There’s a lot of fear (…) no one wants to go to jail or be fired from their job,” she remarks.
For public employees like Lucia, who are the economic support of their household, the lack of other employment options forces them to keep their mouths shut. “The situation is hard, there are no jobs and we must take care of what we have,” she says.
Karla, Carmen and Lucia each separately describe being obligated to participate in marches, caravans and neighborhood visits across the 153 municipalities. Those are orders issued by Rosario Murillo to spread Sandinista party propaganda, since the party aims to hold onto its control of the majority of the mayor’s offices. “There’s a lot of absenteeism in the house-to-house visits,” Karla observes. But at the same time, there are political agents overseeing the fulfilment of “quotas” among all the workers.
The dictatorship’s orders also include keeping tabs on, or holding under siege, members of the opposition and other citizens who the Ortega camp sees as objects of suspicion and political persecution.
The flight of the State workers
Maria, who works in the Judicial system, confirms that the Ortega-loyal judges and magistrates are not permitted to leave Nicaragua. They must “feel cornered and without any liberty,” she comments.
However, she also details that it’s the magistrates themselves who have the job of telling their colleagues that they need to go out and join the marches, and to “put on a happy face there.”
In addition, they’re obligated to attend party training classes every Saturday, classes the public employees consider “brainwashing”. It’s political indoctrination, to justify their “absurd” policies, Maria remarks critically. She laments the fact that they have no right to protest. “That’s risking getting fired or worse,” she warns.
Maria feels that the departure of public employees and FSLN militant party members without even tending their formal resignation shows that even they themselves “can’t stand it and are leaving.”
The work environment isn’t one of trust, she notes. What’s said must be very carefully filtered, and not expressed to just anyone. Carmen affirms that she maintains communication with colleagues, with whom she shares information on the political prisoners, the disconent within the institution itself, the Sandinista party’s imposition of candidates for mayors, and other sensitive topics.
“First, you have to know who’s on the right side and who isn’t,” she affirms. “You can’t do this with everybody, because you can’t be 100% sure of anyone.”
The “hidden” flight abroad of the government collaborators has been confirmed by organizations such as Urnas Abiertas [“Open Ballot Boxes”]. This group has documented cases where members of the Sandinista Front have denounced the huge fear that exists within the State apparatus.
The Police State
On September 28, 2018, the Ortega regime’s police officially criminalized the civic protests. The declaration was issued five days after 16-year-old Matt Andres Romero became one of over 325 mortal victims of the government’s repression in the context of the April 2018 Civic Rebellion, according to data documented by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Following that measure, Ortega began a repressive escalation, focused on annulling all the Constitutional rights of Nicaraguans and imposing a state of terror through the Police.
Groups of dissidents and self-organized citizens challenged the imposition of the Police State and organized a number of protests. The last of these, on October 14 of that year, was dispersed with abundant police violence. At that time, 38 demonstrators were jailed for a few hours, among them Suyen Barahona, Tamara Davila, Ana Margarita Vigil and Jose Antonio Peraza. These activists were illegally rearrested a few years later, and now are among the Ortega regime’s political prisoners. They’ve been held at the El Chipote jail for nearly a year and a half. All have lost weight, their faces are drawn from the lack of sunlight, and they’ve suffered physical and psychological tortures which will leave them scarred for life.
The intensified repression continued to squelch any attempt at protest. Four years after the police state was established, the regime even considers it a punishable crime to wave Nicaragua’s blue and white flag.
Ivania Alvarez, former member of the Blue and White Unity Movement’s political council and a current member of Urnas Abiertas, affirms that the repression of the Ortega regime has been turned against the FSLN followers themselves.
“It’s been left very clear,” she notes, “that the closure of any spaces for protests or denunciations isn’t limited to the opposition. It extends to everyone, including those who are active members of the Sandinista Front.”