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Police and military take over political control and surveillance of airports

The new administrators of the EAAI and the airports in Managua, Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas, Corn Island, and San Juan de Nicaragua

Redacción Confidencial

30 de enero 2023

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Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo granted control of the International Airports Administration Company (EAAI) to police and military commanders to reinforce political surveillance in a sensitive area such as Nicaragua's airport terminals, according to security specialists. 

Through two presidential agreements, on January 18, 2023, the Ortega-Murillo regime appointed police and military officers to command positions in the EAAI. Their names are:

  • Commissioner Major Ivan Escobar Ramirez, the new director general of the EAAI, was previously director of Economic Investigations of the Police and was transferred under an “external service commission,” according to a subsequent press release.                                                                                   
  •  Army Captain Marvin Noé Padilla Fonseca, the new deputy director in charge of controlling revenues from the country's airport operations, mainly from Managua's Augusto C. Sandino International Airport. Padilla is one of the two Army representatives in EAAI and was linked to its vice management. The other Army representative is the head of the Nicaraguan Air Force, a position currently held by Colonel Alejandro Marin Serrano, as part of EAAI's advisory board. 

“Under the pretext of defense of sovereignty, what they are pursuing, in reality, is to control a sensitive area from the point of view of the police-military; to know what and who enters, and what and who leaves the country. They do this by subordinating civilian functions to military ones, in order to strengthen their information network. They want to control the borders, airports, ports, land border posts, everything,” explained an expert in public security issues, who requested anonymity.

EAAI managers fired after the arrival of uniformed officers

The appointment of these uniformed officers led to the dismissal of Aleyda Molina Lacayo and María Hassan Murillo, general manager and co-general manager of EAAI, respectively.

These dismissals took place after the termination, in January 2023, of the co-management positions held by these officials by means of a law sent as a matter of urgency by Daniel Ortega and approved by the National Assembly in June 2022, which is controlled by the regime and its political collaborationist allies.

Sources familiar with these situations reported that upon the Police taking control of the EAAI, retired Commissioner General Horacio Rocha – recently reactivated by the regime as a presidential advisor with the rank of minister in matters of national security – would have gone to the Civil Aeronautics Directorate and ordered the dismissal of its head, Captain Carlos Salgado, who is reportedly at home for taking a supposed rest.

Police sources and public security specialists consulted by CONFIDENCIAL point out that this move by the regime is reminiscent of the one made in the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), which also passed to be managed by military and police commanders.

The UAF is directed by Major General Denis Membreño Rivas and Commissioner General Aldo Saenz Ulloa, a military-police scheme, as opposed to the appointments in the EAAI, which are police-military.

Appointment of police and military to buy loyalties

Elvira Cuadra, an expert on public security issues, recalled that this scheme of appointing military and police officers to civilian positions is the result of the process of co-opting the independence of the Police and the Army developed by Ortega, which began with the reforms to the Military Code and the Police Law. 

“It is a practice that has become common for Ortega during the last few years, even before 2018, as part of the process of co-opting and sustaining loyalties in the two institutions. Since the reforms to the Military Code and the Police Law, he left some articles that allow him to do that, and we have seen how they now appoint retired or active police and military officers in positions that are of a civilian nature,” the specialist explained.  

“The purpose is to ensure the loyalty of the two institutions, but also to maintain control and political vigilance over institutions that play a key role in the overall surveillance and control system over the citizenry. The international airport is a key target. We have seen how control over international traffic, whether of Nicaraguans or foreigners, has become a key issue for the regime. These appointments respond to that logic of control”, he stressed. 

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The regime has gradually intensified its migratory controls, and this has translated into the confiscation of passports, blocking of exit or entry to Nicaragua, abrupt deportations of foreigners, and even the banishment of Nicaraguans.

In 2022, more than a dozen Nicaraguans were banished by the regime. In all these cases, the same pattern was repeated: they left Nicaragua, and when they were about to return, the airline informed them that the Government of Nicaragua did not approve their entry into the country, so they could not board.

The most recent case that was made public was that of journalist Luis Felipe Palacios, delegate of the Efe press agency in Nicaragua, who on November 30, 2022, was prevented from entering the country, upon his return from a work trip to Panama.

In November 2021, the existence of a “red list” of persons of interest was denounced, made up of businessmen, social activists, political figures, members of the Catholic Church, and officials of the regime itself, whose departures from Nicaragua are blocked by the authorities of the dictatorship.  

CONFIDENCIAL gathered reports from state workers about a de facto prohibition imposed by the regime to leave Nicaragua, which has even escalated to high-ranking officials, such as magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice and heads of ministries and other state portfolios. 

Ortega's son and his father-in-law are on the EAAI board of directors

Ortega's government had already taken steps to reassert control over EAAI since February 23, 2022. On that day, by means of three presidential agreements, Ortega appointed the following people as members of the Consultative Council of the EAAI Board of Directors: his son Laureano Ortega Murillo; the director of the Police, the first commissioner Francisco Díaz Madriz (who is also Laureano Ortega Murillo’s father-in-law), and José Mojica Mejía, one of the main front men of the Ortega Murillo's network of private companies. 

The other members of the Consultative Council of the EAAI are the director of Migration, Commander Juan Emilio Rivas, the former Minister of Health Sonia Castro, the director of the Institute of Tourism Anasha Campbell, Brigadier General Spiro Bassi Aguilar, head of the Nicaraguan Air Force, the director of Customs Eddy Medrano. There are also two representatives from the Caribbean (Arturo Hooker and Nadezdha Fenly Mejía) and Tomás Valdez Rodríguez representing the "private sector".

The EAAI has been going through a severe financial crisis since 2020, derived from the restrictions imposed by the regime under the grounds of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the obstacles to the airlines, which includes the obligation to inform the composition of the airplane crew three days in advance and to demand that they present vaccination certificates. The measure was considered incomprehensible to companies in the tourism sector, given that in Nicaragua, mass activities were promoted that carried a high risk of contagion.

In June 2022, the Ministry of Health announced the relaxation of these requirements, but the demand to submit the list of people boarding the plane was maintained, apparently, to exercise the abusive veto that the Migration authorities have implemented to prevent Nicaraguans and foreigners they consider undesirable from entering the country.

It was until July 2022, that EAAI finally managed to have a slight surplus in its finances, after two years of presenting deficits, although it still does not manage to recover the level of operations it had before the imposition of the police state in 2018 and the health crisis in 2020.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. 

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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.

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