While civic resistance remains alive despite increased repression by the Ortega-Murillo regime, four former political prisoners urged a change in strategy. They say a reorganization of the opposition is necessary to turn it into a "government option" that can take on the Ortega dictatorship.
Former presidential pre-candidate Felix Maradiaga, civic leader Violeta Granera, Ana Margarita Vijil of Unamos, and Lesther Alemán, youth leader of the Nicaraguan University Alliance and the Civic Alliance, participated in the television program Esta Semana on Sunday, April 16, the eve of the fifth anniversary of the April rebellion, to analyze the political scenarios of the opposition.
The former prisoners of conscience agreed that the reorganization of the opposition is a "process" without a defined political deadline, but they said that given the situation of the country, it is urgent. "I feel an enormous sense of urgency. I think that those of us who have been in prison know that every day a Nicaraguan is arbitrarily deprived of his or her freedom is a day of suffering, and absolutely no one should be deprived of their freedom in Nicaragua," said Maradiaga.
The reorganization of the opposition demands a strategy of "unity in action" without sectarianism or ideological orthodoxies. It should facilitate a greater connection between the exiled leadership and the local work happening on the ground. This territorial work continues despite ever-increasing repression by a dictatorship that has self-isolated itself from the international community to avoid being held accountable for the abuses it has committed since 2018.
Justice without impunity
Maradiaga said that it's not possible to think about a democratic transition without justice, which means that for him, impunity cannot be part of the equation. According to Maradiaga, this is a complex issue.
Alemán agreed, saying he believes the topic is "delicate" precisely because people are upset with those who carried out the repression. The student leader said he is in favor of clearly identifying participation in repressive actions. In his words, justice first needs the truth.
Granera added, "I am convinced by the position of the majority of Nicaraguans, that there can't be peace without justice, there can't be stability without justice, and we can't perpetuate the culture of impunity, because that is what has been causing us such serious problems in the country. But I also believe that we have understood that there is no justice under dictatorships and so we have to democratize Nicaragua, to achieve justice, a common good, a global good."
Vijil was confident that there will be justice and democracy in Nicaragua "sooner than some of us imagine because we continue resisting [the dictatorship]".
The UNAMOS leader highlighted the resistance within Nicaragua, mentioning the fact that churches were full during Holy Week, despite the government's prohibitions and repressive actions. She also pointed out how the demand for the release of Monsignor [Rolando] Alvarez –sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison by the justice system under Ortega's control– has been kept alive.
"[Citizen] networks exist. You –the [independent] media– are still working, still reporting what is happening in Nicaragua, even from exile. You are doing it because there are people inside who are reporting," said Vijil.
The repressive measures referred to by Vijil were carried out during Holy Week when Vice President Rosario Murillo justified police operations and prohibition of religious processions by invoking what she referred to as the "true God" in her speeches. Seventeen people were locked up and have not yet been charged by the Attorney General's Office, in another wave of arrests that has stoked anxiety in the families of those affected and in the population in general.
Strategic "underground" work
Granera explained that in this "reconfiguration" of the opposition, the criteria of those who are still inside Nicaragua is crucial, referring to those who, for security reasons given increased repression, are working in small groups of trusted colleagues to do "clandestine underground[civic] work."
According to Maradiaga, the leadership in exile must meet four conditions if it wants to advance: maintain political links with the territorial leaders, have a clear strategy as well as spokespeople to speak to the international community, keep in touch with the daily-life issues of the population, and ask for greater international pressure.
Maradiaga said it is necessary "to demand of the international community that the force of pressure and diplomatic sanctions be focussed on making it possible for us to be able to return to Nicaragua to establish our political and non-violent operational capacity, working from inside our country."
Maradiaga, Vijil, Granera and Alemán are part of the group of 222 political prisoners who were deported by Ortega to the United States on February 9 and stripped of their nationality and citizen rights, and declared "traitors to the homeland".
In prison they suffered greatly. They were detained six months before the 2021 presidential elections, when Ortega eliminated the electoral competition and extended his reign of power through an undemocratic process whose results were considered illegitimate by the Organization of American States.
Lesther Alemán suggested there is an increasing rejection of the dictatorship, with Ortega facing greater opposition in the universities, in the streets, in neighborhoods and communities, in the Catholic Church and among government employees.
The recently released leaders insisted that while they were incarcerated, they experienced the much needed unity. During that time, ideological differences were put aside. Vijil said that what remained was the essence of the struggle: solidarity, love, getting to know the other person, and knowing that everyone can come together to work for Nicaragua.
"Here we are, doing these same kinds of activities, but we are working together, on the same action, and with the same hope, on the same task: to build a Nicaragua where we all can live. I think that's the most important thing when we talk about unity," Vijil reiterated.
Granera added that the former political prisoners have a group text chat, in which they share their experiences and the processes they are going through since being released. She considers that this communication space reflects another of the challenges of today's Nicaragua: "knowing how to listen and communicate".
Anyone can be a spokesperson to the international community to denounce Ortega and Murillo, stressed Vijil. She highlighted the example of how the advocacy work of the diaspora has made the situation in Nicaragua better known internationally.
Vijil recalled that an American child – the son of Nicaraguans –had sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking the United States to do something for the release of political prisoners, and that that's what happened in February.
Maradiaga said that the work of documenting human rights abuses has also enriched the work of the UN experts, whose mandate has been extended for two more years.
A recent UN report denounced that serious crimes against the population had been committed in 2018. It also denounced the impunity of these crimes, and described a political system that investigators compared to that established by the Nazis.
Maradiaga notes an important change in the way things are being done now. "People would like to see an official spokesperson, but I think we're achieving something better, in a collective way. Some of the diaspora organizations have done extraordinary work in this regard," he said.
Alemán urged the opposition movement to broaden its leadership with representatives that "are not limited to 2018", to include exiles, the diaspora in general, those released from prison and recently formed organizations. "We are all necessary and at the same time, no one is indispensable," said the student leader.
Public employees "without blood stains"
The four ex-political prisoners called on public servants who are not in agreement with the authoritarianism and political violence imposed by the FSLN in government institutions to join the vision of a democratic Nicaragua.
According to a report published last year by CONFIDENCIAL, political cadres keep state employees under political surveillance, force them to attend party marches and harass them as a way to impose the FSLN's control. State employees are essentially waging an internal struggle with the dictatorship, and Maradiaga says they are in a different category than those who committed aggressions against citizens.
"Within the state apparatus, I am very clear that many public servants would like to get out of that system, but there have to be alternatives, democratic policies, especially for those who do not have blood on their hands and who stay working there out of necessity: nurses, orderlies, primary and secondary school teachers, people in administrative positions in the institutions," said Maradiaga.
The former presidential candidate reaffirmed that these people have a space in the Nicaragua that seeks justice, freedom, and respect for human dignity, and that the democratic transition protects them.
Granera affirmed that it is not a crime to profess a political ideology, but that "violating human rights is a crime".
"We have to rebuild Nicaragua among all of us, and that includes people who are currently working in the government, who are within the Sandinista party, who are part of it. Even the National Police is too big a body to put them all in the same bag. The leaders and the police chiefs are one thing; the police officers and people who are simply doing their job are quite another", added Vijil.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.