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Two Judges Loyal to Ortega Lose Their Posts in Nicaragua's Judiciary

Rosario Murillo's intervention in the Judiciary displaces Security Advisor Nestor Moncada Lau's influence, leaves his Supreme Court protégés in limbo

Octavio Rothschuh, Managua Court of Appeals judge, and Supreme Court Justice Marvin Aguilar // Photos: Judicial Branch

Redacción Confidencial

2 de abril 2024


In November 2023, Vice President Rosario Murillo, with the backing of President Daniel Ortega, carried out a "coup" against Nicaragua's Judiciary, marking the beginning of the Ortega-Murillo "dynastic succession." In March 2024, three former judiciary officials confirmed to CONFIDENCIAL that the purge also provoked the fall from grace of the powerful vice president of the Supreme Court, Marvin Aguilar, and of several judges and political protégés of Nestor Moncada Lau, Ortega's and Murillo's national security advisor.  

Justice Aguilar was one of the main beneficiaries of Murillo's earlier intervention, which began with the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Alba Luz Ramos. Aguilar then self-proclaimed himself "acting Chief Justice," with the backing of his political protector Moncada Lau.

The police raid of the Judiciary, ordered by Rosario Murillo in November 2023, was carried out by retired Commissioner General Horacio Rocha and FSLN Organization Secretary Fidel Moreno, resulting in the removal of Chief Justice Ramos and the de facto removal of six associate justices, as well as the purging of more than one thousand Judicial branch officials.

Judges questioned in February and March

"Marvin Aguilar was interrogated in February at the Auxiliary Judicial Complex known as El Chipote, for alleged acts of corruption. Since then he has not had the political clout he had exercised in the Supreme Court. He has not been removed from office, but he no longer has any decision-making power in the Court, and he is in limbo, without any guarantee he will be re-appointed as a Justice," said one of the former judiciary officials consulted for this article.

With Aguilar's fall from grace, several of his and Moncada Lau's protégés also fell, indicating the weakening of Moncada Lau's influence in the Court and the consolidation of Murillo's power through Rocha and Moreno. 

In March 2024, Judge Octavio Rothschuh, president of Chamber One of the Managua Court of Appeals, was taken to El Chipote for interrogation, the former Judiciary officials confirmed. "Judge Rothschuh was never detained, but he left El Chipote as an appeals judge without powers," commented one of the former officials.

At the beginning of 2024, Rothschuh –along with appeals judge Ernesto Rodríguez and other criminal trial judges who stood out as "the executioners" in the mock trials against political prisoners– had been proposed by Marvin Aguilar as candidates to fill the Supreme Court vacancies of, in a list that has since been discarded. 

"In total there are ten vacancies –11 with Marvin Aguilar if he is also removed– but it is increasingly likely that the new justices will come from a list made in the image and likeness of Murillo, without the influence of Marvin Aguilar and Moncada Lau," said the former judicial official.

The absence of Aguilar and Rothschuh from their judicial offices coincided with the Holy Week vacation period, so their status within the institution is still unclear. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has now been paralyzed and decapitated for five months, and it is expected that the "Murillo list" will be presented in the next few weeks to the National Assembly for ratification.

Marvin Aguilar, the fleeting "acting Supreme Court Chief Justice" 

Marvin Aguilar, a lawyer from the Chontales province, was a State Security collaborator with the Ministry of the Interior in the 1980's. He was promoted to Supreme Court justice in 1996 as part of the inner circle of retired Colonel Lenín Cerna, to guarantee the subordination of the judiciary branch to the dictates of the FSLN.

When Cerna was displaced as organization secretary of the FSLN and relieved of his role of maintaining party control of the Court in 2011, his influence was progressively replaced by that of Nestor Moncada Lau, national security advisor to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in the El Carmen Secretariat.

It was in this context that Aguilar switched to Moncada Lau's camp. After the resignation of former justice Rafael Solís in 2019 , Moncada Lau took over as political secretary of the FSLN within the Judicial Branch, consolidating his role as vice-president of the Supreme Court.

Following the ousting of Chief Justice Alba Luz Ramos in a police operation ordered by Rosario Murillo in late October 2023, Aguilar assumed "the acting presidency of the Court," according to a memo sent to Court officials. During November and December, Aguilar led the massive purge in the judiciary and, along with Justice Juana Méndez, was one of the few justices who had secured his path to re-appointment to the Court.

However, in February 2024, Aguilar himself was subjected to police interrogations in El Chipote in an investigation for alleged corruption. As Rosario Murillo's political control of the judiciary was being consolidated through Horacio Rocha and Fidel Moreno, Aguilar was erased from his fleeting role as "acting president of the Court," to the extent that today he is "just another justice without functions or authority," vying for a place on the re-appointment list.

Octavio Rothschuh, "executioner" of political prisoners 

With more than 30 years of judicial experience, Octavio Rothschuh was appointed to the Appeals Court in 2018. He was elected president of Chamber One of the Criminal Appeals Court in 2021, enjoying the support of judges Rosa Argentina Solis and Angela Davila. He had previously served as a local judge in Nueva Guinea, a district criminal judge in Juigalpa, Chontales, and a criminal trial judge in Managua's Seventh District.

In a profile of Judge Rothschuh published by CONFIDENCIAL in September 2022, he is described as an FSLN militant. In 2019, he participated in the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, accompanying the then-president of the Appeals Court, Gerardo Rodríguez, who was dismissed two years later for processing an appeal made by the opposition political party, Citizens for Liberty.

A lawyer consulted for this article said that Rothschuh has always acted in his role as "obedient operator," for which he expects "to be rewarded" even when he violates the law. Rothschuh's expectation, according to the lawyer, is that "his loyalty will be rewarded by appointing him to the Supreme Court."

The lawyer pointed out that several of the judges who sentenced political prisoners through questionable judicial processes between 2018 and 2019 were rewarded with judiciary appointments. 

"All those who have been promoted since April 2018 are somehow connected to illicit activities related to the repression. That's the pattern the Judiciary branch has been replicating," said lawyer Yader Morazan at the time.

According to Morazan, the justice's actions also revealed that there are public officials who are "intimidated and forced to do things that they have never done [even when] these things don't appear in the laws" and "are illegal." 

Rothschuh is not considered a "mediocre professional." He "knows what he is doing and knows that he is implicated," said Morazan.

"Informational hearings" for political prisoners

In August 2022, Rothschuh was in charge of the illegal "informational hearings" of 16 of the 27 political prisoners who were taken to a Managua courthouse to supposedly learn more about the status of their respective judicial processes. According to independent lawyers consulted by CONFIDENCIAL, these hearings were illegal, demonstrating that they were being carried out by a "political operator" who superimposes his loyalty to the regime over the administration of justice according to the rule of law. 

Rothschuh, who presided over the illegal hearings accompanied by fellow appeals court judges Davila and Solis, did little more than repeat the same paragraph over and over again with only slight changes to the political prisoners being held in El Chipote. 

Rothschuh informed the political prisoners that their respective defense lawyers had filed appeals in which they pointed out the damages or violations –"offenses" in judicial jargon– contemplated in the sentences issued by the appeals court. In the "informational hearings," the court simply ratified the prison sentences of between seven and thirteen years that had been handed down by the pro-Ortega judges during the mock trials held in El Chipote.

Among the offenses presented by the defense lawyers were violations of the constitutional rights of the defendant, such as the right to private communication with defense counsel. This right had been violated since the beginning of the judicial process, including during the trials themselves, in which the lawyers were barely able to converse for five or ten minutes with their respective defendants.

The expulsion and forced exile of 222 political prisoners

Judge Rothschuh was also in charge of announcing, on February 9, 2023, the order for the "immediate and effective deportation" of 222 former political prisoners, who were put on a flight to the United States, where they were banished and declared "traitors to the homeland" by the Ortega regime.

In his statement, Rothschuh emphasized that the banishment of the political prisoners was ordered on February 8, 2023, by means of a resolution in which the 222 Nicaraguan citizens "were declared traitors to the homeland and punished for different serious crimes and permanently disqualified from exercising any public function in the name and service of the State of Nicaragua, or to exercise any popularly elected positions, given that their citizenship rights are permanently suspended."

Judges sanctioned by the United States

In December 2020, Justice Marvin Aguilar was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), along with National Assembly representative Walmaro Gutierrez and police commissioner Fidel Dominguez. Aguilar was singled out for his responsibility in co-opting the judicial system "to support the Ortega regime in the systematic identification, intimidation and punishment of the political opposition." OFAC indicates that as a member of the Supreme Court's Administration and Judicial Career Council, he "ensures that sympathizers of the regime are selected for key positions."

Octavio Rothschuh was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department on April 19, 2023, along with Judge Ernesto Rodriguez, president of the Appeals Court, and Judge Nadia Camila Tardencilla.

The US Administration accused the Judiciary of being "involved in human rights abuses" committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime. Specifically, it accused them of having stripped more than 300 Nicaraguan opponents of their citizenship.

In June 2022, a European Parliament resolution called on the European Union to sanction fourteen judges and three Appeals Court judges, including Rothschuh.

The European Parliament called "on the European Union to hold the Nicaraguan regime –in particular its judges– accountable for the repression in the country and for the judicial proceedings brought against opposition personalities and other critics," and therefore called on "the Council to immediately initiate procedures to include the judges on the list of persons sanctioned by the EU."

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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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.