Between January 19 and December 9 of 2022, the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime eliminated the largest number of non-profit organizations in the history of Nicaragua. The "cleansing" carried out by the Ministry of Governance and the National Assembly --dominated by the Sandinistas-- wiped out 3,108 NGOs, including 314 foreign ones.
The rate of NGO closures grew more intense during the second half of the year. In the first six months 796 organizations were shut down,13 times more than in 2021. In the second half of the year, some 2,312 organizations had their legal status or operating registrations --in the case of foreign-based organizations-- eliminated.
This massive elimination of NGOs was facilitated by the reform of Law 115, the General Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations, which gave the Governance Ministry the power to eliminate organizations’ legal status through ministerial resolutions.
The dictatorship has annulled a total of 3,182 non-profit organizations since November 2018. These organizations worked, for the most part, in the areas of development, human rights, democracy, education, health, social projects, the environment, and religious evangelization projects.
According to a statistical analysis by CONFIDENTIAL based on a proprietary database created with information from the Governance Ministry’s officially published resolutions in “La Gaceta”, some 44% of these non-profits had operated in Nicaragua between eleven and twenty years, while another 41% had been operating for three decades.
A projection of illegalized organizations – the Local Network, Popol Na, the River Foundation and the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never Again—analyzed that the regime has closed some 43% of the 7,227 NGOs that existed in the country before the massive cancellations began.
Last October, an Inter-American Dialogue investigation calculated that at least one million Nicaraguans, who either worked at the NGOs or benefited from their social projects, were affected by the massive closure of these spaces.
The calculation is based on a case study of a sample of 53 non-profits. It also calculated that the organizations were implementing projects worth a total of $41 million when they lost their legal status and operating registrations. Some 2,000 workers were left unemployed by the closures.
Last October, at least 18 organizations denounced "the systematic violation of freedom of association and the right to defend human rights in Nicaragua" to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The most affected: women, indigenous peoples and children
The massive closures directly affected vulnerable groups, such as women exposed to violence. At least 130 NGOs that provided support to victims of gender-based violence lost their legal status, according to data analyzed by CONFIDENTIAL.
The list of shut-down organizations also includes more than 30 that worked in indigenous communities --the poorest and most neglected by national authorities—as well as a number of NGOs that developed social projects that benefited communities without access to water, such as those implemented by the Humboldt Center.
Thirty-five percent of the cancelled NGOs were carrying out development projects, including social, economic, press freedom, cultural and human rights projects. There were also organizations implementing projects focused on children and adolescents.
A report by CONFIDENCIAL, entitled "Young people in Nicaragua are left without a future and without jobs”, portrayed the stories of young people working on development, education and social projects implemented by the Children's Association "Tuktan Sirpi" and the Education and Communication Association "Cuculmeca" in the Jinotega province.
Among the more than 3,000 closed NGOs, there are at least 92 that were focused on the environment, including some who were in charge of protected areas such as the Cocibolca Foundation, which managed the Mombacho Volcano nature reserve.
Last September, environmental activist Amaru Ruíz pointed out that with the closure of these spaces, there were no independent environmental organizations left in the country and "those that still operate are national and international organizations that have been co-opted by the regime, such as Flora and Fauna International".
Similarly, among the 3,182 organizations closed since 2018, there are at least 140 that had focused on health. The case that caused the greatest uproar in 2022 was the closure of Operation Smile, which carried out surgeries on children with cleft lips and palates. This program had benefited some five thousand children and adolescents during the 27 years they had worked in Nicaragua.
The building where Operation Smile operated was confiscated by the regime and converted into a museum. A CONFIDENCIAL investigation concluded that at least 67 properties belonging to civil society organizations and media outlets were raided by force.
The investigation revealed that of the 67 properties confiscated, 29 were taken over by Sandinista operators or representatives of State institutions. Thirteen were violently raided by the Police, breaking locks and padlocks to enter. In four cases the police raids did not yield any goods because the organizations had already removed their documentation and office equipment in anticipation that they would be occupied.
More than 300 foreign NGOs
The closures of foreign-based NGOs began in August 2021 and intensified in 2022. In total, the regime eliminated the operating registration of 341 such international organizations. Of these, 42% were from the United States, 13% from Spain, 7% from Italy, 5% from Germany, and 4% from Costa Rica.
There were also organizations based in France, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Panama, England, Denmark, Mexico, Honduras, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, among others.
A source linked to international NGOs revealed to CONFIDENTIAL that an evaluation was carried out in October 2020 to assess the impact of the development aid channeled by a couple dozen international organizations.
"The evaluation is incomplete, because only 27 international organizations provided information," the source said. "Between these 27 international NGOs, they channeled $25.5 million a year in cooperation aid to Nicaragua, directly reaching 550,000 people, especially in rural areas," he added.
The Ministry of Governance claims that the closing of these organizations, which violates the right of association in Nicaragua, is because these organizations "failed to comply with their obligations (...) since they did not report on their boards of directors, or financial statements with breakdowns of income and expenses for periods of between two and 29 years", or for not detailing the names, identifications, addresses and telephone numbers of all their donors.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.