In Nicaragua the media that don’t belong to the government or the presidential family are overflowing with voices demanding the exit of President Daniel Ortega, but there are very few individual Sandinista voices there. The responsibility for such views falls mainly on the Sandinista Front Party and the public officials. They won’t talk to reporters. There’s generally only an official version, delivered directly by the Vice President Rosario Murillo, using the government’s own communications media.
That’s why an interview with Jacinto Suarez merits a higher profile. Suarez is one of the most influential men in the FSLN. He presides over the Foreign Relations Commission of the Nicaraguan Congress, but he’s also the man in charge of the party’s international relations, and as such, the Sandinista’s representative before the Sao Paulo Forum.
Suarez’ closeness to President Ortega dates back to childhood. They were both born and raised in the same neighborhoods of Managua, and Suarez joined the Sandinista guerrilla movements at 15. At 19 he was arrested and shared a prison cell with Ortega until both were freed in 1974. From then on, he was assigned duties in the area of international relations.
He’s served as the assistant foreign minister, head of intelligence, ambassador to Moscow and the Executive Secretary to the general command of the Sandinista Front. He is, then, a man close to the beleaguered Comandante and president of Nicaragua,
Suarez is a man of few words, of limited body language, but with the voice of command. He’s upset by what he considers an intent to stage a Coup, not only against Ortega but against the Nicaraguan people. Sure of his convictions, he accuses the oligarchy, the United States, and the drug traffickers of stirring up this conspiracy against them.
This interview took place in his office, a small house next to the headquarters of Albanisa, decorated with posters from the revolution and portraits of Carlos Fonseca, one of the founders of the Sandinista Front.
How do you in the FSLN see this situation?
Today, it’s easier and clearer to understand the United States participation. A few days ago, the US ambassador demanded that the national police return the vehicles that they’d donated. There are multiple documents in which they note with all clarity and even offer data on the money that the US agencies have given here. Some representatives of the students were [recently] received with fifes and whistles in the United States. They received them there, they took them to Washington, the were photographed with the Cuban mafia, etc. Now they’re meeting with ARENA in El Salvador. They were received by the mayor whose name I can never pronounce.
Muyshondt. Ernesto Muyshondt.
Him. That is, all of that world they’ve been moving in is the most far right wing on the continent. The Cuban-American mafia, ARENA.. it’s more than clear that the United States is behind this.
Why do you believe that the United States wants to oust your government?
Nicaragua is a bad example. How can it be that in a country so small and destroyed by the war, someone like Daniel Ortega can take power and like by magic, this country that was so weak could begin to pick itself up and come to be among the countries with the greatest growth in Latin America. Since, when the left arrived…
And made a pact with private employers…
The oligarchy had an agreement with the Sandinista Front to reconstruct Nicaragua, a three-way pact: unions-government-private enterprise. This gave a great push to the national economy, but at the same time represented a political hinderance that they wanted to shake off.
The oligarchy and the United States. They thought about a Coup like those we know of…
But apparently it wasn’t that way for many years. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and its leader, Mr. Jose Adan Aguerri toured all of Latin America for all those years citing the virtues of an agreement with Daniel Ortega. Where was the hindrance?
There was a signal issued from the United States. A few days before April there’s a speech from the North American ambassador here that tells the business community to be careful with this alliance. That’s where a picture begins to emerge in which the oligarchy begin to look for a way to get free from Daniel Ortega.
Because that’s the signal from the United States and it’s the empire’s decision.
Allow me to question your thesis, laying out on the table some facts: private enterprise in this country, big business, profited a great deal from this agreement. They were very comfortable.
That’s how it was. But there’s a part that I haven’t told you about: a lot of money came here from Venezuela. For example, the ranchers. Do you know that here they sold live cattle and meat to Venezuela? They even met with Chavez. It was a preferential treaty that netted the oligarchy a lot of money. In the case of cattle and meat, that contract ended at the beginning of this year. It ran out. Now they’re not selling anything. All of that money that it was producing for them dropped off as the result of the Venezuelan situation and with it, the alliance that they had with the Nicaraguan government. That’s the key to understand this.
And, on the other hand, the new imperial policies: that they were signaling going to battle against the progressive governments and the “bad example” of Nicaragua must be destroyed. But they were wrong about something: this is a government with a popular base of support. COSEP as such manages some 30 percent of the national production. Do you know who manages the rest?
I imagine it’s the small unassociated businesses and the informal economy.
The small and medium are a daughter of the revolution. To give you an idea of how it is here: When COSEP calls for a national strike, 30% of the economy stops. They wanted to add in the transportation sector and the transportation unions and they told them no. Daniel Ortega modernized the system of public transport. And like them, there are various sectors that refuse to go on strike. If you ask which unions went on strike you’ll find out that none of them. The oligarchy and the students who participated in that weren’t enough to overturn a government. So they fall back on the terrorist methods like looting, to provoke chaos. Then came the national dialogue, in which Daniel Ortega called on the Church to mediate.
That seems to have stalled.
They came to demand, but don’t offer anything. That Ortega must go, and they want early elections. We told them that they should remove the roadblocks and they don’t want to. They don’t want to give up anything. We now call them the “Demands Commission”. That commission that is going around here with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, is something they demanded. They demanded the UN commission. They’ve asked for all that and they’ve been given it all.
You say that the oligarchy and the students aren’t enough to stage a coup d’etat, but they’re not the only ones in the rebellion. There are a lot of ordinary people. What we’ve seen in Masaya, in La Trinidad, in Leon, in Jinotega, all of those people can with difficulty be considered part of the “oligarchy” or “students from the capital” like those who are at that table. They’re poor people, common people. And nonetheless, they’re participating in the melee, demanding that President Ortega resign. It’s very difficult to see in your conspiracy theory, even if we could validate it, how this has any relation with what we’re seeing on the ground, above all in the interior of the country.
Look, there’s no worse product of a capitalist system than the right-wing poor. Do you understand my concept?
The right-wing poor person is the worst product that this system can give. Here in Nicaragua, as in other countries of the world there are a percentage of voters, that must be around 30% here, that are on the right. And they’re poor! And there must be a lot of them. Like in the years of the counterrevolution, it was poor people that rose against the government. That mass of poor won’t accept a left-wing government. In El Salvador you understand that very well.
So you’re telling me that those people in Masaya, in Monimbo are people from the right-wing?
That’s right. I’m telling you. And I’ll explain something else: we know Monimbo well. There are nine gangs that are there. That’s what it is.
I’ve met not one or two, but many Nicaraguans who tell me openly that they’ve voted for the Sandinista Front all their lives. Even former Sandinista combatants who today demand the president’s resignation…
I’ll explain something else to you. You understand perfectly well how the media can influence people’s awareness. There’s a mass that we had on our side who’ve been influenced by a ferocious campaign against us. That’s part of the techniques of the Coup and there are people who’ve let themselves be carried along by that. And they’re charging us for some mistakes we’ve made.
What error do you think you’ve made?
We’re not going to talk about that right now. We’re going to get out of this and afterwards we’ll correct our mistakes. Because without a doubt there are some.
For example: the deaths of the students. Repressing a protest, whether or not it’s justified, and causing deaths in that way. Is that an error or not?
Yes, I believe so. But let’s start with this: there was a protest here. So then they invented a death. That a student had died and that they needed to go back onto the streets. There was a second demonstration, in which there were three deaths: one policeman and two demonstrators. From there another effect was unleashed: the dead, the dead, the dead. There are people falsely reported as dead and true deaths. We have a ton of our dead, there are lots, and we have deaths on the other side. What can you tell me about repression when they kill you as well? Because those protestors are not unarmed and you know it. Maybe not the demonstrators, but, yes, those who are at the barricades. Look, when they entered Masaya, there were three deaths because they resisted and shot at the police and they fired back.
Let’s talk about the dead. Not with the lists of the local human rights organizations if you prefer. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) received the list from the government and there are over 200 people listed as killed and the majority aren’t from the police.
Because that’s how they listed them. Look, there are those killed by bullets that weren’t in the protest. And they were noted there.
But this is the list that the government gave the IACHR…
Yes, and there are deaths on the other side too. The government turned over a list. In the Truth Commission they have a lot of information about who died in the protests and who’s not even dead. There’s one person who saw himself in the photo and said, “Hey – what are they doing with me there?”
There are exceptions, deputy. But that’s what they are – exceptions. The greater part of the national and international entities point to an excessive use of force on the part of the police, the riot squads and what they called armed groups at the service of the state security. Paramilitaries. All of the national and international organizations coincide in this with the exception of the Nicaraguan government. Could it be that they’re all part of a conspiracy?
The report of the IACHR is completely biased. They relate a lot of events that the opposition gave them, with no proof of any kind. Here there was a fire in a house that the opposition themselves caused, in which six people died. Tell me, what’s the logic? They say that there’s a family in the house and the government decides that they have to set it on fire. What’s gained with that? They did have a problem with the people in the roadblocks. They’d fought several times. And what the neighbors saw go in were hooded figures, and they said they were police. The other child who died there was killed by a stray bullet. Why does it have to be a bullet shot on purpose by a police official.
Because now we have more information about those two cases: in the case of the house that was burned, one of the survivors has asked the IACHR to grant her protection because she claims she’s being threatened by agents of the state. She says that they demanded that they open the door to install a sniper on the roof. And that faced with their refusal they set the house on fire. In the case of the child, Teylor…
That’s it, but who were the snipers?
What the neighbors say is that there were police opening the way for the hooded men. Paramilitaries. Those are the events that were registered.
Look, look.. if you go to the neighborhoods of Managua and find barricades, ask the neighbors why they put them up. The neighbors themselves put them up because the media, the television and the radio says that there are masked police going around killing people. That’s the product of this whole atmosphere. That they say that everyone with a mask on is a police agent… when the masked men are from both sides.
We’ve seen videos of cars full of hooded men with long arms going into the public institutions. They’ve circulated widely.
And so what if they enter the state institutions? There are people that cover up their identity and defend themselves with arms. Go to Jinotepe.
These people don’t use uniforms nor vehicles identified as state vehicles. They go around in civilian clothes with long arms and they’re accompanied by the state forces.
Yes, yes. Because remember that the police don’t have the capacity for covering. The police, at their [the right’s] request stopped acting. When there are no police people defend themselves in their own way. Why are you going to deny them that right to defend themselves? When there are places like in Carazo or in Masaya where they’re like a new law and they do it in their own way. The police are in their barracks and they’re doing what they like. People look for a way to defend themselves.
But I’m telling you that those pick-up trucks enter and leave the state institutions. Who are these people?
Possibly they’re state workers. Who are in those units to defend themselves, man. Possibly, I say. I haven’t seen the videos. It’s just speculation Don’t attribute it to me like a definitive affirmation.
There are a lot of videos. Right now pick-ups from the police are heading for the town of La Trinidad and there are unidentified pick-ups [without license plates] full of civilians with long arms. Right now, in this moment, they’re arriving at La Trinidad. They’re not police. They’re not members of the riot squad. But they’re part of a coordinated operation on the part of the state security forces. That is, the state controls these people. Probably, the one shooting isn’t a police official, but one of those people who are armed and in coordination with the police.
Because there aren’t enough police to handle so great a situation. Do you believe that in this country the police are capable of covering all the territory in the quantities needed? It’s possible that they have some auxiliary forces like those, then. It’s a community police agent that’s been bombarded to convert them into a horde of assassins, to break that tie that the police had: the community was the police and the police were the community. A tie that had proven extremely efficient in combatting drug trafficking, which of course isn’t absent from the current situation. It’s embedded.
Explain that to me, please.
The national police are among the most efficient in combatting drug trafficking and they haven’t been penetrated. The narcos are in all this here and they’re interested in finishing off that police and one of their problems is the ties with the community. Go to the neighborhoods in Managua and you find police in meetings with the community taking notes of the things that they can do and vice versa. So what do the drug traffickers want? To break that relation of the police with the people.
Let me see if I have understood you right. You say that at the same time all of the forces opposed to the regime coincided: the United States, the oligarchy and the drug traffickers.
Yes, that’s how it is!
Ok, we’re left with the oligarchy’s part because they co-founded the system. At what moment did the break-up occur?
I already explained that to you. They have no further interest in being with the government because it wasn’t producing for them the initial quantity of money. The government also served them to cushion the social conflicts because the unions were in there too. Now they’re causing a series of conflicts that they didn’t have before. The state gave them stability and governability and the development and the employment were useful to the unions.
There are proven accusations of corruption in some of the State spheres and in private sectors.
But – what cases are you talking about?
They’ve been public. Of misappropriation of funds in Social Security, of the construction of huge buildings that are empty…
That’s not misappropriation. That’s an investment error, they invested badly. Anyone can make a bad investment. The Social Security Institute invested badly. That agency was the petty cash box of the [previous] Liberal party governments. They didn’t pay their quotas. What’s irritating them about Social Security? Retirement at sixty, pensions for the war victims, special programs against cancer and for kidney patients. Treatments outside the country paid for by Social Security. It began to be attractive, but it requires a reform because it was indebted to the State. Reforms had to be made to stabilize it financially. They didn’t like that and took advantage to cause an uprising. It’s not true that it was due to corruption.
Allow me to mention one that’s clearer: Roberto Rivas [the former head of the Supreme Electoral Council who recently resigned] and his palaces, and trips.
Oh, no. Roberto Rivas is no part of us. We’re friends, we meet with him and we supported him in the Supreme Electoral Council, but he’s never been more than the president of the council. He doesn’t have any further history with us.
If the government hadn’t been an active accomplice…
Roberto Rivas came to the Supreme Electoral Council in an agreement that was made in those years when [there were two major parties] and each one named three [magistrates to the Electoral Council] and the other was named by the church. It was Cardinal Obando, may he rest in peace, who named Roberto Rivas. Now, the fact that he had money and has been spending it lavishly, that’s not our history. He was put there by the Church.
But this man has been squandering money he didn’t have, right under your noses…
Are you sure he didn’t have it?
It’s impossible to cover those luxuries with his salary…
With capital from the Church. That’s the origin of his wealth.
And that was enough to buy palaces worth nine million Euros?
There was an organization called Coprosa here. It still exists. The Archdiocese Commission for Social Promotion. After the war, it received enormous sums of money and a ton of tax exemptions from the liberal governments, not ours. The government of Enrique Bolanos gave them an exemption for 150 vehicles. You know what Coprosa did? They sold them all. At the head of this was Roberto Rivas. There were no public monies involved there. Coprosa was a church organization. They never asked him to render up accounts there and he was named to the Council by the Church. Are we almost done?
Just about. Before we end, tell me about the President’s businesses and investments.
What businesses? That’s a slander, With the revolution, a lot of property was distributed. That’s what they call the piñata. So, they wrote this off to see if they could recover those properties. They put out accusations of all kinds of personal enrichment for the Ortega family because that’s the objective.
So neither gas stations, nor media properties, nor..
It’s that there are investments of the [Sandinista] Front. You’re forgetting that this party was in government for many years and has its own patrimony. There are many FSLN investments that are attributed to the Ortega family. The administrators of those investments are here next door in the Albanisa office.
Can the Frente survive without Daniel Ortega?
It will survive. You can be very sure of that. Because we’re more united than ever since we feel attacked.
How can you get out of this crisis?
Through dialogue. But this will happen because these people begin to give over. We get away from the roadblocks and we discuss seriously the rest of the things that they’re demanding.
Are you willing to move up the elections?
We haven’t committed ourselves to that yet. They’ve requested it, but they want everything: early elections, closing the parliament, electoral reforms… Everything. But they’re not giving anything. That’s why it’s called the Demands Commission. They want everything.
This interview was originally published in “El Faro”, an online digital newspaper based in El Salvador.