On October 16, 1998, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London for the crimes against humanity he committed during his “soft dictatorship”. The news spread around the world. More importantly, his arrest kindled a flame of hope that his victims could obtain justice. The architect of his detention was Baltasar Garzon with his weapon, universal law.
At that time, everyone saw Pinochet as untouchable, just as many see Daniel Ortega today. The arrest caught the Chilean dictator by surprise, and he only managed to say: “You don’t have the right to do this, you can’t arrest me. I’m on a secret mission.”
In Nicaragua, the cry for justice for the crimes against humanity committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime, in addition to obtaining reasonable conditions for the democratic transition currently seem a distant reality.
The problem of the demand for justice in Nicaragua is that the Judicial Power and the rest of those involved in justice are in a condition of substantial collapse. The legal powers lack the independence and impartiality to carry out the effective investigations and judicial processes needed to guarantee justice for the victims.
This situation has been pointed out by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) in Recommendation number 3 of their first preliminary report following their on-site visit.
The recommendation gave us two possible scenarios: the first, to implement mechanisms of transitional justice once the regime has departed; or else, to look for ways to exercise the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, which allows a country to process those responsible for crimes against humanity even though these haven’t occurred in the country that began the process, as was recommended by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, a group under the umbrella of the IACHR, in their December 2018 report.
The study of Transitional Justice, like that of Universal Justice and its application to the case of Nicaragua, has occupied an important part of my time since the socio-political crisis broke out, even leading me to approach Baltasar Garzon personally about the case of Nicaragua.
His words were a condemnation of what has happened in the country, and even though it might seem arrogant on my part, he didn’t give us any information that those of us who have an interest in exercising Universal Jurisdiction against Daniel Ortega didn’t already know, although he recommended we pay attention to possible reforms of this topic that will be realized in Spain.
Ironically, in a public round-table that Baltasar Garzon had with Santiago Nieto, a Mexican attorney in charge of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Mexico, he gave me more clues. Garzon emphasized the strategic importance of financial controls to prevent money laundering by organized crime. He also pointed out the importance of differentiating the strategies of the fight against corruption and organized crime precisely by the objectives that both have.
The dictatorship that Daniel Ortega heads isn’t only authoritarian, it’s cruel, soulless and it has demonstrated that it has no boundaries. We can’t continue seeing Ortega as a dictator, since for some time now, he’s stopped defending any political interests except for those related to his permanence in power. Rosario Murillo is more fired up about the US sanctions and their consequences on the family patrimony than about any accusation of serious human rights violations.
The politicians are right and I’m not: Daniel Ortega won’t leave power because of his serious violations of human rights, but because of his corruption, money laundering and collaboration with organized crime. For his part, Garzon suggests pursuing the money as an effective measure against organized crime; and there’s perhaps no punishment more cruel for the Ortega-Murillo dynasty than finding themselves obliged to work and earn their daily bread with effort and the sweat of their brow.
There are many differences between Augusto Pinochet and Daniel Ortega, but the one I’m interested in highlighting is that Ortega’s arrest won’t take him by surprise. It’s a question of time before the arm of justice eventually reaches him. He can count on enough time to put together something better than what Pinochet said.
For those who haven’t yet noticed, today Daniel Ortega’s legacy doesn’t matter anymore, he’ll be remembered for his crimes against humanity and maybe the only thing he could add to that irrefutable fact would be his words at the moment of his arrest.
*Master’s in Human Rights