After having denied the existence of more than 700 political prisoners, labeling them as “criminals and terrorists,” last Wednesday the Ortega dictatorship committed itself to the OAS, the Vatican and the Civic Alliance to free all demonstrators arrested for having participated in the civic protest since April, 2018, within a maximum period of 90 days.
Ortega did not dare to admit to his fanatical supporters that the narrative of the “failed coup d’état” and the criminalization of civic protests were only a negotiation strategy, but through an official document his foreign ministry revealed that all prisoners will be released.
However, there are still discrepancies regarding the number of prisoners in the prisons of the dictatorship. According to the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights there are 647 political prisoners in jails, without including more than a hundred who are under house arrest, while the regime only recognizes less than 300.
Beyond this abysmal data discrepancy, the liberation of the prisoners depends essentially on the political will of the Presidency and the Supreme Court of Justice, without the need to wait 90 days keeping the prisoners as hostages.
The release of all the prisoners through the annulment of their trials, can be done in three days, in a week, or at the most in fifteen days, as demanded by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners.
The political prisoners have never been a matter of negotiation, and therefore, when the Alliance accepted this maximum term, it validated their official status as political hostages of Ortega. The justification for this concession is that the 90-day term was an offer made by Ortega and accepted by the OAS, and that the Alliance could not modify or reject it. But, in fact, this confirms the existence of a negotiation subjected to the blackmail of force, as a result of the political disparity that exists between the parties.
With the precedent of this disadvantage, which can only be compensated with the mobilization of the people in the streets, the national dialogue was reinstated to negotiate substantive issues on the agenda. On Monday, the negotiating table was to discuss what the Government calls, again imposing its language on the Alliance, “strengthen citizens’ rights and guarantees,” which are crushed by the imposition of a de facto police state.
The restoration of civil liberties should not become another issue of negotiation, since these are constitutional rights that are being infringed on by the regime, in violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
There cannot be, therefore, any middle ground, negotiation, or ambiguity, to fully restore freedom of the press, expression, association and mobilization. The self-convoked movement has the right to protest civically and to march in the streets today and tomorrow, without asking the dictatorship for permission, because that is a constitutional right that, as the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) says, “is defended or lost.”
Consequently, in order for this dialogue to move forward to substantial issues—electoral reforms and justice without impunity–, we must end the asymmetry that the power of repression seeks to impose. Only with complete freedom of the press, without censorship, without political prisoners, and with the people in the streets, without being repressed by the Police or the paramilitaries, can a dialogue be held on equal terms in order to negotiate a national agreement.
Otherwise, if negotiations continue with hostages in prisons, with more repression, and under the state of siege of the dictatorship, the most likely outcome of that dialogue will be “a bad arrangement,” with amnesty and impunity, leaving untouchable the repressive structures of the dictatorship with its paramilitaries, Police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Courts and its corrupt economic conglomerate.
An arrangement that is limited to the promise of electoral reforms and changes in the Supreme Electoral Council, including bringing up elections to March 2020, could have some temporary positive impact on the economy, but does not include guarantees to dismantle the repressive structures of the dictatorship and would end with impunity. This would leave us with an ungovernable country, with “Orteguismo” “ruling from below,” even if it loses control of the Executive Power in a free and competitive election.
A “bad arrangement” with impunity and without responding to the demand of the relatives of more than 300 murdered, would also feed the division in the great blue and white national alliance in the early elections, increasing the quota of post-electoral power of “Orteguismo.”
Consequently, the purpose of this negotiation should not be to return to the status quo prior to April 18, without political prisoners, but to respond to the demands for justice for the crimes of the dictatorship that cannot remain unpunished, and open the way to democratization, as originally proposed by the Episcopal Conference in May of last year.
What liquidated the alliance between big capital and Ortega—the misnamed model of “dialogue and consensus” that prevailed since 2010–, was not the ignored electoral fraud or the unilateral reforms to social security, but the April massacre and the crimes against humanity, which exhibited the unfeasibility of this “model” for ethical and political reasons.
Therefore, if the business chambers and the larger business owners are really hurried to resolve the political crisis to reactivate the economy and save the coming agricultural cycle, they should advocate for an integral democratic solution, which will attack the human rights crisis at its roots and set the political bases of national reconstruction.
The first step is the immediate return to the country of the IACHR, compliance with its recommendations—beginning with the disarmament and dismantling of paramilitary groups—and for the creation of an independent Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the crimes, as recommended by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI in Spanish).
If the agreement demands credibility and to set the bases for electoral, judicial and police reforms, to call early elections, then all the public officials pointed out as directly or indirectly responsible for the exercise of repression, should be separated from their positions, to undergo an independent investigation.
There is certainly an urgency to reach a political agreement as soon as possible, but not any hasty way out to submit to the present terms of Ortega´s blackmail, or to the interests of external pressure, but to a fundamental political agreement to rebuild and reestablish democracy.
An agreement, with or without Ortega and Murillo, must, in addition to electoral reforms and free elections, lead to disarm the paramilitaries, eliminate the catch-all anti-terrorism law and establish control of the Police under a new authority, beyond the control of President Ortega.
To reach this political settlement or national agreement within a short period of time, today it is necessary to exert maximum civic pressure from the people in the streets, led by the liberated political prisoners, accompanied by maximum diplomatic and international economic pressure.
This is no time to wait and see the supposed results of the dialogue on March 28, but to press hard now, to save the banners of this peaceful revolution and sow the seeds of a country that can be governable tomorrow.
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