In addition to being discriminatory, divisive and against people’s rights, the hate speech of Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president also invites violence and provokes the perpetuation of human rights violations in the country. “She invites people to attack, stigmatize and criminalize [citizens] who have valiantly demonstrated in the streets,” affirms Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International’s Director for the Americas.
This week, Confidencial published a special report analyzing the hate speech of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s chief spokesperson, who engages in name-calling to disparage the regime’s opponents, using a gamut of different terms in her diatribes broadcast over official channels.
The extensive list of insults was inaugurated on April 18, 2018, the day that the protests began against the government – protests that were violently repressed by members of the Sandinista Youth. Murillo, with a bewildered voice, exclaimed in a telephone call to one of her propaganda outlets: “That’s a perverse manipulation. Those miniscule groups, those tiny souls, toxic, full of hate, don’t represent the sentiments, the Nicaraguan people’s need for peace, jobs and affection, after all they’ve suffered.”
In the following days, months and year, the disparaging words used by First Lady / Vice President Rosario Murillo to characterize any and all people opposing her government since the April 2018 civic rebellion include the following:
Vandals, looters, delinquents, criminals, plaque, termites, funguses, bacteria, insects, egotists, insensitive, insufficient, leftovers, relegated, small souls, false, sharp tongued, mediocre beings, toxic, mediocre forces, petty souls, puppets, beings without heart or soul, crawlers, human misery, bloodsucking vampires, gloomy, satanic, hypocrites, ridiculous, indolent, Judas’s, Cain’s, terrorists, small minority, miniscule, coup mongers, traitors, tiny, barricade makers, Somocistas, promoters of violence, supporters of abortion, rapists, filibusters, fascists, imperialists, etc.
In an interview for the internet news program Esta Noche, transmitted via the “Confidencial Nica” YouTube channel, Erika Guevara stated that the stigmatizing Murillo engages in becomes converted into specific acts of violence, for example the persecution that the former political prisoners suffer in their homes or at their jobs.
“They continue to suffer constant harassment, not only from the authorities through their police forces or the paramilitary forces, but also from the communities themselves, who in a certain way have been invited to harass and infringe on the integrity and security of certain people, without the state fulfilling its responsibility for protection,” declared the Amnesty International director.
Currently, we can see a number of examples in the world of hostile rhetoric emanating from those in power. Do you believe there’s been an upsurge in hate speech in societies?
Erika Guevara: What we’ve seen in the last years and the documentation we’ve assembled in critical human rights situations all around the world, has demonstrated exactly that to us. The hate speech led by many political leaders is putting many societies into a situation of grave reverses in terms of human rights.
We see how these political leaders, through their discriminatory, divisive, hateful and anti-rights discourse, also incite others to commit human rights violations. We see this especially in the region of the Americas, from north to south, with leaders like Trump, who has utilized xenophobic, racist rhetoric; or Bolsonaro; and other leaders who have maintained themselves in power based on such rhetoric, like the case of Ortega in Nicaragua, or of Maduro in Venezuela, or Juan Orlando Hernandez in Honduras.
The term hate speech is frequently used on the social networks. What exactly constitutes hate speech and what consequences does it have?
EG: There’s always some confusion between what is hate speech and what should be respected as freedom of expression. Of course, people and societies have a fundamental right to freedom of expression, to be able to express their ideas on certain topics, and this right must be respected. Above all, it’s the responsibility of the State to protect such free expression.
However, divisive and hate speech also exists, and that has nothing to do with freedom of expression, especially when hate speech comes from the governments themselves. These are narratives that are constructed against groups of the population, whether they’re specific groups, as in the case of racist and discriminatory speech, or are narratives directed precisely to incite to violence and to the commission of serious human rights violations, as we’ve seen in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua there’s been a discourse of hatred against the civilian population on the part of the authorities themselves, and particularly from those who occupy the highest posts, as in the case of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo.
How would you describe the discourse of Nicaragua’s vice president, who is also the principal government spokesperson?
EG: We made a very detailed analysis of the discourse of the high authorities, and especially that of Vice President Murillo. She maintained a discourse of denial in the first days of the crisis when, regrettably, there had already been a body count. She denied the existence of these dead or accused the people who had valiantly demonstrated on the streets, using terms like minuscule and vampires. Clearly, these weren’t only messages directed at people as insults, but in addition they were criminalizing messages that incited both the police and the paramilitary to carry out attacks against the population.
Would you classify Murillo’s discourse as hate speech?
Of course, we classify it as hate speech. It’s a discourse against human rights, a divisive discourse, especially coming from a government whose responsibility it is to protect the human rights of all citizens, without regard for their political position, their ideology, or whether or not they’re people who are freely exercising their right to peaceful assembly, and demonstrating against government policies.
What impact does this type of discourse have on the population, especially in a society like that of Nicaragua, where over 300 deaths from government repression have been left in impunity and there are indications of crimes against humanity?
EG: Without a doubt, it has repercussions in all spheres of society. These speeches incite hatred. We’ve seen in Nicaragua how this discourse invites other people to attack, to stigmatize, to criminalize those citizens who’ve demonstrated in the streets and now represent an important group of victims of human rights violations. The most regrettable thing is that this stigmatization, this criminalization goes beyond just discourse, goes beyond the narratives, in the sense that they’re translated into specific acts of violence.
We’ve seen this in Nicaragua, where people who had been arbitrarily detained and later when freed continue suffering constant harassment. This harassment comes not only from the authorities through the police or paramilitary bodies, but also from the communities themselves, who in a certain way have been invited to harass and infringe on the integrity and security of certain people without the State’s fulfilling their responsibility to protect them. It’s the State that is responsible for protection, but also responsible for investigating and guaranteeing truth and justice to the victims.
What would you recommend to people in the opposition who respond to Murillo’s discourse by disparaging in the same way those who are loyal to the regime. They are also citizens who coexist in the same country?
EG: Amnesty International as an organization doesn’t give recommendations to society or to the opposition groups. However, it seems to me that it’s common sense to seek a social dialogue that must be redirected in terms of a rapprochement among the citizens of Nicaragua. We can’t forget, though, that the ones who have the primary responsibility in view of the human rights violations that have occurred in Nicaragua, is the Government.
So, common sense tells us that we can’t forget who is responsible for these violations. But the principle premise for society in general and all its sectors is to work together so that these violations stop, but that there also be justice and reparations for the victims. The idea is precisely to seek a social dialogue and attempt to reconstruct that social tissue that’s been broken by the government.