In Defense of Public Debate in Nicaragua

Instead of trying to silence the independent media outlets, COSEP should turn its attention to corruption and authoritarianism

The COSEP association [Superior Council of Private Enterprise] has issued a pronouncement in support of their president, in the face of what they describe as a “campaign of disparagement being waged against him by some journalists and media outlets”.

The statement doesn’t offer any proof of such a “campaign” nor does it identify the media outlets or the journalists promoting it.  They merely say that the “campaign” is based on “anonymous sources and personal ideological positions” and that it seeks to “divide the COSEP and convert it into an instrument of the political parties.”

COSEP president Jose Adan Aguerri, who has presided over this organization for the last ten years, thanked the association for its support and declined to identify those responsible for the supposed campaign in order to avoid “personalizing” the issue.

Nevertheless, during a morning television program last Thursday, businessman Cesar Zamora, president of the Business Chamber of Energy who also acts as a COSEP spokesperson, issued a virulent verbal attack against the “La Prensa” newspaper and against me personally, accusing me without any proof of being at the head of the supposed “campaign” against COSEP.

Zamora alleged that the intention is to level a “tactical strike” at the COSEP in order to “strike a blow” against President Ortega. In a ludicrous display of conspiracy theories, he stated that Confidencial’s continuing demand for public transparency in regards to the conspicuously corporate-friendly relationship that the Government maintains with the large business sector is aimed at derailing negotiations with the OAS in order to facilitate approval of the Nica Act and thus “strike a blow” at President Ortega.

The COSEP communiqué also alludes to the “campaign” that Zamora mentions, but when proof was demanded of the association’s president, Aguerri presented as evidence the political cartoons that Pedro Molina has published in Confidencial and Manuel Guillen in La Prensa, both cartoonists exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Traditionally in Nicaragua, cartoonists and humorists have been the most outspoken critics of those in power.  Starting from the middle of the last century, cartoonists such as Gonzalo Rivas Novoa, Tono Lopez, Chilo Barahona, author of Panchito y la Rana [“Little Pancho and the Frog”], Alberto Mora Olivares, creator of Nicasio and the great Roger Sanchez, inventor of Polidecto, the “People’s Cartoons” and “Erotic Humor”, have poked fun at those in power.  This has been even more the case when the power is abusive and repressive, leaving the public no other road except humor to defend itself with.

For that reason, when the attitudes and message of some business leaders mimic the official discourse of the authoritarian regime, the public figures reputation comes into question; inevitably, the cartoonists are the first to let loose with their satiric darts.

That’s the humorist’s stock in trade in the face of power all over the world.  Alleging that their work is part of a conspiracy against COSEP can only be explained as the result of the intolerance of some vain individual, or their zeal for silencing the critics from the few independent media outlets that actually monitor our public and private powers, as part of their commitment to democracy.

In Confidencial and on the Esta Semana weekly television news review, we advocate for the restoration of public debate, a debate that has been nullified by the government through the official secrecy and the lack of transparency.

We’ve presented evidence and data to show the economic cost of the massive corruption which lies behind the collapse of our democratic rule of law.  We’ve presented irrefutable arguments on the risks that the corporate-friendly authoritarianism of Ortega’s regime entails for the country over the short and long terms – the same policies that some still insist on calling the “COSEP model”.

In the private sector and among the principal business leaders, we’ve found a genuine concern about these dilemmas and interest in having them become the subject of open and respectful debate in the appropriate forums.  But self-censorship also predominates, due to the fear that emanates from a dictatorial regime that has neither institutional nor legal checks nor balances.

The national and regional business figures who do dare to share their concerns request that their identities be protected in order to prevent reprisals from the figures in power. Thanks to evidence and documents provided by such sources within the public and private sector – by honest government associates and professionals, as well as private business figures committed to transparency – the independent press has been able to demonstrate the magnitude of the corruption that reigns in Nicaragua.

Our sources can be sure that we will never expose their identities under pressure from power.

Summing up, instead of trying to silence the independent media as the COSEP communiqué suggests, what the country needs is to recognize the right of the independent press to exercise their critical function without any kind of constraint. Rather, public debate is necessary for the private business leaders who do play a fundamental role in promoting a more competitive economy.  For that reason, they should also become agents of change and decide to stop being held hostage by authoritarianism.

Now, the national economic stability is being further threatened as a consequence of the Nica Act, ignited by the corruption and authoritarianism of the regime.  Ortega has the last word in deactivating it, but only the business leaders from COSEP could put the bell around the cat’s neck.  Would they dare?

Translated by Habana Times

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