Nicaragua: Government Steps-up Pressure on Public Employees
Policies harden and amid threats of dismissal. “They want to change our memory cards,” accuses a public employee.
A tall, thin man with a resonant voice walks through a room full of Ministry of Education (Mined) employees. He speaks in a menacing tone, and warns those present that no one should be “sabotaging the projects” of the government presided over by Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.
While he continues walking, the man tries to establish eye contact with some of the workers present to send out an ultimatum: “There can’t be people here who will drink the milk and curse the cow.”
The person who is threatening is dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, and formal trousers. His name is Harold Delgado and he’s the Ministry’s cultural director. He’s better known as the former MC of a popular television program called La Liga del Saber [League of Knowledge], in which young students from the public and private schools compete to answer academic questions.
The meeting in which Delgado launched his threats occurred at the beginning of 2019, while he was explaining the new cultural programs of the ministry and reporting on this coming year’s plans. In reality, though, the activity was imbued with accusations and threats of consequences for the public employees that might think differently from the Ortega-Murillo regime. Unbeknownst to Delgado, his speech was filmed and the video leaked to Confidencial.
Talk of good sense and ethics sprinkled with threats
“We know that there are some who are working to boycott this project; however we’re giving them a final vote of confidence. Listen up to what I tell you. It’s not a matter of putting a muzzle on anyone, it’s a matter of appealing to reason,” Delgado declared to the Mined employees.
He stated that said cultural project belongs to the “nation” and that whoever works for Mined “should maintain their ethic, both in their work and in what they post on their Facebook.” In other words, abstain from issuing opinions against the regime.
“Brother, you work for the Ministry of Education, the largest Ministry in Nicaragua, that watches over the quality of education, and then you start bombarding with the notion that you’re living in a dictatorship. If you’re in a dictatorship…I say with all respect, ‘What are you doing here? Leave for paradise, then,’ he warned.
The official’s verbal stream went on for about 25 minutes. He repeated that the person who wasn’t happy could well leave the Ministry of Education. He even boasted that “this dictatorship is celebrating twelve years, and I’m sure that twelve years ago we didn’t have what we have today.”
Confidencial contacted Delgado and questioned him about the new policy that threatens to fire the public employees who dare to criticize the regime’s actions. The cultural coordinator responded that “within our politics of unity and reconciliation, we don’t deny work to anyone work nor do we put a muzzle on anybody.” Before we had finished telling him about the recording made of his threats, Delgado abruptly hung up.
“Here, the one who boycotts the project will be automatically separated [from their post] with no appeal. You’re functionaries, you should live up to the standards of your position and its dignity,” Delgado told the 80+ employees that were present at the activity.
Workers complain of increased persecution
Karla, a worker in the Mined cultural program, was present at the meeting. Listening to Delgado inspired annoyance, repulsion “and disgust”. She asked herself if she should continue at her job or leave so she could express herself with more freedom, albeit with no work. She shared her concern with other workmates, but in the end, she decided to stay and resist, although she’s fed up with the dictatorship’s new “institutional policies”.
In an interview with Confidencial she revealed that as a result of that meeting, the persecution aimed at her and other workers has increased, not only in the office but in her neighborhood and on social media.
“In the neighborhoods, those who squeal are the toadies from the [Party’s] neighborhood associations. In the offices, there are those who “sell you out” to curry favors, a small number of other workers who find pleasure in “torpedoing us” with our bosses. On social media, anyone could be a squealer. Just one screen shot is enough to get you fired,” Karla stated.
Karla, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, declared that at times when she’s on the phone with her officemates or with family members, she’s felt that someone else is listening to the conversation. When she leaves work, she’s seen Sandinista sympathizers following her to see where she’s going.
“How do you and the other workers feel after receiving these threats?”
“Badly. We can’t even get together any more for coffee, because they think we’re conspiring. You’re supervised frequently. We’re in a stressful situation.
Karla assures that she’s continuing at her job only out of necessity. And she asserts that within the Ministry there are more citizens opposed to the regime than in favor.
“It’s not an organization as such, because we can’t do that, they’d detect us quickly. But many, and I mean many, of my fellows have shared that the situation has them fed up, but we feel that we’re more valuable inside [the Ministry] than outside. At the moment that a peaceful solution is found, we’re going to promote the change,” Karla declared in a hopeful tone.
They want to change out our memory cards
Karla revealed that the threats of firing are more present than before. In that meeting held at the beginning of this year, the Mined cultural coordinator declared that “as the result of the failed coup d’etat” the economy would be set back four years and for that reason “unfortunately, several people will lose their jobs.”
“With no work, there’s no taxes and without tax income there’s no greenbacks for us; plain and simple. I want to make a serious appeal to you to guard your position. My grandmother used to say, ‘Be careful, because there are a lot of people after your job,’” Delgado stated.
Karla’s clear that there was no attempted coup, as the international organizations have confirmed. She’s also aware that “Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo” are the main guilty parties for this sociopolitical crisis that’s left 325 confirmed dead, over 700 political prisoners and thousands of wounded.
The Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development has predicted that the national economy will contract between 5.2% and 8.7% in 2019. In the same vein, it reiterated the “importance of the government’s showing the political will to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis.” This year the GNP will fall by 4%, according to the projections of national and international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary fund.
“They want to change out our memory cards. At every turn, they tell us that the government has done this, that, and the other, when we well know that everything that they’ve halfway done has come out of our own taxes,” Karla insists.
Veronica, another worker who asked to remain anonymous, also resists from within Mined, despite the impositions of the Ortega-Murillo regime. Veronica was also at that meeting at the beginning of the year in which Delgado issued his threats; she states that she is annoyed by the decisions the dictatorship has made in regards to scrutiny of the public employees.
“Given my previous experience in other workplaces, I know this isn’t the right way to do things. Some people assume that it’s normal for them to censor you and threaten you in this way. It’s the third time they’ve done this, and they’re taking advantage of the situation,” she declared.
Veronica says Harold Delgado’s words were an ultimatum that seeks to silence the critical voices within the State institutions. This year, she said, a person was fired for their postings on Facebook.
“They let us understand that we should be careful, that they’re not simply threats, that it will happen if we post anything against the government. For my part I can only be cautious. I’ll stop posting to some profiles, because I know that they’re keeping an eye out,” Veronica repeated.
Higher echelon officials obligated to conform
Hector is political secretary in his area of a state institution. He’s had to “do the rotundas”, i.e. spend time in pro-government demonstrations at Managua’s traffic roundabouts. He’s also marched and even posted on social media his support for Daniel Ortega. He’s done all this to keep his job, so that his family doesn’t “go hungry”.
“Some friends have told me that I got my job by being a toady. But it’s not that way. Like many, I’m the victim of a dictator who sees us as so many pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve been told a bunch of things, but I just keep my mouth shut. There are things it’s better to keep inside, in order not to generate more trouble,” assures Hector.
“We (the public employees) aren’t stupid. We know what’s happening in the country, and we know everything that these people went and did in the towns, in Masaya and Carazo, in the universities. Many of us have opened our eyes. That business of muzzling us, of telling us how we should act, forbidding the marches and stealing from the communications media, that’s illegal by any measure. All of us who are inside see that. There are only a few left who are truly firm believers.”
Hector also asked to remain anonymous, so as not to lose his job. He repeated this several times during the conversation. He also spoke repeatedly of the great need that he and others have, and that being without work isn’t an option right now.
“I tell you there are lots and lots of us. The people out there have no idea how many we are. We’re on the side of truth, but there are pressures; you need to understand us. We believe that we’re going to find a way out of this by peaceful means, without arms, without war, and when that option arises, which we hope will be soon, we’re going to rise up. That’s how it will be. Just understand that if we resign, we’re not going to find anywhere to work,” he says.
Domino effect from Solis’ resignation
Hector knows about the new orders regarding the government’s institutional policies. His work has also allowed him to hear the opinions of the other workers in the mayors’ offices and other institutions. The resignation of former magistrate Rafael Solis early last January produced an internal “earthquake” that has generated more reactions.
“The day that the defection of Rafael Solis was known, we were all scared. I thought it was fake news … but the night passed and the political secretaries didn’t say anything,” he recalled.
A day after learning of Solis’ resignation, different institutions called their workers to a meeting to explain what had happened. Hector states that he and his other workmates were told that the resignation of Solis was fake news, that Solis himself would soon clarify this in the official media. “We kept waiting for that clarification, but nothing like that happened.”
Hector assured that some government functionaries are under more scrutiny that others. He declared that two days after Solis’ resignation, the rest of the magistrates who wanted to leave the country for “a vacation” were told that they couldn’t go without previous authorization. “One of those was Alba Luz Ramos, but she’s not going to say that,” he affirmed.
In the state institutions the responses to the earthquake of Solis’ resignation are destroying the trust that the regime conceded its functionaries. Hector affirmed that in the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute there were more than a hundred people dismissed in mid-January. And more workers are expecting their pink slips.
“You can’t quit, because it’s worse for you. In those cases, the best thing that can happen is for them to fire you. Quitting is an act of treason, even if it’s because you’re offered a better job. The area directors go around telling us to be careful to keep our jobs, and those of us who are against the government are living in a permanent state of anxiety.
“Do the state workers in general support Daniel Ortega?
“There are a few who continue to believe. They’re of scant intelligence, ignorant people who never studied and only watch the official channels. But the great majority of employees are tired of this. We’re sick of going to the roundabouts, bored with marching, and we’re tired of continuing to venerate a president who has screwed us over.
“To those outside the country who lost their jobs, who went into exile, who are under persecution, who are barely holding on, just like we are bearing up under the stress and threats we’re being subjected to, [I say] ‘Soon Nicaragua will see the light again.’ We’re going to get ourselves up. May it happen soon and may we learn from our mistakes,” Hector finalized hopefully.