Nicaragua: truth and justice after the massacre
It’s been just over two weeks since the repression unleashed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to smother a peaceful protest caused the first three deaths. In the four days from April 19 to April 22 the killing spree left at least 46 dead in different municipalities of the country, the majority young students. Among the dead was a boy of 15, a journalist and two police officers.
This bloodbath, whose definitive total still can’t be established due to the secrecy and control that the regime exercises over the morgues and hospitals, represents the greatest loss of human life that Nicaragua has had in peacetime, since the time that the fierce war in the 80s between the Popular Sandinista Army and the US-financed Contra.
At first glance, it’s a matter of massive crimes against humanity due to decisions of a political nature that the leaders were responsible for, in circumstances where the State can’t allege the existence of any threats to the national security or sovereignty.
Although dozens of suspects for these crimes have been identified by the population and the victims’ family members, and the proof has been displayed in the independent media and the social networks, not a single member of the paramilitary has been detained nor has any police officier been separated from their post in order to undergo an investigation, be it on the part of the institution or the Public Ministry.
Two weeks later, these crimes of the State that have brought deep grief and a profound fracture in Nicaraguan society, have put in evidence the political, legal, and moral incapacity of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to continue at the head of the government, although they continue in the most absolute impunity.
For we Nicaraguans who have lived under a State-Party-Family regime for a decade now, with zero transparency and no accountability in which all of the state institutions – the Supreme Court, Parliament, the Electoral Council, the Comptroller, the Attorney General’s office, the army and the police – are all made to submit to the designs of the presidential couple and lack the most minimal autonomy, this shameful omission doesn’t surprise us. In Nicaragua no one expects that the suspects of these crimes and their political bosses would have the ability to investigate themselves, much less impart justice.
The really scandalous thing is the inaction of the international community, in particular of the governments that make up the Organization of American States (OAS) and its secretary general, Luis Almagro, who hasn’t even convoked the OAS Council of Ministers to discuss the responsibility of a member State in the most serious massacre occurred on the continent in 2018.
Last April 24, when the number of deaths from the repression was still estimated at 25 the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) of the OAS issued an urgent declaration expressing their concern for these deaths and urged the Nicaraguan authorities “to investigate in a rapid and exhaustive manner the conduct of the police during these demonstration, and establish the corresponding punishment.”
The IACHR also requested the good will of the Nicaraguan Government in order to realize an on-site visit, similar to the one it held 40 years ago, in September 1978 following the massacres carried out by the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The Ortega-Murillo regime responded with silence, thus repeating their refusal that they’ve maintained when faced with any of the IACHR requests over the last few years, systematically refusing to attend any of the audiences on human rights in our country.
The difference now is that we’re faced with the bloodiest massacre that has occurred on the continent in the last years and neither Ortega nor the OAS can elude their responsibilities. Does Secretary Almagro need confirmation of more deaths before he can call for a continental debate about the April massacre and demand that the IAHRC send a mission this very week? Could Ortega and Murillo possibly evade their responsibilities in this bloodbath, successfully activating the machinery for the cover-up and impunity that they’ve already set in motion?
The April massacre has been unanimously condemned by all sectors of the country, from the students who led the national civic rebellion, to the Catholic Church, right up to the large business organizations. All of these demand the establishment of truth and justice for the crimes of the repression, calling for the conformation of an independent international commission for this.
There exists, therefore, a national mandate to form a Truth Commission, made up of international government organizations such as the UN or the IAHRC, or non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to take charge of the investigation into the killings.
The people demand that the direct and indirect responsibilities of all those involved in the massacre be established: of the paramilitaries directed from the presidential offices in El Carmen; and the police officials and their superiors who form part of the chain of command, with President Ortega at the head as Supreme Chief of the National Police; and of Vice President Murillo as the principal political operator and the link between the president and the police.
The least common denominator, before any national dialogue, is to call on the OAS and the UN to demand that Ortega accept the visit of an international truth commission. The dictator can try to mock the national clamor for a time by fabrication of his own “commission for the official truth”, but he won’t be able to resist the national and international pressure, especially if the students who led the national rebellion maintain their protests.
Without an independent international commission to clarify the 46 deaths caused by the repression, conditions won’t be present to hold a legitimate national dialogue. In consequence, the road map towards a peaceful and democratic solution to the national crisis must involve this demand for truth and justice, first and foremost, and the exit of Ortega and Murillo second, in order to make way for early elections as part of a real political reform.