In the many state offices in Nicaragua, a sizable sector of the public employees disagree with the repression and the massacre orchestrated by the Ortega regime in 2018.
There are a lot of people who don’t agree with the repressive actions and the massacre that the government has directed,” assures Ligia Gomez, former manager of Economic Investigations at the Nicaraguan Central Bank. “I can say with certainty that the state workers who are active members of the Catholic or Protestant churches don’t support any type of massacre. When you talk to them in private, no one says, ‘I support it’, affirms Gomez, who was also the FSLN political secretary at the bank.
Gomez worked for six years at the Central Bank, but in April 2018 she resigned her position as FSLN political secretary because she refused to execute the Ortega government’s orders to participate in the repression. In July of that year, she was fired from her job as manager of investigations, and in September 2018 she testified before the human rights committee of the United States congress, revealing details of the orders that emanated from the presidency during the repression and the killing of April 2018.
In this interview with journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Gomez speaks of the dilemma that the public employees, both civilian and military, confront within the institutions they work for. Many are saying, “Okay, how long can this go on?” “When will it end?” because it’s like living in limbo, she indicates. She also highlights the functionaries’ uncertainty before the growing prospect of an alternative for political change.
Ligia, you were a manager in the Central Bank for six years, and also a militant in the Sandinista Front, yet in April 2018 you broke with the regime because you opposed the repression. How did your colleagues and the public sector react to that decision? Did you feel ostracized, or was there some solidarity?
LIGIA GOMEZ: Both. There were people who demonstrated their support, hugged me, smiled, told me that they understood the decision I’d made and that it was completely acceptable. There were others who stopped talking to me, stopped greeting me, and never again came near my office.
You were a mid-level functionary. Do the lesser state employees and the mid-level technical and professional staff face a different situation from that of the higher-up officials with more responsibilities, or are they all in the same boat?
The workers that hold greater responsibilities within the government apparatus also have more political responsibility. Generally, they’re selected for those positions. You can’t be a Minister, an Assistant Minister or an area director without a recommendation from the party structure. In the case of the mid-level positions, they’re more neutral. There are mid-level positions that form part of the party structure, but others that don’t, where they’re employees with technical expertise who’ve never been involved in political activities.
In the case of the latter positions, some employees entered government [fairly recently] and now are tied to political participation. The party collects a permanent bill from those people for having given them this opportunity to work. But there are many functionaries with 15 or 20 years of experience in the government structures, who’ve been working there since before Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo came to power. Those positions can’t be tied to political participation.
The polls reflect that in Nicaragua more or less a third of the electorate – between 25 and 30 percent – sympathize with the FSLN. In the case of the public employees, do you think that percentage is greater or less than that of society as a whole?
The situation is very similar. There are many people who aren’t in agreement with the government’s repression and massacre. I can say with certainty that the many state workers who are active participants in either the Catholic or Protestant churches don’t support any type of killing. When you talk with those people privately, they tell you that they oppose these events. If you’re a Christian, you can’t support the idea of a repressive government using snipers to kill young people simply because they were in a march. That’s absurd.
I’ve spoken not only with those who were colleagues at the bank, but also with people from other institutions, who I had good relations with due to my participation in multi-disciplinary committees. I also have friends in different ministries. Those that hold Christian principles are very clear that the massacre really happened and no one can say “I’m in favor”. I have no doubts about that.
What’s the public sector’s perception of the regime’s future? When the public employees appear in those videos dancing and singing, “The Comandante stays” – Are they really convinced that this government is going to stay in power permanently?
Many ask: “Well, when does it end?”, because it’s like living in limbo. Don’t be confused into thinking that the entire public apparatus depends on Daniel Ortega or Rosario’s permanence in power. Many public employees got there without them, and are there because they do their work. They don’t have anything to do with some leader or minister doing them a favor.
Now, if we look at the growth of the public employee sector: before, there were 80,000 workers and now there are over 100,000. This growth is more closely related to political favors. There are people who were unemployed, and probably were in bad shape throughout the 90s, but returned to work in the formal government sector when Daniel Ortega returned to power. Those people are the ones who are more afraid of losing their jobs and continue with this focus on “the Comandante stays”.
Returning to the other sector, who you say are in a kind of limbo – What’s their perception of the possibilities for political change? Do they have positive expectations, or are they afraid there’ll be retaliation on the State sector?
Some messages from the opposition and people trying to stand out on the social networks are sometimes too extremist. It would seem that once they take power and get rid of Rosario Murillo and Ortega, then the entire state sector has to disappear – everyone out. Such messages are counterproductive, and also unrealistic, because you can’t say that someone who oversees a process or a procedure, and who has done so for 20 years, has to leave the government simply because now the opposition has come [to power].
The institutional memory must be maintained. This type of attack doesn’t help anything, because in reality the state apparatus is maintained by taxes and plays a fundamental role in society’s functioning. Imagine someone who manages the international reserves… you can’t replace them from one moment to the other with someone who’s never done this type of work.
What perception exists in the public sector about the leadership of the opposition Blue and White movement, or of the Civic Alliance? Are these seen as an option for government?
The image that has always been sold us is that of the strongman, the caudillo. I believe that the opposition is making a very large effort to do things another way, but the signals are quite confusing. We’d like to see an opposition with a more direct focus on proposals. There’s always the justification that “We’re building Nicaragua,” and Nicaragua can’t be rebuilt in a matter of months. But we do have some priorities where we’re all in agreement. So, why would we involve ourselves in the fact that today I’m called the Alliance, tomorrow Unity, later I’m called something else? It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, the important thing is not to lose sight of the objective.
The only thing we really need is some indication of what’s the key step we’re going to take to change this institutional quagmire, and what’s the next step to get the country out of there. All the workers in the state, and the public in general, are waiting for that.
After the massacre in April 2018, you broke with the regime. A few months later, former Supreme Court magistrate Rafael Solis, who held a weightier political position, broke with the regime. It’s known that there are police who’ve asked to resign, and others have deserted, but the majority of the high functionaries in the public sector continue to be accomplices of the regime. What keeps them there?
The inner circle of functionaries directed by Rosario Murillo and Ortega are people who’ve been rewarded for their loyalty; that is, they don’t have any commitment to the people or to society. They’re committed to these two people, and they’re sustained by their relationship to their “godparents”: I protect you, so you return that protection by offering me these services. That doesn’t occur with the lower functionaries, the everyday ones, who have low salaries and have always carried out specific technical jobs, and who didn’t get their positions through the party.
Is there a difference between the civilian and the military public servants? Do the police and the army officials confront the same dilemmas and concerns as the other public employees or is it a world apart?
I think they have a lot in common in the sense that many of them feel that they’d prefer to do things differently, but they can’t give opinions, they can’t leave, they have to stay and wait to see what happens next.
The fundamental difference lies between those who have pulled a trigger and have repressed, and those who haven’t done so. It’s one thing that they give you an order to kill and you carry it out, and something else that you remain within a structure carrying out routine duties, for example, investigating crimes, and you don’t get involved at the level of torture, mistreatment of political prisoners or assassinations.
There were police who killed, there are videos of this, and now the army is involved in the things happening in the countryside, where everyone is denouncing the many rural residents who are turning up dead. So that’s the difference. But, yes, I believe that there’s a large group of people who hold a different position and who have grown up with a vocation for real solidarity, not the kind that Rosario Murillo talks about.
Is there space for some form of civic resistance within the public sector? Some of the released prisoners say they saw police who are not repressing and who limit themselves to obeying orders. What goes on among the public employees when they’re ordered to carry out actions that involve violating the laws, and for which they could later be held responsible?
I believe there’s resistance in the sense that there are people who do their work well and aren’t going to sign on to something that’s completely outside their lawful function. I know people in the Central Bank for example, who wouldn’t sign on to anything that’s against the law.
I think that there’s not only that kind [of resistance], but also people make contact with others in the same situation, who disagree with what’s happening, to support each other. You know who’s who in the state structure, just like you know in the neighborhoods.
In the case of those in the state apparatus, some made contact with me not long ago to see if I’m okay. They tell me: “we’re proud [of you]”, and: “We have a lot of respect [for you]”. This isn’t only people from the Central Bank, but also from the other state institutions.
Are those public employees you describe expecting some signal on the part of the political opposition regarding whether or not the current public employees could work in a different kind of government?
People with strong careers, who’ve done exceptional specialized work and who’ve dedicated their entire lives to learning what they know, and who disagree with what’s happening have asked me: “Do you think this will end soon?” I tell them that I’m 100% sure that there’s no turning back here. I don’t regret the decision I made, because I’m 100% sure that the people in Nicaragua aren’t going to legitimize a massacre. If we hold new elections and legitimize the Ortega-Murillo government, we’re legitimizing the massacre, and the people aren’t going to do that, because they’re our children.
You’ve been a refugee in the United States for a year and a half. Do you aspire to returning to work in the Nicaraguan public sector?
My desire is to return to my country. It was always my dream to live there, to study to serve my country. The rector of the Central American University once told me: “the more you study, the closer you have to be to the poor and vulnerable.” I always tried to do that. Of course, it would be comforting to return home.