HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega denies that he has quashed the protests through repression, doesn’t feel responsible for those who died in the streets in the last four-plus months, and blames the United States and drug traffickers for financing, supporting and arming violent groups.
In an interview with the ACAN-Efe news agency in Managua, the FSLN leader and the country’s president termed the protests a “criminal blow,” that in his opinion are part of a plan to get him out of government.
Different international organizations have documented as many as 400+ deaths in those protests, and human rights organizations have been expelled from the country after denouncing the repression.
Their denunciations have been reaffirmed by figures such as author Sergio Ramirez, the latest Cervantes Literature Award holder and former vice president under Ortega (1985-1990). Ramirez spoke of “police and paramilitary forces armed with war rifles, acting together against a disarmed populace.”
Ortega’s response to this was: “He’s putting to work his abilities as a storyteller. He’s a great storyteller, and he’s inventing a really macabre story about the tragedy that our people are living through. He’s lying.”
The president directly blames the United States, and considers this another facet of the history of US intervention in Central American politics and especially in Nicaragua.
“It’s a matter of not respecting the Nicaraguan people, but of carrying out a policy of permanent intervention to obligate people to favor this intervention and their candidate,” he explained.
“It’s very clear. We returned to government and the hostility from the United States returned. The first thing they did was to remove us from the funds of the Millennial Challenge Corporation, that was part of a project agreed on with the former government to invest in Central America,” he added.
“They punished Nicaragua,” Ortega affirmed, “because to the United States the Frente [Sandinista Front – former revolutionary and current governmental party] isn’t democratic, and they immediately began to organize armed groups.”
In the course of an interview that lasted over an hour, Ortega referred several times to that supposed intervention. He directly accused the United States, in conjunction with drug-traffickers, of arming the groups that are protesting against the Sandinista government.
“There’ve been activities there, that originated with the far-right groups in Florida. A permanent umbilical cord was left there from the time of the Contra war. A very close relationship between the North American politicians in Florida and the Contras, that later evolved into a friendship.”
“This right-wing holds a lot of political power in Congress, and it pained them that the Frente should return to government. They then spearheaded a program that fed those armed groups who in turn began to forge ties with drug-trafficking groups. In some actions carried out against them, activities tied to the cultivation of marijuana were uncovered,” Ortega assured.
Ortega roundly denied the existence of Sandinista paramilitaries and assured that the only armed groups are those protesting against the government.
The leader indicated that “the only paramilitaries that have existed in Nicaragua are those formed after 2007, and who have committed and continue committing a great number of crimes.”
“We’ve assumed that battle with the Police and the Army. There are companeros in the army who’ve died in that combat, but to the right-wing and the human rights organizations these deaths don’t exist.”
During his participation he refused to accept the denunciations from diverse organizations and the population itself that the police opened fire against the demonstrators.
“That’s a big lie. I saw the demonstration on television, and what happened there was an assault on the part of the demonstrators against the other [pro-government] march that was heading towards Bolivar Avenue, an assault with arms,” he added.
“The 22 police officers killed in these months, for example: How do you explain the 22 policemen killed during peaceful demonstrations? Or the hundreds of dead Sandinistas who were abducted from their homes and assassinated, those that were burned alive? How can we explain all this?” Ortega repeated.
He also denied the denunciations of the European Union, the UN and the OAS accusing the government of repression, arbitrary detentions and torture, stating that all of these complaints were choreographed by the United States.
The Nicaraguan president stated that “to them (the opposition groups), the 22 dead police don’t exist, nor our companeros who were civilians and who were burned, nor the home that was set afire and where a child died as Sergio [Ramirez] mentions, distorting the reality.”
“There was a house where a Sandinista was living who had a mattress factory. Since he wouldn’t join the strike and was in the red zone, they attacked him and set fire to his home. They burned the house down and the entire family died,” the leader said.
On other topics, he declared that there were no political prisoners in Nicaragua, and “those who are detained are in jail for crimes they’ve committed against the people and are being submitted to the corresponding processes. No one’s in jail for their ideas and their political activism.”
Regarding the accusation of a lack of press freedom, he denied it, stating that it was enough to turn on the television channels, watch the news or read the newspapers to negate this accusation.
“There’s so much freedom of the press that there’s even a program where they recently interviewed the hooded figures who are right-wing armed paramilitaries, and at the end they state calmly that there will be more deaths here,” Ortega asserted, adding that “that’s what they said, in a perfectly calm manner.”
He doesn’t feel responsible for any of the deaths and explained that “here, those responsible for these deaths are those who have promoted, financed and fed these acts, and behind them are the politicians from Florida who’ve managed to gain influence in the United States Congress.”
In the president’s opinion, what has bothered the US right wing most is the alliance that the Frente managed to construct with the workers and business owners who aren’t Sandinistas ideologically but who accepted their proposal to form a government composed of business owners, workers and the government itself.”
“They didn’t threaten the Sandinistas, but leveled threats against the business owners who have interests in the United States and who move large financial operations. They created the conditions to develop offensives like this one in April,” he expressed. He added that this was combined “with the arms, because if there’ve been deaths it’s because there’ve been arms and if there hadn’t been any arms there wouldn’t have been any deaths.”
The protests against Daniel Ortega’s administration began when a decree was made known that reformed social security.
“There were protests, but there weren’t any deaths; they invented that a student had died there. I saw those protests on television and there were no arms there, not on one side nor on the other side. The arms came out the next day at night. They held unarmed marches by day and at night the armed groups came out to attack mayors’ offices, offices of the Frente, hospitals, state institutions, and to kill Sandinistas,” he accused.
In his opinion, “that’s where the conflict, the confrontations and the deaths began,” According to the government, the deaths are numbered at 195, while different human rights organizations have placed the number of victims at over 400.
Ortega also dismissed the petition for early elections that has now been endorsed by the European Union and the European parliament, arguing that “in Europe there’s a very conservative wave as well, where despite their differences with the United States they tend to unify positions as concerns Latin America.”
For Ortega, “it doesn’t make sense” to move up the elections planned for 2021. He feels that “it’s the most absurd thing that’s been proposed,” since “it would mean setting a very negative precedent, so any time the opposition didn’t like a government’s measures you’d have to put the government through this process.”
“It would be reliving the history of the Ibero-American countries that didn’t have any stability and had to be changing governments continually because people went out to protest in the street and the army came and removed the president,” he specified.
Ortega accepted that there’d been a loss of jobs, especially in the tourism sector. Different sectors of that business estimate the job losses at 70,000 since the beginning of the crisis last April 18.
“Effectively, there’s been a loss of employment; the country was paralyzed by the famous roadblocks for a long time and that affected employment. That’s the challenge now, to reactivate the activities as is being done,” the president noted.
He assured that “national tourism is being reactivated more rapidly, and the sources of small local businesspeople,” but “there’ve been more problems in attracting international tourism, because this situation tends to frighten off the tourists.”
Regarding the supposed enrichment of his family circle, he affirmed that it was “totally false,” and asked that those making that accusation “present some evidence.”
In reference to the office of vice president held by his wife, Rosario Murillo, he explained that “The companera is there because she’s a militant member of the Frente”, and that he “knew her as a militant… and she’s in the Vice President’s seat as a Frente militant and for her capability.”