It was September 1978, and the Somoza dynasty was on its deathbed in Nicaragua, with a bloody repression condemned the world over. His “serious and recurring violations of human rights” led the Organization of American States to call for a meeting of foreign ministers, who then approved a Mediation Commission and a Special Commission for the Verification of Human Rights.
Forty years later, in the face of the Ortega regime’s brutal repression, with over three hundred deaths confirmed by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights since April 19, the OAS has once again set up a working group for Nicaragua,
In 1978, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last of the dynasty, accepted the arrival of the OAS delegations. That Special Commission for Human Rights concluded its work with a “devastating” report on his regime, and the mediator left months later, due to the absolute lack of will on the part of the dictator. Months later, this same dictator was deposed by a popular insurrection that triumphed in July 1979.
Daniel Ortega participated in that insurrection and became one of the most visible faces of the government that took the tyrant’s place. Right now, however, in his fourth presidential term, including a third consecutive period in power, he has opposed the arrival of a new work team approved by the OAS permanent council. Analysts and opposition figures warn that this posture could lead him to the same fate as the previous dictator.
The same allegations
“Somoza was never interested in that way out of the crisis. He was buying time, and in the end, he said that he wouldn’t accept the OAS solution because it was unconstitutional,” recalls author Sergio Ramirez Mercado, former member of the Group of twelve in 1978-9.
The objective of the OAS mediation group in 1978 was to direct the negotiations between Somoza and the opposition, including the guerrilla fighters from the Sandinista Front who had taken up arms against the dictatorship. The negotiations were to culminate in the organization of a referendum to decide whether Somoza should continue or leave, since the team had concluded that any solution to the crisis had to involve the dictator’s resignation.
Speaking to the OAS, Somoza’s foreign minister Julio Quintana alleged that the situation in the country had been “distorted by outside forces for political ends, and then this picture had been disseminated outside the country with the goal of discrediting the country and its legitimately constituted government.”
Meddling; terrorist actions; “distortion” in 1978, or “fake news” in 2018 – the allegations used by the Somoza regime are the same ones that Ortega is now using. That’s the comparison made by educator Carlos Tunnermann, also a member of the Group of Twelve during the struggle against Somoza.
At the end of December 1978, following more than two months of negotiations, Somoza rejected the idea of a referendum and instead proposed a “popular” consultation on whether or not to interrupt his “constitutional” mandate, with the alternative of a constitutional assembly. The opposition, at the time organized as the Broad Opposition Front roundly rejected the counter-proposal.
The final resolution
On June 24, 1979, the OAS approved a resolution condemning the Somoza regime, demanding its definite and immediate replacement, and the holding of free elections. The OAS pointed directly to this regime as the principal cause of the problems in Nicaragua.
The government of Panama then ceded its seat in the OAS to the Nicaraguan Government Junta in exile, represented by Father Miguel d’Escoto, a member of the Group of Twelve.
Today, in less than a month, the OAS has published two resolutions condemning the Ortega regime for the violent repression of anti-government protests. The most recent resolution includes the approval of a work group to be integrated by twelve countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, United States, Guyana, Mexico, Panama and Peru, all of whom have emitted harsh criticisms against the repression exercised by the regime.
Nevertheless, the Ortega government maintains its rejection of the initiative and declares that it won’t allow their entry into the country. The consequences, however, of closing the doors to them may have a higher cost.
In an interview on the television program Esta Semana [“This week”], Arturo Cruz, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, recalled Somoza’s rejection of a way out in 1978 and commented: “it’s definitely a mistake” that today, once again, an offer from the OAS has been rejected.
Tunnermann coincides with Ramirez in noting two large differences in the historical parallels between the two occasions that Nicaragua was the subject of consideration in the OAS.
The first, they argue, is that when the OAS made the decision to mediate in 1978, Nicaragua didn’t have a Mediation and Dialogue Commission like the one that exists now, headed by the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference.
Ramirez recalls that 40 years ago it wasn’t until the OAS commission made up of the Dominican Republic, United States, and Guatemala arrived that the mediation was set up. During this process, he was one of the representatives of the opposition. Miguel Obando y Bravo, at that time Archbishop of Managua, then came on as a representative for the Church.
In 1978, he added, there wasn’t a face-to-face dialogue, like the current National Dialogue that began last May and is currently suspended. Instead, the members of the Broad Opposition Front would sit down with the OAS in Obando’s presence, and the OAS would then transmit the message to the government and vice versa.
The other difference they note is that now there’s no armed revolution before them, but a regime that is brutally going after civilians.
“When we would sit down (to negotiate) we already knew the battle situation for the day, with details of the troop movements in the territory. Now there’s no war in the middle,” he highlighted.
“We also knew that the atmosphere was increasingly heading towards an insurrection and that the number of people who were willing to take up arms was increasing. The way out that the OAS and the United States were offering was a negotiated departure of Somoza, a plan that we began to call the Somoza regime without Somoza. But we were firm in our position that we wouldn’t accept anything short of the total eradication, not only of Somoza as a figure and as a family, but of the entire system set up under Somoza.”
When Somoza rejected the proposal for a plebiscite, the OAS negotiation failed. It wasn’t until April 1979 that the U.S. ambassador William Bowdler met with the Broad United Front in Costa Rica, now as a representative of US President Jimmy Carter and no longer of the OAS, with the objective of negotiating Somoza’s departure.
Ramirez feels that the current OAS team should concentrate on the electoral calendar proposed by the Secretary General, which coincides in broad aspects with the one presented by the Episcopal Conference.
“If the government doesn’t accept this commission, what I see happening is the convoking of a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the matter. They’re offering Ortega a way out… if that’s not accepted – because they slam the door on the OAS – then the OAS will have to escalate to another level, which would be the conference of ministers to make another resolution. I don’t know what that will entail, but it won’t be more benign that the one that’s been passed up until now,” he analyzes.
Tunnermann adds that now you can’t speak of meddling or intervention anymore when the Nicaraguan Constitution itself states that the Nicaragua adheres to the principles of Inter-American International Law, including the obligation to comply with the structures designed to guarantee respect and the defense of human rights.
“The refusal of Ortega’s government to have this work group come to Nicaragua would bring very negative consequences, because this refusal could lead to the imposition of sanctions of an economic type on Nicaragua, especially through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which has a current loan portfolio in Nicaragua.” This could affect the IDB loans which represent some 600 million dollars in Nicaragua’s portfolio, in addition to the World Bank loans, concludes Tunnermann, a member of the Civic Alliance.