Sandinismo has marked the life and death of the Rugama Rizo family, in La Trinidad, Esteli. A father and his two sons have died in circumstances linked to the FSLN: an execution, the war of the 80s and a murder by a Daniel Ortega supporter.
The Rugama Rizo family patriarch, Reynaldo Rugama Tinoco, was executed after the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. His son Sergio Rugama Ruiz died at the age of 19, when he was serving in the Patriotic Military Service, in 1987.
The last of the Rugama-Rizo, Jorge Luis, was assassinated the night of July 19, 2020, by the Sandinista militant Abner Pineda Castellon, who is an official of the Esteli Mayor’s Office.
“Jorge’s father was taken away and disappeared. Someone denounced him as a (national) guard, but he was never a guard,” says Luisa Rizo Laguna, wife and mother of those killed, in an interview for a report broadcast on July 26 on the program Esta Semana, on YouTube and Facebook Live.
“Long Live a Free Nicaragua”
Jorge Luis, 44, was not an opposition leader or activist. He simply disliked Sandinismo, because of the FSLN’s history in his family. His murder has shocked La Trinidad municipality —with just over 34,000 inhabitants—, because of the circumstances in which it occurred: Pineda shot Rugama in the neck, after he shouted “Long Live a Free Nicaragua!”
Pineda participated in a caravan of Sandinista supporters that were going around the streets of La Trinidad, in commemoration of the 41 anniversary of the triumph of the popular revolution.
“They had never entered the neighborhood during their celebrations. They were in a jeep (without a top). They finished their route and then came to the corner of the block. There they were dancing, singing, waving their red and black flag,” described Jose Francisco Vallecillo, a neighbor of the Rugama Rizo family.
According to relatives and witnesses, Rugama was returning from buying liquor when he got involved in an altercation with the Sandinista supporters. “My boy said to them: Long Live a Free Nicaragua! He also told them “You should rejoice this year, God willing next year it will be us,” said the mother.
“They (FSLN sympathizers) got out of the jeep and came (towards Jorge); Abner Pineda took out his 45 (pistol), cocked it and came with it in his hand, trying (to insult) Jorge,” said Vallecillo.
He added that a son of his and Jorge’s mother, were holding him by the arms: “when Abner Pineda was coming, she (the mom) told him: ‘please, be careful not to kill my little boy,” and he (Abner) did not hear that plea; then, going over the head of my boy, he shot (Jorge Luis).”
Rugama had two children: a 22 years-old man who lived in the house with him, and a 24-year-old daughter, who lives in Costa Rica.
A political crime
The crime happened after the central act of July 19 in Managua. The main speech was delivered by President Daniel Ortega, who reappeared after a 38-day total absence.
Security experts and national human rights organizations have called the murder a political crime; however, the National Police quickly ruled out political motivation as one of the causes of the homicide.
In a brief press release, the institution said that Pineda had argued with Rugama and then “took his life.”
For the sociologist and researcher Elvira Cuadra, the killing of Rugama “is the result” of the government’s “hate” and “criminalization” discourse, which “has fueled and exacerbated different forms of political violence,” including murder.
“It is a violent act. It is an assassination committed under protection of impunity, under cover of intolerance, and it has to do with the fanaticism that some followers of the government have developed, especially since 2018 to now,” pointed out the expert on security issues.
She warned that, as long as this environment of hatred and impunity is maintained, “it is possible that similar crimes may occur.”
Mutation of Violence
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) has registered in the department of Esteli some 678 denunciations, between January 2018 and July 24, 2020.
According to Cenidh, the attacks by Sandinista police and paramilitaries against the 2018 civic protests left at least 325 deaths nationwide. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) maintains that, from that year to last January, the death toll actually amounted to 684.
A human rights defender in Estelí, who asked to omit her name for security, explained that the origin of the violence has mutated in that department, since most threats now come directly from Sandinista supporters.
“(Now) what is mostly happening is the issue of direct threats against government opponents, but these threats come directly from supporters, some identified, others not so, because they generally hide behind Facebook or other social networks profiles. People are afraid because they don’t know what they are facing,” said the activist.
She stressed that paramilitary activities “have decreased” in Esteli, since now they are only concentrated in two parts of the city—the central park and near the offices of the Ministry of the Interior—where “people do not circulate for fear of them.”
“We do not see the paramilitaries now causing the damage that generally happened in 2018 and 2019, but we do see government supporters who are causing fear, intimidation and harassment against the opponents,” she emphasized.
They burned down a house
La Trinidad has historically been an opposition municipality to the Sandinistas. The FSLN has only governed for a period, between 2013 and 2017, after questioned elections. It is currently under the mandate of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC).
After the murder of Jorge Luis, a wave of threats against opponents in La Trinidad has been unleashed, and a campaign on social networks, extolling the author of the crime.
The activist warned that the attacks against opponents have been restarted. During Rugama’s funeral, a house of his relatives was set ablaze under “strange” circumstances. The cousins of the murdered man lived in the house. In total, seven people were left homeless.
“They are trying to tell us with this scenario: today we did an action that is causing a lot of pain, tomorrow we can do others,” the defender warned.
Yakarely Elimar Vallecillo, owner of the burned house, stressed that when she left she “made sure” that the gas cylinder was “closed” and that no electrical appliance was “connected,” although she isn’t sure that the fire was deliberate.
“We recovered nothing; we were left only with the clothes we had on. Our beds, televisions, sofas, refrigerators, dishes, everything burned. We could not recover anything,” she lamented.
The neighbors of those affected reported on social networks that the firefighters never arrived, arguing that July 20 was a holiday, that they were on vacation leave.
“Firefighters did not arrive, not even to investigate (the causes of the fire). Neither did the Police, who neighbors say turned back from the corner (of the block of the house),” said the woman.
Pineda, a violent man
The killer and the victim did not have any personal quarrel, and their relationship was nil. For human rights defenders, the crime is a consequence of a hate campaign and political fanaticism in the ranks of the FSLN.
The confessed murderer had been described by witnesses and residents of La Trinidad as a militant with “a lot of power” in Estelí, since he allegedly has a family relationship with the Sandinista mayor of that departmental capital, Francisco Valenzuela Blandon.
Pineda holds the importante position of Head of Acquisitions in the Esteli Mayor’s Office, according to some documents from the National Autonomous University, Farem Esteli, where he is consulted regarding the budgetary implementation of paving (cobblestones) projects in that department.
“Since he took that position at the Mayor’s Office, Abner Pineda became a wealthy man. He has several vehicles, a house and ample funds,” according to Pablo Cuevas, legal advisor to the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), based on the testimony of residents.
“In the municipality of La Trinidad, people say he is aggressive, they even identify him as a paramilitary. For the opponents to the Ortega government, he is a person who generates aggressiveness and violence,” stated the human rights defender.
Pineda surrendered to the Police
According to the official version, police detectives were the ones that “captured” Pineda, but relatives of the victim, witnesses and Sandinista fanatics, who witnessed the murder, said that the murderer voluntarily surrendered to the Police.
“He (Pineda) went to sit on a sidewalk, took out his cell phone and called the Police. He told them to come and get him. Then the Police sent a squad car, and they took him away,” said Vallecillo.
The Police determined that the cause of death was traumatic brain injury. “A pistol-type firearm with a magazine with eight 45-millimeter caliber ammunition units” were confiscated from the murderer, according to the police press release.
“(Pineda) says that he is extremely sorry, that he fired the shot so that he (Rugama) would be scared; but that he was not going to kill him, that the shot went off,” said Jorge Luis’ mother.
A challenge for justice
Rugama Rizo Family members and human rights organizations demand justice, and they warn that there are precedents of complicity by the authorities, regarding the abuses by Ortega supporters.
Activists fear that this case will end up like the murder of Brazilian medical student Rayneia Lima, who was killed in July 2018 by the paramilitary Pierson Gutierrez Solis. The murderer was released in July 2019, through an Amnesty Law, approved by the Sandinista majority in the National Assembly.
Sociologist Elvira Cuadra maintains that the National Police and the entire justice administration apparatus form part “of this entire system of impunity,” since many of the investigative steps are very superficial, when there are any.”
She added that “in most cases there are not even initial elements of investigation; in that sense, there is a sort of protection and complicity towards those who commit this type of violent acts.”
The human rights activist indicated that the Public Ministry will have to represent the victim, in this case Jorge Luis’ mother; however, until Friday, July 24, no official from the Prosecutor’s Office has appeared before the relative of the assassinated, so that they officially provide their testimony.
“This is criminally classified as an aggravated murder crime. This man should be sentenced to between 15 and 25 years in prison,” Cuevas explained, in an interview with the Esta Noche (Tonight) program.
Jorge Luis’ mother believes “they won’t do anything” to the murderer of her son. “They could call me, and say that they are going to condemn him, but that is a lie, that is a dirty game.”
“If there is justice, let it be seen, because there are facts and witnesses. It is in their hands. If there is justice, let it be, otherwise they should give (Pineda) a license so that he continues killing more people,” said the mother.