What the Ortega Regime Says about Its Own Crimes
By way of a violent massacre in Nicaragua, Ortega eroded the bases for his legitimacy and has shown himself incapable of governing
When the National Dialogue (ND) began, both in the plenary sessions and in the three-plus-three commissions, it was clear that faced with the excessive use of force against demonstrators by the Ortega-Murillo regime and the cynicism of its delegates—particularly the archetypical Foreign Minister Moncada—the strategy was to delay the process. A total negation of reality, as Amnesty International has classified the response of the regime to the massacre.
On May 28th, at the same time that efforts were being made to “unlock” the National Dialogue by using the three-plus-three commissions, in which I participated, an attempt was made by students of the National University of Engineering (UNI) to take over the campus of the university to exert pressure on Ortega to leave office. The autocrat ordered to respond with bullets. Social networks were flooded with videos in which officers of the National Police are clearly seen shooting at the campus where young university students were resisting in a peaceful manner.
Facing the indignation of having to dialogue with the enemy while at the same time a new massacre is being committed—taking advantage of a recess called by the mediating bishops—, I approached Edwin Castro, one of the most loyal to Ortega and Murillo and one of the regime’s main delegates to the National Dialogue, and showed him a video where he could clearly see what had happened. The response of the delegate was: “we have to see what is really happening.”
What has been the narrative constructed by the regime after April 18th?
I. “They are Delinquents, not Students”
A wave of protests that began on April 18th and intensified on April 19th with hundreds of students fighting the National Police, shock groups and mobs’ linked to the Ortega and Murillo regime, left a balance of several dead. From then, a new labeling of the protesters began and they were called miniscule, vandals and delinquents. By dehumanizing the other, the regime began to act “justifiably” through the excessive use of force.
The “self-convoked” people also known as the “blue and whites” [from the color of the Nicaraguan flag] responded in a forceful way: They were not delinquents, they were students!
II. “Violence from wherever it comes from”
Once the National Dialogue table was installed, a decision that was taken by Ortega after the repression and the murders emptied the State, its institutions and procedures of any legitimacy. And, in one of the most decisive moments of the civic struggle through the lifting of barricades and roadblocks in various parts of the national territory, the regime displayed a narrative that could be summarize in the phrase that violence is “violence from wherever it comes from.”
According to this narrative, the democratic people uprising, plotting with right-wing parties and a treacherous private sector, had “disrupted” the tranquility built by the “good government” during the last eleven years. It exalted the death of some police officers and militants of the FSLN, but at the same time said nothing about the murder and disappearance of hundreds of protesters, in their majority young people.
Such a narrative tried to make balance and even diminish the responsibility for acts of repression deployed by the Ortega-Murillo regime, with the clear objective of weakening or eliminating any sanctions that could be applied on the perpetrators of these crimes.
The presence of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC), demanded by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) in the National Dialogue and as a result of the pressure exerted by a population mobilizing in the streets, resulted in the publication of a report on the systematic violations of human rights in Nicaragua after the protests began in April. This report confronted the aforementioned narrative of the authoritarian Ortega and Murillo regime. It was widely rejected by the government, mainly by the Foreign Minister Moncada in the sessions of the Permanent Council of the OAS, where it was labelled as biased and not objective.
The negation of a political reality provoked by the same regime through its repressive actions has been a constant.
III. “Justice and reparation for the victims of terrorism”
The dismantling of the pockets of resistance in the territories through vicious armed attacks to destroy the roadblocks and the murder and capture of its main leaders, were actions carried out by the police and paramilitary forces that the regime created. They acted and continue to act as armed commandos—called “Peace Caravans” by the regime—in a military war invented by the same autocrat, made the regime perceive itself as triumphant.
This perception has manifested itself in the speeches pronounced by Ortega and Murillo to their base supporters, and in a paradigmatic way in the rallies to commemorate the Sandinista Popular Revolution that the FSLN has monopolized through the years.
In the face of great violence and a huge violation of human rights, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved two resolutions demanding a peaceful solution to this socio-political conflict through the National Dialogue. By means of its representative, the regime categorically rejected these resolutions calling the OAS actions interference, and of involvement in internal affairs that should be resolved by Nicaraguans.
The regime represented by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have taken no steps to find a solution to this crisis. Force has been imposed against popular will.
Once the roadblocks and barricades were destroyed and perceiving a favorable correlation of forces, the Ortega and Murillo transformed the narrative to criminalize the protests and demonstrators as a matter of state. A law against terrorism and financing of it was approved by the National Assembly, legislative body widely co-opted by the regime. Similarly, they were creating and spreading a new narrative that, through the speeches of Ortega and Murillo and the marches and caravans of its supporters, demands “justice and reparation for the victims of terrorism.” Something that does not match up with reality, and is used to stigmatize the people who protest, their organizational expressions, leaders and in a fundamental way the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD).
The strategy of the new narrative no longer has the objective of equalizing or diminishing the responsibility of the regime’s repressive actions. It wants to make it disappear, transferring it to the forces that from the streets continue to demand true justice and democracy. That is, the ultimate goal is impunity for those who have perpetrated the massacre, which is the most favorable condition for the departure of the autocrats.
A new Nicaragua cannot be built on the basis of impunity.
Are we Really Winning?
Perceiving himself victorious through the relative “recovery” of the streets, place from which political power has been disputed in recent months, Ortega used terror from his repressive forces and by displaying the aforementioned narratives. But, what is true is that Ortega is being defeated. For Nicaraguans, including Sandinistas and non-Sandinistas, this autocrat remaining in power is neither desirable nor viable.
He has lost the capacity to manage political power and administer order and stability in a unilateral manner. The business community is not willing to configure a new institutional arrangement such as the so-called “dialogue and consensus model,” [that existed before April 18th]. By committing a massacre, Ortega has not only undermined the bases of his legitimacy but has also deployed and empowered paramilitary forces that have created a new crisis of citizen insecurity. Not to mention the economic crisis which is the result of the crisis that overwhelms the whole country.
Ortega is incapable of continuing to govern
That is, a negotiation process, different but with equal legitimacy as the National Dialogue in the first phase, is inevitable and fundamental to find a solution to the socio-political crisis. However, this not only depends on the political will of the Ortega-Murillo regime and the acceptance of the ACJD, it is fundamental to have the unification and coordination of the struggle among the various organizational expressions and people that have disputed power from the streets, from the international community and through the shaping of new political agreements.
*The author is a member of the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN) and of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD).