The Organization of American States’ Secretary General, Luis Almagro, accused Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua of “taking advantage of” the pandemic. Almagro feels the authoritarian regimes installed in these countries used the Covid-19 pandemic to “increase repression” and “hold onto power”. His remarks came in the context of International Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10th.
In the case of Nicaragua, Almagro noted that Daniel Ortega’s government spurred “efforts to censor all information about the pandemic.” This, he said “cost lives”, among the Nicaraguan people. Up to the present, the official count in Nicaragua is of 5,887 cases and 162 deaths. However, when the number of excess deaths attributed to diseases linked to Covid is examined, the count changes. Looking at the excess mortality from pneumonia, heart attacks and other conditions yields an estimate of 7,000 lives lost to the pandemic.
The OAS official noted that individuals and media outlets in Nicaragua weren’t allowed to speak openly about the Covid situation. Those that do, he stated, were “put on a list”.
“We must be careful not to minimize the implications of the loss of democracy in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Not to mention its definitive loss, decades back, in Cuba,” Almagro warned.
His remarks took place during a virtual conference on “Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.” Almagro commented on one of the lessons the pandemic taught: “authoritarianism is a virus that crosses borders”. Speaking of these three regimes, he continued: “Their bad practices extend outside their borders.” This occurs through “the corruption, violence and organized crime that they spread.”
In consequence, Almagro affirmed, “we should be more aware and more responsible, to act and have a hemisphere free of dictatorships.”
The virtual event was attended by Luis Guillermo Solis, former Costa Rican president. Jose Pallais, Nicaraguan opposition leader and former vice minister of foreign relations, also spoke. Others present included Maria Werlau, executive director of the Cuba Archive; and Ana Julia Jatar, editor of Venezuela’s “El Planeta Media”. Finally, Carlos Ignacio Suarez assistant administrator of the USAID office for Latin America and the Caribbean was there.
Human rights violations “persist” in Nicaragua
Guillermo Solis, ex-president of Costa Rica, recalled that the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan leaders have both been denounced for “crimes against humanity”. The denunciations came from different international organizations.
“We’re speaking of massive human rights violations, political assassinations, true state terrorism. In the case of Nicaragua and Venezuela, these have clearly been used to intimidate the opposition. They’re also intended to strike fear into those in the streets,” Solis stated.
Almagro asserted that in Nicaragua and Venezuela, “the deferment of the institutions, and the cooptation of the state powers,” came gradually. There were “slow, gradual processes of a thousand steps, in which the cooptation of the institutions and the state powers was implanted. The institutions even stopped responding to the Constitution and the law and rose up as instruments of oppression.”
Former Nicaraguan diplomat Jose Pallais stressed that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “continue under totalitarian regimes. They’re all under the same model of systematic and massive human rights violations.”
Pallais detailed that in the case of Nicaragua “there’s a police state with all the democratic spaces closed off.” He emphasized that “all the constitutional guarantees are restricted.”
“The State controls everything: who you meet with, where you go, what you speak of. They’ve even given themselves new laws to curtail freedom of expression in the social media. Other laws hinder the financing of the NGOs that work to promote democracy. This has been especially true for those NGOs dedicated to human rights advocacy,” Pallais stated.
The regime “isn’t willing to collaborate with the OAS”
The opposition figure also spoke about the context of the Nicaraguan general election programmed for November 2021. “The supporting conditions don’t exist, nor an appropriate atmosphere to make fair, free and competitive elections possible.”
Pallais pointed out that the Nicaraguan government is still not complying with the resolution approved in the OAS General Assembly. In it, the organization called on them to implement the necessary electoral reforms to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections in 2021.
Contrary to the request of the OAS, Pallais stated, the Ortega regime has closed off the opposition’s opportunities to organize. There’s also an accelerated deterioration of the democratic and human rights institutions. Finally, there’s no beginning in sight for inclusive and opportune negotiations on significant electoral reforms consistent with international standards.
The former Nicaraguan vice-minister of foreign affairs assured that the Ortega regime “doesn’t believe in democracy. They’re not ready and not willing to collaborate with the OAS (on the points established in the General Assembly resolution.” Nor to take the necessary steps, so that we end this crisis in a civic and democratic way.”
Pallais warned that the Ortega regime could once again implement “a fraud, in the best style of Cuba or Venezuela.” This, he said, could occur “if there’s no serious condemnation of the nature and consequences of their policies.” Such an electoral fraud would cause “suffering” to the country. “More poverty, violence, impunity, more crimes against humanity and greater instability in the region.”
Meanwhile, the USAID representative, Carlos Suarez, agreed that the Ortega regime is “particularly dangerous”. He indicated that the human rights violations that occur in the country are “on the United States’ radar”.