For just over a decade – since they moved from the two-story house they occupied in the old center of Managua to a beautiful colonial-looking construction in the exclusive residential Las Colinas – the headquarters of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), always bustled with activity. Always. Until Tuesday, November 30th.
On November 12, the workers of Cosep – at the time some twenty names on its payroll – were summoned to a meeting in the office without knowing in advance why they had been summoned by María José Villavicencio, until that moment, executive director of Cosep.
Confidencial learned that, during the meeting, the workers were presented with the outlook of the Superior Council – subjected not only to attacks and political pressures, but also to great financial limitations – informing them that twelve of them would be dismissed but not telling them who.
For the next three hours, staff stood at their desks, waiting to be called to management, while speculating among themselves who would and would not be fired.
In the end, twelve of the twenty knew they had less than three weeks of job security left, and that they could start looking for another job. Several of them had already left the country or were making plans to leave before the siege to which they were subjected, after the arbitrary detention of the president of Cosep, Michael Healy, and the vice president of Cosep and president of the Union of Producers of Nicaragua (Upanic), Alvaro Vargas, on October 21. An act that also led to the resignation of two chamber presidents in the following days.
The result was that all the staff of the Press, Economic, Legal, and Administrative areas were let go, and only one accounting assistant (the accountant was also fired), an assistant to support the presidency, and the new director, Eduardo Fonseca, plus a gardener, a janitor, and two drivers, remained working.
Some workers who had already reached the corresponding age took the opportunity to retire, and there were also some immediate resignations. Given the economic limitations of the organization, employees were informed that settlements will be delivered in parts, according to the agreements made with each one.
Financial difficulties and an uncertain future
The beautiful courtyard lined with arches and columns that converge at a simple fountain inside the Cosep headquarters now remains almost empty. However, three officials – the director of one of its chambers, a former president of another chamber, and a sitting president – recall what that professional organization was like in the past.
“We are facing an uncertain and very complicated future,” acknowledged the president of an affiliated chamber who requested to omit his identity to avoid reprisals such as those suffered by other colleagues.
“For some time, the chambers have had difficulties covering their own expenses including the payment of their monthly fees, which affected the ability of Cosep to cover its own administrative costs,” explained the director.
“The availability of resources is very limited. The government wants to see Cosep gone, and that’s why we were sure that after arresting Michael and Alvaro they were going to make a de facto direct intervention in all our affairs including the financial ones,” he admitted.
April 2018 brought major changes
Before April 2018 things were different. Cosep maintained an alliance with the regime that was even documented in the Political Constitution as the “consensus model.” This model was destroyed by the bloody consequences of Ortega’s repression against the social outbreak at that time, in which Cosep joined the citizen demands for justice, freedom and democracy.
Precisely, the official objective to see Cosep gone to which the director refers, makes much more sense when it is recalled that “the Government knows that Cosep financed and supported many efforts in favor of political prisoners, both in terms of legal advice, help with food for them and their families; as well as in the transportation cost, shelter, and hospital care of the wounded,” he said.
Under these accusations, last June the Ortega regime imprisoned the former president of Cosep, Jose Adán Aguerri, who was a member of the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy and integrated as a panelist in the failed attempts at dialogue with the regime in May 2018 and March 2019.
Incidentally, the fact that the business community has no plans to participate in a supposed dialogue, (and that is why the regime turns to Aprodesni, to pretend that it has with whom to negotiate in the private sector) only promotes a greater separation between the private sector and the Government, after they were once accused of ‘co-governing’.
“Cosep maintains its political distance because the business community is not willing to allow itself to be manipulated by the Government,” the source said.
They were businesspeople – not managers – and all volunteers
This source recalls that in the past “it was the board members who took charge of the tasks because there were not enough staff. They did this voluntarily and free of charge. At most there was an executive director (a position held for many years by Orestes Romero Rojas), plus two secretariats for support.
“Cosep was always an organization of businesspeople not managers, and it set out to counter flawed government policies,” the former president said.
“Cosep’s presidency was viewed as a position of service; the president was never allowed to have a salary, to the point that this was seen as corruption. It is true that there was not always money to pay a staff person, but distance was always maintained with the government of the day,” he said.
Although Cosep is depleted in terms of the personnel it needs to operate, “In reality what is required is the willingness of its board members. The fact that we have condensed many areas does not mean that we cannot function or that we have to stop doing things,” said the source.
“In the 80s there was also persecution and imprisonment of Cosep executives, sometimes after a letter was written that questioned the handling of the country. The remarkable thing is that Ortega was the president in both periods. Even so, Cosep kept moving forward despite all the limitations, and we will continue to move forward despite the current attacks,” he promised.