Officer Julio César Espinoza, Dr. Sergio López, and Dr. Marianela Soto are three public servants arbitrarily dismissed for raising their voices in rejection of the ruling Sandinista Front’s indoctrination within State institutions, in the context of the anti-government protests that began in 2018 and the covid-19 health crisis. And they are not the only ones.
Between 2018 and 2019, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH) dealt with more than 200 complaints and judicial cases of public employees illegally dismissed for political reasons.
“Every Monday, in training, the chief would shout ‘Long live Comandante Daniel Ortega.’ That’s how they indoctrinate us,” says Espinoza; “The partisanship in the public health system has been evident since 2007,” says another doctor. CONFIDENCIAL talked to them to understand how they experienced the official indoctrination and the consequences they have faced.
“The police should defend the people, not repress”
Officer Julio César Espinoza, a former political prisoner of the dictatorship now exiled in Costa Rica, joined the National Police in 2012, and was an agent of the Directorate of Special Police Operations (DOEP) for six years, until, on August 6, 2018, he resigned from the institution because he did not agree with the repressive measures of Daniel Ortega’s regime against the population that was peacefully demonstrating in the streets.
On April 18, 2018, Espinoza was sent to contain protests in the commercial circuit of Camino de Oriente, in Managua, as part of a riot police squad. “We went out to contain the people (protesting) between Camino de Oriente from the Jean Paul Genie. At 6:00 pm they gave us the order to withdraw, and that’s when the (Sandinista) mobs came in,” the ex-agent recounts. The next day, the DOEP squad to which he belonged was sent to contain the protests in Masaya, where he suffered an injury that forced him to be absent for several weeks.
“Fifteen days after my release from the hospital they called me to come into work, but I told them no, because I saw what they were doing,” recalls the released prisoner. On August 6, Espinoza handed in his resignation at the Faustino Ruiz Police Complex. He was offered a promotion, weapons, and a salary increase in exchange for his reinstatement, but he remained firm in his decision not to participate in police repression. In retaliation for his resignation, he was kidnapped by paramilitaries from his home on August 10, and charged with the crimes of kidnapping, money laundering, organized crime, torture, and carrying a National Police emblem.
Espinoza was imprisoned for political reasons, and spent nine months in the Tipitapa Penitentiary System, commonly known as La Modelo, until he was released in 2019 under the Amnesty Law. During the six years he was a police officer, he witnessed the partisanship of the institution. “Every Monday, in training, the chief would shout ‘Long live Comandante Daniel Ortega.’ That’s how they indoctrinate us,” denounces Espinoza, who also points to the Ortega and Murillo government for “rewarding loyalty to the FSLN” in the ranks of the police institution.
“Policemen who were non-commissioned officers now have the rank of lieutenant, when it takes about 15 years in the institution to obtain that position,” he comments indignantly. Despite the partisanship of the institution, Espinoza says that not all his colleagues in the DOEP sympathized with the Sandinista Front. During his paid leave period, he maintained contact with several of his colleagues, who informed him that about 30 other colleagues had also resigned. Espinoza assures that he does not regret his decision to resign, because he did it out of love for Nicaragua, and regrets that the National Police today is dedicated to repressing the people.
“Now they spend more time on duty than at home. There are policemen who are tired of that,” he assures without fear of being wrong.
“Medicine should not be politicized”
Dr. Sergio López Tórrez, oncological surgeon and specialist in laparoscopy, is the first liver and pancreas and biliary tract surgeon in Nicaragua. On June 9, 2020, he was fired from the Manolo Morales Hospital along with other colleagues for signing a letter in which they lamented the “unprecedented and implausible strategy of the Nicaraguan government in the face of the covid-19 pandemic”.
Every year he attended to approximately 60 patients with liver cancer at the Manolo Morales Hospital, with the purpose of providing them with life-saving treatments. For Dr. Lopez, this is the reason why the patients he treated and the Nicaraguan population are the most affected by the arbitrary dismissal of health workers in public hospitals and health centers.
“In Nicaragua there is one specialized doctor for every 10,000 inhabitants on average. Specialized medical personnel and specialized nurses are the country’s most important social capital in terms of health,” the oncologist reflects.
Ever since he was a medical student, Lopez has identified deficiencies in the Nicaraguan healthcare system, but he says that the main problem is politicization.
In the country’s public hospitals, he says, all orders “come from above”, and even the treatments given to patients must be previously approved by the authorities. On several occasions, the hospital doctors had the intention of coordinating the arrival of brigades of foreign doctors to the country, but it was not possible, due to the “political restrictions of the health authorities”, says the specialist.
“There are several treatment alternatives, but they do not reach the patients because there is a barrier between the officials, the health workers and the decision-makers”, explains the physician.
Dr. Sergio Lopez says that many doctors who work in the public health system in Nicaragua experience a feeling of impotence when they have to practice medicine in an environment of threats and persecution. “This is not conducive to the development of medicine in the country. They should reflect very well, because we doctors are not enemies of the country, we do not have a political party,” he insists.
“If you are against the regime, they harass you”
According to a report published by the Nicaraguan Medical Unit, within one year of the pandemic in Nicaragua, 50 doctors died as a result of the Government’s inadequate response to the covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Marianela Soto was an anesthesiologist at the Lenín Fonseca Hospital. Like Dr. Sergio Lopez, she was arbitrarily dismissed on June 9, 2020, for asking the Government to take measures to prevent the spread of the covid-19 pandemic. She has denounced the FSLN’s partisan control over the Ministry of Health and the country’s public hospitals for years, through the Federation of Health Workers (Fetsalud), led by Gustavo Porras Cortés, also president of the National Assembly.
“Partisanship in the public Health system has been evident since 2007. The Fetsalud union has served as a political and repressive arm (of the FSLN). They make decisions related to the hiring and firing of health workers,” says Soto, who also belonged to the now defunct Movimiento ProSalario, an independent union of health workers.
Within the hospital institutions, health workers do not express their disagreement with the Government’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic, for fear that Fetsalud will retaliate against them. “People are afraid, and they are afraid of being fired because it is known that when you are against the regime, they harass you,” the anesthesiologist says.
José Antonio López, expert in labor law and defense lawyer of dismissed public workers, states that the wave of dismissals extends to 29 state institutions. However, the Ministry of Health (Minsa) and the Ministry of Education (Mined) are the two state institutions most affected by the “hunt” that the Ortega and Murillo regime has unleashed against public servants critical of the Government.
Since March 2020, after the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic in Nicaragua, 28 doctors have been dismissed without justification, according to figures from the Nicaraguan Medical Unit. For lawyer López, these dismissals are illegal, due to the fact that they do not conform to the Health Career Law, nor do they comply with the procedures of Law 476 or Civil Service Law or the Administrative Career.
“There were many irregularities in the cases. Although it was demonstrated that the cases did not fit with what was established by law, the judges and magistrates issued their sentence”, he exposes.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff