Within the next two weeks, the 90-day investigation deadline will expire for Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, the first four presidential aspiring candidates imprisoned by the Ortega Murillo regime, out of a total of 33 political prisoners kidnapped in the last three months. “They are all arbitrary detentions,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas, and adds that “the international community is hoping that, as these dates are reached, these people should be released.”
While Ortega is heading for his third consecutive reelection without political competition, with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice-president, Chilean jurist José Miguel Vivanco considers that by annulling the electoral competition “Ortega buries himself as of November 7, with a total lack of credibility and legitimacy, and the demands for a democratic transition will be much stronger”.
This is an excerpt from Vivanco’s interview on the program Esta Semana.
What is Human Rights Watch’s assessment of the human rights and political crisis in Nicaragua? There are seven presidential aspiring candidates in prison; the opposition political parties have been stripped of their legal status; the Catholic Church says “there are no conditions” for a transparent election, and the people say “there is no one to vote for”.
This is an absolutely unusual situation, unprecedented in our region, it takes us back to the times of the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s. They have arrested a lot of people, specifically the presidential aspiring candidates. They have also arrested key people from civil society, from the private sector, from the media, student leaders; it is really an avalanche of abuses that can be committed in a country when those in charge have all the power concentrated in their hands, as is the case of Ortega and Murillo,
I think everyone understands, both in Nicaragua and outside Nicaragua, that the elections have already taken place, there is an electoral schedule that should result in a competitive election, among several candidates, and that is not going to happen. We know the result, there is no need to wait until November 7. It is very clear to the international community, not only are there no conditions for these elections, but there have been abuses of such magnitude that invalidate, delegitimize any scheduled electoral process and, of course, contribute to disqualifying this bloodthirsty dictatorship even more.
What impact does the closing of the electoral route have on the legitimacy of the result
What impact does the closing of the electoral route have on the legitimacy of the result, for Ortega’s government, which is going to elect itself without competition and without conditions?
I believe that, except for Venezuela, which is led by another dictatorship; Cuba, in the region, and Bolivia, I do not believe that they are going to get more recognition than these two dictatorships; and outside this region, Russia, of course Putin; probably China. They are not minor countries, they are also dictatorships, equivalent, which have interests, in the case of Russia, of a geopolitical nature.
I would dare to say that even Mexico and Argentina, which have acted in such a disappointing way by hiding behind non-interference, those countries that say, we prefer not to interfere in Nicaragua’s internal affairs, are going to find it very difficult to congratulate and end up recognizing a fourth mandate, absolutely illegitimate, completely irregular of the current dictator Daniel Ortega.
Policy options in the OAS
What are the options that have been raised at the Organization of American States? Many governments condemn human rights violations, but not all are inclined to make a decision to separate Nicaragua from the OAS, with the implications that this has. You mentioned Mexico and Argentina, in the last vote they abstained, as did Honduras, as did Belize.
Yes, that is true. In the context of the OAS, things are complicated because there are several governments, including Argentina and Mexico, of course, that have come to the conclusion of – nothing with Almagro – they do not want to get close to Almagro, they do not even want to participate openly in the OAS on issues like this. And it seems to me that this is something absolutely unusual, we have never had an experience of this type in the region.
Regardless of the sympathy or antipathy one may have with the Secretary General of the OAS, and, in fact, I do believe that Almagro has made not one but several serious mistakes during his tenure, he is still Secretary General of the OAS, and there are issues that are above personal disqualifications or animosities, this cannot be translated into a personal problem with the current Secretary General of the OAS. That is why it is so difficult for me to take seriously when Argentina and Mexico object to participating, for example, in a process that seeks to apply the Democratic Charter and suspend Nicaragua from the OAS.
I think that President Biden’s administration, which has good relations with Mexico and Argentina, should play, and I hope it does, a more determined role, and get, let’s say, the countries to act responsibly, and examine Nicaragua’s conduct, the conduct of its government in the light of the Democratic Charter, the inevitable conclusion of which, in my opinion, is the immediate suspension of Ortega from the OAS.
This week, for example, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Rapporteurship unanimously condemned the assault on the newspaper La Prensa and the human rights violations in the country. But for the Ortega dictatorship these types of condemnations by human rights organizations have no impact, no consequences.
We are facing a bloodthirsty dictatorship; with a couple that treats the country as if it were a private estate, and they are determined to cling to power at any price, bypassing all commitments, agreements, legal obligations, both internally and internationally. Here there is no country project, there is no conflict of ideological visions, this is a kleptocracy, that is to say, it is a regime that nurtures the exercise of absolute power for corruption, to enrich its personal coffers. And that is what unfortunately existed in the last century in Latin America.
I think there are more and more similarities between Somoza and Ortega, and in those circumstances the dictator is blind, deaf, and simply moves forward with everything to achieve his goal. However, even so, I do believe that the international community has to continue to redouble that pressure, and I believe that this will happen when the House passes the bill called Renacer, which will give President Biden’s administration a menu of options.
The release of political prisoners
In Nicaragua there are more than 140 political prisoners, of which 33 were captured in the last three months as part of this closing of the electoral road, many of them are practically kidnapped, nobody has seen them, neither their relatives nor their lawyers; and the term that the regime gave itself to supposedly investigate several of the aspiring presidential candidates expires in the next two weeks, but they will be judged by the same laws that the dictatorship established. What solution do you see to the crisis of the political prisoners?
In any democratic society where the basic principles of the rule of law are respected, the normal thing is that one is investigated, and if they find evidence that proves a crime was committed, and that one participated in that crime, measures are taken that can result in the deprivation of liberty of the person, that is the normal thing to do. What happens in Nicaragua is the other way around. The detention comes first, and then people are investigated, and according to this ad hoc legislation, which they invented in February of this year, and which allows them to keep a person under investigation for up to three months.
Well, this little move that they are applying to all those who have been detained in these last raids… we are reaching the deadlines for Cristiana (Chamorro), for Juan Sebastián (Chamorro), for (Arturo) Cruz, for all of them, the calendar is very clear, next week the deadline should expire, and the deadline will be met for several of the leaders in the first days of September. We are going to see what the regime does, if it invents some pretext to prolong this detention. All these detentions are arbitrary, all this has no legal basis, this is simply a capricious abuse of the dictatorship, we are in total defenselessness, in absolute helplessness here.
In all the contact I have had with representatives of the international community, they are very clear about the dates, and they are expecting that, as these dates are met, these people should be released. We are going to see what happens, but I believe that Ortega is going to have a problem.
If there is a national and international recognition beforehand, that the elections do not have legitimacy and, therefore, neither does the government that will be elected, are there precedents in Latin American election crises that they can be annulled and called again to get out of a political crisis?
Certainly. Everything will depend on the pressure of the international community, this is not a road of no return, this is not something fateful, something that condemns us, as of November 7, to another five years of Ortega. Ortega buries himself, he condemns himself as of November 7, because if he executes what he has planned, he ends up buried much lower than he is, with a total lack of credibility; I believe that it is very likely that some democratic countries will decide to withdraw their representations in Managua, precisely because of a conduct of this nature.
We also hope to activate the Human Rights Council, where Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, comes forward to order a new Commission, an investigative delegation on the ground regarding what is happening in Nicaragua. I believe that, in other words, the track gets even heavier for Ortega as of November 7, once he intends to celebrate or inaugurate a fourth consecutive five-year term, which will not have the slightest, the slightest quota of legitimacy.
We are talking about a complex path, about a democratic transition. Now, is this democratic transition with Ortega or without Ortega and Murillo?
Ortega has taken advantage of this moment because nobody, nobody could have anticipated what this man was willing to do, that we could be facing a situation of this type; but I believe that today, those who did not know him, now know perfectly well the extremes to which he is willing to go to perpetuate himself in power; and I believe that once he manages to consummate the plan of one more reelection, the doors will open for a new phase in the relationship with the international community, where the demands and demands for democratic transition are going to be much stronger.
The agenda of justice
Last week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court declared that there are merits to investigate and judge the rulers of Venezuela for crimes against humanity, taking into account the inaction of justice in Venezuela. This is a scenario against which Nicaraguans would like to see the country’s exit, but the Government is not a signatory of the International Criminal Court. What is the solution to the justice crisis?
The justice crisis will be addressed with the recovery of democratic order in Nicaragua, they go hand in hand. It is unrealistic to expect that justice will be done (now), that these abuses will be stopped and that those responsible for the very serious crimes – executions, massacres, torture – committed by the Ortega and Murillo regime will be punished.
Unfortunately, the International Criminal Court is not an option, because they have not ratified the Treaty of Rome, which creates the Criminal Court. But the issue can be raised before the United Nations Security Council, the problem in the Council is highly probable that Nicaragua has the support of Russia and China, which have veto power and are not willing to bring Nicaragua’s case before the International Criminal Court.
From what you are saying, the issue of justice is postponed, until a democratic political solution is achieved. Can there be a kind of trade-off between justice and democracy, despite the crimes that have been committed? The victims say, there can be no democratic transition without justice, and even less so with impunity.
There are standards called transitional justice, which are used when in a political reality, the political actors do not have the capacity, there is an insurmountable impotence to demand a serious, rigorous investigation and exemplary punishment for atrocious acts, but these are matters that are debated when we enter into a serious discussion on democratic transition. I believe that we are still very far from something of that nature.
In any case, the victims and organizations such as ours, such as Human Rights Watch, will always be demanding genuine justice, a justice that is not simply a formality, where these events are thoroughly investigated and both the perpetrators and those most responsible for the atrocities that took place in Nicaragua are punished.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff