Mario Chamorro, founder of the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation for NGOs working with Children and Adolescents (Codeni), lamented the Ortega regime’s recent cancelation of the organization’s legal status. The Nicaraguan National Assembly, totally controlled by Ortega, approved the forced closure of this and another 24 NGOs on Wednesday, April 20th. Chamorro called the decision an act of vengeance.
Mario Chamorro explained his views in an interview on the online television news program Esta Noche, adding that the biggest losers in this are the children and teenagers who benefited from the organization’s programs.
According to Chamorro, up until 2018 the umbrella organization coordinated 39 affiliate groups, involving 1,450 collaborators and over 16,000 volunteers. At least 350,000 people were benefited, including residents of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean.
“The big losers in this cancelation of Codeni and the other organizations are the children and adolescents. They’re left defenseless in a severe economic, social, and political crisis, while the government does nothing to attend to them,” declared Chamorro, who served on the organization’s board on several occasions.
Codeni, founded in 1992, was one of 25 organizations whose legal non-profit status was summarily canceled on April 20 by vote of the 74 Sandinista deputies in the National Assembly. The measure was approved during a lightning 31-minute morning session, held to formalize the order for closure issued by the Executive office.
Chamorro said that Codeni’s work made it a national and international reference point, in the world of organizations whose mission is the promotion and defense of the rights of children and adolescents. One of their most significant achievements had to do with the legislative framework for defense of the rights of women and children – specifically the Child and Adolescent Code, the Family Code and the Labor Code in relation to child labor.
Tensions since 2007
“When the Ortega government rose to power (in 2007), tensions erupted between the organizations and the government, especially in relation to the demands of Law 147 (controlling non-profit associations) but also regarding the exclusion of the civil society organizations from the national and municipal councils. Later came tensions, threats, blackmail and persecution around the community work,” Chamorro recalled.
He further noted that these tensions worsened in 2018, when the country exploded in massive protests demanding Ortega’s resignation. The government responded with brutal repression. At that time, Codeni denounced the killing of 29 children and teens, in the context of the government’s violent repression of the protests.
In addition to Codeni, the regime canceled the legal status of the Cantera Foundation, one of Codeni’s affiliates, which had been in existence since 1990. The decision also annulled the legal status of the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH), created in 1991, the last human rights organization that had been allowed to function legally in the country, although many of its staff had left into exile.
With the current National Assembly vote, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has terminated the legal non-profit status of over 164 organizations, foundations and civil society organizations since November 2018. These were all organizations that promoted social, political and economic development, as well as human rights, democratic engagement, the environment, feminism, indigenous rights, education and health, according to Confidencial’s most recent tally.
The chief justifications the government uses for these cancelations involve the organizations’ supposed failure to comply with three laws: The Law for Non-Profit Organizations; The Organic Law of Legislative Power in the Nicaraguan Republic; and The Law against Money Laundering, Financing Terrorism or Financing the Proliferations of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Vilma Nuñez: “Useless repressive effort”
Vilma Nuñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), regretted the decisions taken by the Executive. In the case of Cantera, she recalled the joint work of both organizations on behalf of the country. Cenidh’s legal status was stripped and their offices confiscated in December 2018.
Nuñez noted that one of the founders of Cantera, Sister Maria Hartmann, carried out valuable work in conjunction with Cenidh in the Nicaraguan jails. The human rights advocate also lamented the case of the CPDH, which in these days was commemorating 45 years of its history, including years when it struggled against the Somoza dictatorship.
“I see it as a useless repressive effort of the regime, believing that by silencing an organization they’re going to silence the human rights advocates who comprise it,” Nuñez affirmed.
She noted that all this is part of a centralized repressive effort that seeks to wipe out any expression that doesn’t synch with its interests, motivated by an “irrational behavior” that harkens to the idea that such expression is a hindrance to be eliminated.
In her view, the elimination of the legal status of the Association for the Development of Solentiname, founded by poet Ernesto Cardenal, reminded her of “all the barbarities they did to him while he was alive.” It also recalled the moment they canceled Cenidh. Nuñez’ organization has continued its work of denouncing human rights abuses despite their lack of legal status and the government’s efforts to silence them.
According to Sandinista deputy Wilfredo Navarro, they’re not carrying out a persecution of these organisms but an ordering. Nonetheless, for years now, diverse organizations have been denouncing the fact that the Ministry of the Interior, charged with regulating the NGO’s, refuses to accept the annual reports they submit, nor do they update the board members as submitted, all in order to keep the NGOs working amid uncertainty, with their legal status always in question.