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“Ortega believes he can maintain power through repression”

Interview with Senator Emilio Alvarez Icaza, questioning Mexican president AMLO’s foreign policy regarding the region’s Human Rights violations

Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s courtesy visit to the Mexican Senate was marked by a surprise mini-protest led by three senators. The three came to the front of the chamber and unfurled a banner reading: “Boric doesn’t protect murderers in Nicaragua like AMLO does.” [Note: Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is commonly referred to by his initials, AMLO].

One of the three senators who spearheaded that act of protest was Senator Emilio Alvarez Icaza, a human rights specialist who formerly served as secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. During an interview broadcast November 27th on the online television news program Esta Semana, Alvarez was asked to elaborate on the message he wanted to convey.

Senator Emilio Alvarez is a fierce critic of the current Mexican president’s foreign policy. He terms AMLO’s regime “submissive and dismissive” of the violations to human rights and democratic civil rights that have become outine in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Alvarez is clear about his indignation with what he calls Daniel Ortega’s “painful prostitution of the Sandinista Revolution.” However, he affirms that the Ortega dictatorship, – maintained through repression and political violence – will fall, in the same way that the Somoza family dynasty did.

You participated in a denunciation of the repression in Nicaragua during the visit of Chilean President Gabriel Boric, challenging the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. What’s the political message of this action?

It essentially has three different aspects. The first is solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, who are living through dark and painful moments, as the result of the betrayal of Ortega, the dictator. Today, Ortega embodies the exact same behaviors that motivated Ortega himself as a youth to rise up in arms as part of the Sandinista revolution. Today, that Revoluton has been tragically and painfully prostituted. I’m part of the generation that grew up with the hopes of seeing a continent free of dictatorships, a dream inspired by Nicaragua. Today, the dictatorship in Nicaragua abuses, mistreats, tortures and kills. Those of us who form the Grupo Plural (Senators German Martinez, Gustavo Madero and I) decided to extend a gesture of solidarity, by denouncing Ortega, the assassin.

Secondly, we want to denounce what’s happening in Nicaragua from the standpoint of consistency with human rights values. Gabriel Boric has decided to be consistent: not to be silent, not to close his eyes to what’s going on in Nicaragua. This is particularly significant because Boric’s background was in Chilean Communism and he won the presidency with a center-left coalition. Independent of his political and ideological origins, he has assumed a critical posture regarding the topic of human rights. That has put him on the radar of controversy and debate in Latin America. It seemed to us an important moment to make note of the contrast between the Chilean government’s position and that of Mexico.

That brings me to the third element – the contrast between what Gabriel Boric has done and what Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has done. Mirrors help us perceive the real dimension of things, beyond the speeches. Gabriel Boric has decided to raise his voice and denounce the ongoing human rights violations and political persecution in Nicaragua: the political prisoners, the persecution of the press, the killings of students, the imprisoned opposition leaders, shuttered universities, closed media outlets, persecution of Catholic bishops, religious leaders trapped. In other words, all those things that we understand as the basic rules of a democracy in terms of liberties and rights are utterly threatened and restricted in Nicaragua.

During his appearance, President Boric once again stated that the crisis in Nicaragua can’t be forgotten, that we must not look away. Nonetheless, the government of President Lopez Obrador continues maintaining silence and complacency. In your message, you asked the government of Lopez Obrador to go as far as breaking off diplomatic relations with the Ortega dictatorship. What do you really expect of the Mexican government?

We’ve done it this way because, unfortunately, Mexico under the government of AMLO has assumed a role of complicity with the Ortega dictatorship. Mexico has opted to close its eyes, and not only in terms of bilateral relations. Multilateral forums, like the OAS, have voted to condemn the human rights violations in Nicaragua, but Mexico has been absent. Precisely as President Boric says, we can’t turn our faces away from those suffering political persecution. I celebrate the fact that the Chilean president has decided to take on the topic and not turn his back, but it’s not the first time that we’ve insisted on broaching the topic in the Mexican Congress.

A week ago, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebard was in the Senate chambers. We insisted that the Mexican government should break off relations with the Ortega dictatorship, and with the prostitution of the Sandinista revolution that it so tragically represents. We believe that Mexico should assume more coherence with its history, when- for example – we broke off relations with Pinochet, with Franco, with Anastasio Somoza.

It’s a Constitutional mandate, because our Constitution establishes human rights as the guidepost to Mexico’s relations with the world. The government of Andres Manuel has been negligent and submissive. They hide behind the so-called “Estrada Doctrine” of not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. The fact is, they’re not going to do it. Still, we hope that the little gesture of the Mexican Senate might serve to light the spark, so that many others also express solidarity and exert pressure – not only on the Mexican government, but also on the government of that assassin Ortega.

How did the rest of the political community react to your challenge: the other benches in the Mexican Congress, public opinion?

The government of AMLO puts forth a discourse and a narrative that we could call almost aggressive in terms of human rights, but in practice has nothing to do with it, inside Mexico as well as in their foreign policy. Mexico is experiencing a very severe human rights crisis. In the international forums, Mexico has stopped playing a leadership role. Today, people like Gabriel Boric have assumed that leadership role, coming forward to denounce what’s happening in terms of human rights. Or leaders like Gustavo Petro, who has decided to say no to militarization.

AMLO was expected to play a leadership role, but he’s been nothing more than a yes-man to the grave human rights violations in the region. There’s been a reaction to our denunciation – first of surprise, and later of a great echo. It had an enormous impact in the national press, on social media, and in the diplomatic forums.

It had a great reach in terms of being able to reintroduce the topic as a line of action in the Mexican Senate. There was a very positive reaction when the Chilean president touched on the issue of Nicaragua. He received a standing ovation. It was an excellent speech, because he speaks of consistency, of feminism, of violence, of inclusion. He speaks of what we want and expect from a government that claims it will embrace the neediest. President Boric had the capacity of not avoiding the topic. It’s time to go back to organizing solidarity with the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who have abandoned their country because of persecution.

Could this have some effect on future internal political competition in Mexico? Could it influence the potential candidacies to succeed AMLO? Do you think the current government will continue the current policy, or modify it? What perspectives do you see from the point of view of the Mexican opposition?

Without a doubt, the foreign policy discussion is a topic that’s very present in Mexico’s political agenda. AMLO’s absence from the international forums; his mediocre leadership; his submissiveness to the US be it Trump or Biden; his silence before the serious human rights violations in Nicaragua or Venezuela; the very hypocritical contradiction between his support for measures such as the treaty between Mexico, the US and Canada, then later fighting with those partners; the loss of opportunities generated by the new economic alliances. All of these form part of a critical agenda regarding Mexico’s place in the world.

Mexico has played a very shameful role by doing the United States’ dirty work in containing migration from Central America. Today, Mexico is deporting more Central Americans than the United States; today the abuses in Mexico are – sadly – greater than those that occur in the United States.

Those competing for the presidential candidacy within the [ruling] Morena party in Mexico have decided to distance themselves from Lopez Obrador’s policy, which holds absolute hegemony in the party. Hopefully, the Mexican people will use their vote to punish those who have deceived them so greatly.  Hence, I hope there won’t be a government of continuity.

A little over a year ago, you gave an interview to this same program, analyzing the Nicaraguan crisis. You stated that Daniel Ortega today would be the leader of the counterrevolution in Nicaragua. That interview was widely shared on social media by many people, including sociologist and economist Irving Larios, who was abducted by the police months later. Following his arrest, a political trial was held, in which one piece of evidence used to convict him -and for which he’s in prison today-, is having shared the opinions you offered on Nicaragua. How do you feel about that criminalization of your statements, in violation of Irving Larios’ freedom of opinion?

It outrages and offends me that Ortega’s dictatorial and repressive government locks people up for sharing an opinion. It seems the only thing they want is applause and to deceive people into thinking there’s no criticism. That’s absolutely anti-democratic. It pains me to see that happen to Irving, or to anyone.

I worked in the National Center for Social Communication, a civil organization in Mexico that was dedicated to sharing news about the Nicaraguan revolution. I’m one of those people who in Mexico let people know about everything that had to do with the heroic actions of the Nicaraguan people. I’m from the generation of Mexicans where many friends went to Nicaragua in solidarity. What Ortega and his wife are doing in Nicaragua is totally shameful, a brutal act of moral and ethical human corruption. He’s a petty dictator with dreams of a banana republic.

As executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, I learned first-hand of the human rights abuses and mistreatment in Nicaragua. It causes me deep indignation and pain and that’s why I’m going to raise my voice every time it’s needed. Ortega believes that he’s going to be able to maintain power through repression. That’s what Somoza thought too. Today, Ortega represents the counterrevolution. He’s doing exactly the same things that an entire people rose up against. I have no doubt that another such moment will come. The Nicaraguan people have given us hope and teaching, and I know they’ll recover their freedom.

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This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times


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