The civil unrest and police violence that swept across Nicaragua earlier this year leaving over 300 people dead have been followed by a wave of state repression against human rights organisations and media outlets. Most shocking among these are the police raids on CENIDH, the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, whose director is Vilma Núñez.
The Guardian reported, “Pro-Ortega lawmakers last week stripped nine NGOs of their legal status, with the government claiming the groups had ‘actively participated’ in terrorist acts, hate crimes and a failed coup attempt against Ortega’s Sandinista regime.”
Vilma Núñez founded the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights in 1990. She is a hugely respected figure in the field of human rights, serving as President of the Central American Commission for Human Rights from 1990 to 1994 and on the Board of the Worldwide Organization against Torture from 1992 to 2000. She is also a former Nicaraguan political prisoner, who was tortured under the Somoza dictatorship, which was overthrown by the Nicaraguan Revolution in 1979. She also served on the Supreme Court in the early years of the Revolution, before it fell under the growing control of the Ortega dynasty.
In the recent unrest, she has become a thorn in the side of the increasingly authoritarian Ortega regime. Her Centre for Human Rights produced a scathing report on the disturbances, laying the blame for the “massive violation of human rights” that it documented squarely on the Ortegas. It further denounced the Truth Commission announced by the regime to whitewash its crimes as entirely lacking in moral authority. The police seizure of the offices of this 80-year old activist is payback for her outspoken line.
According to Amnesty International, most of the victims in the recent unrest were killed “at the hands of state agents.” Yet what happened is talked about in Nicaragua Solidarity circles abroad as if it were an internationally orchestrated coup against Ortega, thus justifying the brutality of the regime‘s response. The irony is that, as the Trump Administration ratchets up the rhetoric against Nicaragua, it is the self-serving actions of Ortega himself that leave the Nicaraguan Revolution less able to defend itself.
Some on the left understand this. Noam Chomsky has called for early elections. Pablo Iglesias of Podemos in Spain, and former Uruguayan President José Mujica have also been sharply critical of Ortega. None of these individuals are in the business of promoting US government interests. Rather, they understand that defending the gains of the Nicaraguan Revolution requires the orderly exit of the corrupt dynasty that has betrayed it. Others on the left should now speak up for the basic rights of Nicaraguans as a matter or urgency.