Armed Violence in Nicaragua: an Imported Product

Originally Printed on June 24, 2018 by Misión Verdad

[Translated from the Spanish by the Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice.]


The demonstrations by the opposition in Nicaragua in recent months must be framed in the context of a region where armed and “para-criminal” violence at the hands of bands like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Calle 18 (M18), which have mutated from street gangs into middle level work for organized crime, serve as pawns in the defense of the international drug trafficking industry. Winning Nicaraguan territory, where its institutions are not under paramilitary control and are alien to the cause of drug trafficking and its criminal derivatives, becomes part of the reason to press for a change in the country.

Transnational origin of Central American gangs

The gangs in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, nations located in what is known as the Northern Triangle, are the result of the situation in countries altered by the fate of being so-called banana republics as determined by the  United States in order to feed its superpower status.

During the armed conflicts of the 70s and 80s, more than 1 million people emigrated as a result of the bloody wars in Central America, where the United States played a key role in the financing of mercenary groups (let’s remember the Contra) used to prevent the taking of power, or the consolidation of power in the case of Nicaragua, of alternative governments. This is the main factor determining much of the contemporary history of Central America, where the violence of the 70s and 80s comes together in the same trajectory, in the same way, and under the same plan as the terrible wave of violence that currently plagues Nicaragua.

Returning to forced emigration, those who took as their destination the north of the American continent were there forced underground and trained in the practices of common crime, vandalism and drug trafficking as a survival response to everyday violence. In 1996 the United States implemented the massive deportation of immigrants. As a result, 200,000 people, a quarter of them imprisoned for being related to the gang culture, were transferred to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

There begins the transnationalization of the Maras (gangs), one of the most famous social manifestations of a broad spectrum of criminality. Violent groups absorbed local gangs and imported codes of a more organized level of criminal violence, with the addition of a flow of illegally acquired weapons in the border states of the United States.

In this context, we find the triumph and development of the Sandinista revolution, which faces its own condition, or fatality, depending on interpretation, at the geopolitical level: being in the drug trafficking corridor that travels from the Andes to the large markets of the North American cities. The ideological approach with which Nicaragua deals with the penetration of criminal gangs can be contrasted with the solutions imposed by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in the countries of the Northern Triangle decimated by the MS-13 and the M18.

The Nicaraguan government has confronted less violent local gangs. It has put in place policies of interaction between national security forces and citizens, forming community vigilance groups and achieving the early identification and demobilization of agents of chaos in neighborhoods and localities, in order to de-escalate violence in the country. The result is so evident that no global organizations have been able to deny the exceptionality in comparison with its border neighbors: Nicaragua is known as the safest country on the planet.

However, the strengthening of the Maras in the weak state structures of the Northern Triangle—as they became professionalized, expanding their participation in extortion activities, organized crime and the trafficking of drugs and people—has increased the importation of cells linked to that regional gang activity into Nicaragua.  Residents of Somoto and San Lucas, border towns with Honduras, suffer from the intervention of these bands in their daily lives.

The arrest in 2017 of Sergio Umaña, alleged leader of MS-13, accused of money laundering and international drug trafficking, is the most prominent case in a series of arrests in border Nicaraguan departments  that confirm the acquisition of properties and logistical resources , as well as the intentions of establishing cells of the organization in that country.

Tortures, fires and murders: emulation of paramilitary cells

Now, with the emergence of the allegedly peaceful demonstrations in April 2018, using the “color revolution” model as a line of action to force regime change, we see the link between the intellectual operators and those paramilitary groups that can escalate the conflict to a higher level of political violence. While they are taking and securing territories using the chaos, the initial media campaign of covering the groups with a civic mantle absolves the people most directly involved in the violent events and blames these on the government of Daniel Ortega.

In Venezuela, for example, the “color” coup plan was managed with the support of the Colombian paramilitaries, especially in the hot spots of the protests in border states such as Táchira and Zulia. In Nicaragua, it is the gangs and Maras constituted in the neighboring countries that come to the call of the transnational interests. It is precisely their way of operating, which suggests their authorship in the horror trail of the more than 170 fatalities that have resulted in the ongoing irregular war.

The similarities in the actions of the criminal groups in the development of the Nicaraguan conflict and of the gang cells in border regions, can be seen in the use of selective assassinations, extortion, business looting, control of communication channels and intimidation of the citizenry. This is the modus operandi that identifies them.

The denunciations made from the Twitter account of the journalist Madelein García, are testimonies of the forms of torture that violent groups use to inflict damage on the population:

#Nicaragua| they continue to torture the Sandinista militancy, strip them naked, beat and tie them on poles or trees. Where are the human rights NGOs?  Where is the Church? Only a complicit silence and support for the “peaceful” demonstrators some “democrats” pic.twitter.com/3gUiH7rwJb

    – Madelein Garcia (@madeleintlSUR) June 6, 2018

Kidnapping and gagging the victims to beat them, threatening them with death and recording these actions that they later spread on social networks, evoke the terror tactics that paramilitary bands apply in other countries. At the end of last year, MS-13 members recorded and then published on social networks the torture and subsequent murder of a minor, a case that not only impacted public opinion but also served as propaganda for the MS-13, which was projected as beyond the police capacity of the Salvadoran authorities.

In the different departments of Nicaragua which suffer harassment from non-community agents enabled by representatives of the political opposition, non-governmental organizations and the Catholic Church, the groups are exposed as they take control of communication channels, impose a state of siege, loot small businesses and extort the inhabitants.

In Nicaragua, the situation provoked by the US has gotten to such a state that now the “students” assault storekeepers with repeating rifles. They get out of their cars like mercenary criminals in an organized fashion pointing their weapons at civilians and robbing businesses. pic.twitter.com/k7IS7hfKkH

BajoElCieloDeMoscu@VuelvaLaURSS June 20, 2018

As they control squares in Nicaragua, these “students” are actually militants of organized gangs like the Maras, one of the most cruel organizations of paramilitary hitmen in the world. These are the mercenaries that the US and the far right finance to overthrow legitimate governments. pic.twitter.com/EvNCyKlNFv

    – BajoElCieloDeMoscú (@VuelvaLaURSS) June 20, 2018

In León, a department in the northwest of Nicaragua, there are hooded and armed groups which appear in the organized protests and open fire on the demonstrators.

The imposition of national strikes as a measure for applying pressure was a strategy used by the gangs in 2015 against the Salvadoran government, forcing a transportation stoppage and threatening to kill anyone who challenged them. Calls to block the streets and set up barricades have worked in Nicaragua. In Madriz, the FSLN protested that extremist agents associated with the opposition leadership have threatened and intimidated the population with firearms in the face of their refusal to join the barricades to paralyze the country.

The intimidation, incorporating the language of war into the environment of Nicaraguans, is carried out through the insertion into the territory of these non-regular armies committed to a change in political power.

    #NicaraguaQuierePaz
    The M19 in the very center of Jinotepe, intimidating people who are making their purchases. pic.twitter.com/miBQ6l4kgm

    – NETWORK OF COMMUNICATORS (@jscomunicadores) June 23, 2018

Producing confusion between attackers and triggers of the conflict is also part of the tasks of paramilitarism in the municipality of Yalaguina. Three armed men were arrested who were roaming around a blockade made by the opposition, one of them of Honduran nationality and possibly related to the Mara in his country.

The selective murder of people in order to fuel the opposition groups and discredit the dialogue process convened by the Nicaraguan government, alternates with maintaining internal vandalism that can counter, through terror, the organizing of the communities that have reestablished normality in their localities.

This is the case reported by the residents of Masaya, the western Nicaraguan department, after a two month siege by armed bands was ended:

  1. Remember that 2 days ago I told you that the people of #Masaya regained their freedom after being kidnapped for 2 months by violent hooded men who “protested” against the #DanielOrtega government. Here [in the photo], the community is repairing what was damaged by the roadblocks. pic.twitter.com/cULVRGUzfc
    – Madelein Garcia (@madeleintlSUR) June 21, 2018

The violence, greater in the central and northern regions of the country, increased dramatically in June with an increase in killings of members of the security forces, leaders of political movements, public institutions and social organizations, as well as in the case of fires at homes, schools and hospitals.

The peak of the attacks was concentrated in the eastern part of the capital of Managua, where the deaths of seven people were recorded on the same day, including those of two minors, as a result of the fire in a family home caused by violent groups on the 16th of June, and the broad daylight murders of Francisco Ramón Araúz Pineda and Antonio Fernández, who were trying to cross a barricade.

Araúz was also burned by terrorists who recorded their own actions on their phones. As of June 21, the Unified Fire Fighters Corps reported 54 structural fires, 30 of them caused by hooded vandals.

Underhand interests on the international stage

The private media, which presents the events with the actual violent operators as the victims, and spreads accusations without clear evidence, appeals to the ignorance of its international spectators to blame the violation of human rights in the country on government institutions.

But a minimum of scrutiny into the chain of events that damaged [citizen] security in an exemplary national region makes it impossible to associate with these events the government whose policies actually prevented the levels of criminality in the country imposed by the United States across Central America. ….

The political violence of the 70s and 80s became the criminal violence of the gangs under the protection or disinterest of corrupt sectors of the governments. Fifty-two murders in a single day was the most lethal figure in El Salvador in 2015. 7,172 homicides was the balance of murders for 2012 in Honduras. A historic day for Guatemala, which has a rate of 75 homicides per 100 thousand inhabitants (three times the annual average of the region), is when they spend 24 hours without any murder occurring. Shifting the criminal configuration of this triangle to contribute to the overthrow of Daniel Ortega is but a matter of financing the appropriate vassals.

Nicaragua today brings to memory Syria and Libya, remote in distance, but close in the intentions of the superpower to dismantle the governments of the peripheral countries, a political project that knows no borders and that adapts to the territorial and cultural characteristics of the place targeted for attack. The cards, be it the Islamic State or Mara Salvatrucha, when played  in balkanized zones, push towards regional chaos by non-state actors in the ever-increasingly urgent aspirations of the Western world order to establish a state of global exception.

With the massive deportations of the 90s,  the syncretism generated by criminal violence in the United States, the mega drug trafficking plaza that was consolidated in Los Angeles with its respective umbilical cord in Central America, and the precarious conditions caused by the various armed conflicts transforming Central Americans into workers of the drug trafficking industry, the preconditions were thus set to decapitate, at the right time, the countries that still resist being a maquiladora, or that place blocks to the drug trafficking routes on which the United States depends, both its government and its sick and destroyed population.