NicaNotes: Nicaragua 2018: Uncensoring the truth—Testimonies of victims of opposition violence during the failed coup attempt of 2018

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By Stephen Septon

A group of people in solidarity with Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution have recorded, transcribed and translated the testimonies of over 30 people of different backgrounds about their experience of the violent failed coup attempt in Nicaragua between April and July of 2018.

No human rights organization and practically no journalists, writers or academics out of all those who have written so glibly about the crisis of 2018 in Nicaragua have taken the trouble to talk to any of the thousands of victims of violent opposition attacks during that crisis. This fact makes nonsense of any pretense on their part to be reporting truthfully the events in Nicaragua of 2018.     ….

International human rights institutions like the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights completely ignored opposition violence so as to be able to claim with the utmost falsehood that the government crushed peaceful protests with disproportionate, brutal violence.

That is a shameless lie. These institutions appear to have promoted that lie under pressure from the governments of the United States and the European Union

The testimonies gathered here demonstrate the undeniable false witness of these international institutions, of human rights NGOs and international news media, who comprehensively failed to report facts they found inconvenient.

A recurrent theme in gathering these testimonies is the total lack of interest in the experiences and suffering of the people concerned on the part of representatives and researchers of the Western human rights industry.    ….

The “Rural Workers Movement”

These testimonies focus on victims of the so-called Rural Workers Movement, a small organization whose aggressive leaders, like Francisca Ramirez and Medardo Mairena, deliberately project the false image that they represent a large number of rural workers in Nicaragua.

In fact, local people calculate the core membership of the Rural Workers Movement at no more than around 2000, although by means of payment, intimidation and disinformation their protest marches occasionally mobilize many more.

By comparison the long established Association of Rural Workers (ATC) is a genuinely national organization with over 47000 members. Nationally, there are over 5300 registered cooperatives, mostly in the agricultural and livestock sector, with more than 350,000 members. Not one of those cooperatives is of the Rural Workers Movement.

This movement initially began supposedly in protest against Nicaragua’s proposed interoceanic canal. To promote herself as an important rural workers leader Ramirez boasts of having organized over 80 protests involving many thousands of people. At the same time she makes the contradictory claim that she is the victim of a dictatorship that denies freedom of speech. In any case, she has never developed her movement’s base significantly.   ….

While Medardo Mairena and Francisca Ramirez project themselves overseas as noble fighters on behalf of impoverished rural families and as victims of unjust repression, their image locally is very different. Mairena lost his Costa Rican residency and was expelled by the Costa Rican authorities accused of people trafficking. Ramirez and her family, far from being impoverished peasants, are registered by the local police in Nueva Guinea as owning two large cattle trucks and a very expensive Toyota Land Cruiser SUV. Local people say she and her family own between 500 and 700 acres of land. As of September 2020, Ramirez and her family are involved in litigation in Costa Rica over property she is alleged to have usurped from a local landowner there, as well as accusations of corrupt use of funding to help alleged “refugees” from Nicaragua.

Thanks largely to coaching and support from, among others, Monica Baltodano and her daughter Monica López via the Baltodano family’s now closed down NGO Popol Na, Ramirez and Mairena have also accessed substantial funding totaling certainly many hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of dollars. Funding has come both directly from discretionary USAID funds managed by the US embassy in Managua and from foreign human rights NGOs like Ireland’s Frontline Defenders, among others. Ramirez and Mairena are totally opaque about how much money they have received and its use.

The witness testimonies collected here demonstrate that in practice the Rural Workers Movement operates effectively as an organized crime operation. Ramirez and Mairena and their accomplices use extortion, menaces and outright murderous violence to intimidate local rural families into supporting them and keeping quiet about their crimes.

Medaro Mairena was tried and sentenced to long prison terms as the intellectual author of the massacre in El Morrito of July 12th 2018 in which thugs organized by himself and Francisca Ramirez murdered four police officers and a primary school teacher. He was set free in 2019 under the terms of one of the controversial government amnesties of that year.

These witness testimonies from a wide variety of ordinary people victimized by Rural Workers Movement activists and their accomplices confirm that ever since the first big anti-canal protests of 2014, the Rural Workers Movement has been relentlessly violent, essentially adapting the terrorist practices of the 1980s US-trained wartime Contra to further their contemporary political agenda.

That criminal violence reached a crescendo in 2018 when Ramirez and Mairena operated systematic roadblocks extorting huge amounts of money from local people seeking to go to work, study, do business or seek health care.

Police sources in the area calculate that the amount extorted daily by Mairena and Ramirez at the roadblocks they controlled and from other illicit activities may have averaged as much as US$50,000 over around 80 days from the end of April to early July 2018, implying a possible total amount extorted of around US$4 million.

Even so international human rights organizations and North American and European information media still portray Francisca Ramirez and Medardo Mairena as selfless heroes striving to serve impoverished rural families in Nicaragua.

To the contrary, the testimonies gathered here confirm President Daniel’s Ortega’s contention made repeatedly to foreign news media during interviews in 2018, that armed opposition gangs in very remote rural areas are violently targeting vulnerable rural families and especially Sandinistas in order to instill terror, destabilizing the country’s rural economy and destroying social peace

The testimonies gathered together here present the bitter truth about the activities of Francisca Ramirez, Medardo Mairena and their accomplices in the Rural Workers Movement.


Interview with Santos Romero Reyes and members of his family

Nueva Guinea. 24 Sept. 2020

Santos explains how his family has abandoned their land because of the murder of his son by armed members of the Rural Workers Movement in August 2019. For reasons of personal safety Santos and his family did not want to be filmed. 

Tortilla con Sal: Well, we are here with some comrades from the Nueva Guinea area, and perhaps you could tell us, sir, what your name is?

Santos Romero Reyes: Santos Romero Reyes

TcS: And where do you come from, sir?

Santos: Comarca de Pijagua there, from Puerto Príncipe one hour from there, it belongs to the Nueva Guinea municipality.

TcS: So, I understand that you and your family had problems in the area where you live… Can you tell us what happened?

Santos: Of course I can. Look, the problem was that they started the roadblocks. The roadblock activists wanted us to go to support the roadblocks and since I didn’t like that, they spread hatred against all of us. They spread hatred about us to the point where they even killed one of my sons.

Then they were coming after me to kill me and all my family and my children. They came looking for me, namely Medardo Mairena, Francisca Castillo, and others.

TcS: When you say Francisca Castillo, is that Chica Ramirez?

Santos: Yes that’s right. I get things wrong sometimes… Francisca Ramirez. Medardo Mairena and other road block activists from there, Reynaldo Flores, the Chavarrias from Santa Isabel, the Tellez: they spread hatred about us, and at the same time they came after us and set people on us to kill us themselves.

Santos: I am a farmer. All of us are farmers. So you know, we are not from any party. We are rural workers, rural workers who just like to work to make a living.

TcS: And they weren’t threatening you because you were a Sandinista?

Santos: That’s what they have said, but as I was saying, I am neither a Sandinista or a Liberal, my vote is to work for a living.

I don’t get involved with any party, none of my family. That’s why they didn’t like us, just imagine that they were after us to kill us. Even now they are looking for us.

TcS: And how much land did you have to work on there?

Santos: Land? It was not much. There were 70 acres of my son-in-law, who has already given up on them. I had a bit of land there in Pijagua, there were five acres there. We made a living and we had to give it all up.

TcS: What did you grow?

Santos: Corn there at my sister’s place. There she gave me land to work. Yucca. Beans. Everything.

TcS: And you didn’t have any cattle?

Santos: No. I didn’t. A few beasts [horses and/or mules] that we left there.

TcS: So, at that time… more or less when? Was it in April, or May?

Santos: When the roadblocks started… We have been moving around for fourteen months now, just imagine… Because I was in Costa Rica working. Then I came here. I thank God that these friends here got me a little house to live in while I got my own place to live, because I thought that… we don’t have a place to go….

TcS: How many are there in your family?

Santos: We are five families…

TcS: There are five families?

Santos: Yes, yes…

TcS: And among these five families, how many people would they be?

Santos: We are about…. fourteen…

Santos: So, listen to me… After that they came to my son-in-law, Abel Vevilla, to tell him that since we didn’t support them, some people came. They took him out. They beat him up. They almost killed him… The road block activists. It was them. They set people against him, armed people, and they took him out and almost killed him. They put him in a lake. That’s the kind of outrageous stuff they were doing.

TcS: What is his name?

Santos: Francisco Rocha, he is my son-in-law.

TcS: So Francisco was attacked?

Santos: From his house… they took him to a lake and held his head down in the lake water and they almost killed my son-in-law.

TcS: And Francisco came with you?

Santos: Yes here he is but…

TcS: Is he out milking? Out with the cows?

Santos: He’s gone to look after a horse that is about to give birth, he said, and let’s see if he can get the little colt out, I thought he would be back today… maybe they won’t kill him there…

TcS: There? That’s where he went?

Santos: Yes, yes, yes…

TcS: So do you have friends there who are looking after your property?

Santos: Well not me… Francisco has a friend of his there who kind of takes care of the land now and then but he does so with fear. I thought Francisco would be back today. Maybe they won’t do anything to him…

TcS: So you were all there…

Santos: All of us…

TcS: What’s the place called?

Santos: I come from Pijagua Hill. He was living in Las Delicias de Masayovo, my son-in-law with them.

Marlene: I am his wife…

TcS: Francisco’s?

Santos: Yes, yes…. But when we left there and he stayed because he did not want to leave, people came, took him out and almost killed him in the house where he was living… in Las Delicias de Masayovo.

TcS: And among all of you then, you made the decision to come?

Santos: That’s right, yes … to move away, because if we had not, they would have killed us all.

TcS: And apart from what they did to Francisco, you… among the family, did you suffer any other type of aggression?

Santos: That’s what they did to my son-in-law and in my case, they killed my son.

Santos: Yes, they killed him…

Santos: Roberto Romero Morales

TcS: And how old was he?

Santos: 26

TcS: 26? And how old is your husband Francisco, señora?

Marlene: 56

TcS: And how was he killed?

Santos: My son? They shot him.

TcS: With a rifle?

Santos: Yes, yes… he was shot.

TcS: Do you remember the date?

Marlene: August 10.

Various people: 2019

TcS: From last year?

Various people: Yes

TcS: Sorry, I find it difficult to… So, you came, you left there in April or May of…

Various people: 2019

TcS: Last year?

Various people: Yes.

TcS: So you endured that whole period of the blockades there, you stuck it out…?

Santos: Yes we put up with it there, we had to … but there are a lot of people who suffered all kinds of outrages and we had to leave because otherwise they would have killed us all.

TcS: So it was the murder of your son that caused you to come here?

Santos: Yes. And afterwards they came for us to kill us because we wouldn’t help at the roadblocks. Because I used to tell them that I wouldn’t help the roadblocks or anything else because, as I told them, we are all farmers, we work to make a living. So they told me, “So you don’t support either the Liberals or the Sandinistas?” No. I don’t support any side because I insist that we work to make a living… I don’t bother anyone…

TcS: And were you the only ones who were attacked? Or were they harassing other people as well?

Santos: There were several people getting harassed there…

What happens is that out of fear they don’t file a complaint or I don’t know what happens in their case because they put the word out on you, if you go around talking against them, then they send people to kill you. That’s why people don’t complain, because of that very same fear that they have.

They’re a lot of people. They’ve affected a lot of people there, but because they’re making threats to say that if you say what we do, we’ll send people to kill you or we’ll come to kill you, and so everyone, out of fear, won’t say what those others are doing.

TcS: So how have you managed to survive?

Santos: From those little jobs there are, you get your corn, your beans, you harvest what you can and from there you eat…

TcS: So how have you managed after leaving your land?

Santos: The people in these hamlets here in the region have helped us here. They’ve given us a place to stay, they’ve given us little jobs like this, day work. We work for them and make a living.

TcS: You haven’t sold your land there, have you?

Santos: No, no, no, no

TcS: Are you going to sell it?

Santos: Let’s see and keep an eye out. I’m may not even bother because I’d have to go and sign documents or try and find a buyer and they might kill me and there’d be no coming back.

TcS: So you run the risk that other people will settle on your land

Santos: Yes… they do take over land there, that and the animals.

TcS: One thing they have said to me. I don’t know if it’s true. It’s that what those people from the so-called Rural Workers Movement do there… in that movement what some of them do is… they harass the peasants to make them sell their land cheap…

Santos: Those roadblock activists? Of course they do, they just want to get hold of everything they can. Yes, because those who don’t support them they want them to leave… and with this constant harassment they want to make them sell cheaply or else leave.

TcS: And you think that’s what happened to you? That you were harassed because they wanted to take over your land, is that right?

Santos: Yes, because as far as I’m concerned, first of all because we don’t support them with the roadblocks, and secondly because they want to take over our land, and if other people allow it, that’s how it will be… and fear of whoever may be the next there, my friend, because people have to move away, otherwise they will kill them… one cannot even sleep peacefully there.

TcS: And for you, as women of the family, what has the experience been for you?

Marlene: Well, that’s why we left there too. And why we are here. For the same reason, I am here with my husband.

TcS: Excuse me, señora, can you tell me your name?

Marlene: I can’t read…

Marlene: Ah…Marlene, my name is Marlene Romero Morales…

TcS: Marlene, so what has it meant for your children to have to abandon their land…?

Marlene: Abandonment… because I am very afraid to return to my village so I don’t go there, nor does my husband because they spread hatred for us, threatening our lives.

So I say, I don’t go, and what we left there, there it’s left…

TcS: How has this affected the children?

Marlene: Since there are people who help us… we are working, there are days when my husband finds work. There are days that I also do laundry. I go out to do laundry in the other places, and they pay me so I can take food for my children.


TcS: Well, thank you very much…. excuse me sir. So one last question I have is, what future do you see for solving this problem? How are you going to solve it?

Santos: Well as far as I’m concerned we hope that maybe things will get sorted out so we can continue working in peace.

TcS: There…?

Santos: No… anywhere we can find a place to settle down so we can continue to work in peace and continue to strive to make a living.

TcS: Do you think it will be possible to return to your land?

Santos: Not at all… and I say not with those people… those people don’t leave you in peace… did they leave us in peace there? Because, as I told you, there are several roadblock activists there, and I know all the roadblock activists in that area…



By Nan McCurdy

China Calls for End to US Sanctions
On Oct. 6, at the United Nations, China demanded the immediate cessation of US sanctions against Nicaragua, Cuba and other countries, denouncing their devastating effects in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The representative of Beijing to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, emphasized that only the end of the coercive measures will allow the international community to achieve an efficient and complete response to the health crisis. He regretted that Washington and other Western powers are resorting to punishment, at a time when it is necessary to open the way to solidarity and cooperation in the world. “Unilateral measures,” he said, “have an undeniable impact on human rights, preventing progress toward socioeconomic development and the well-being of people, especially children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.” The Chinese ambassador expressed concern that sanctions also limit access to health products, equipment and services, which are necessary to address the COVID-19.

Among other issues, Zhang also spoke out against the discrimination that immigrants and people of African descent experience on a daily basis in places like the United States. He spoke on behalf of Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, and many other countries that are subject to US sanctions. He thus joined the call of UN Secretary General António Guterres, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and other officials and organizations for the elimination all unilateral sanctions saying that they can restrict humanitarian aid in the midst of the pandemic. Radio La Primerisima, 6 Oct. 2020

New Deep-Water Port for Caribbean
Nicaragua has announced the construction of a deep-water port in Bluefields (RACCS), the first of its kind on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. It will make possible the docking of giant commercial ships and cruise ships that will further boost the economy and tourism of Nicaragua.  Juventud Presidente, 5 Oct. 2020

Full compliance with COVID-19 Measures
The polling firm M&R Consultants presented the results of its Nicaraguan national survey corresponding to the month of September 2020. The survey states that 98.9% of respondents affirm they are practicing constant hand washing to prevent Coronavirus, in compliance with guidelines of the Health Ministry; 95.9% said they are using masks and 72.9% said they are carrying out daily activities following established guidelines. Nicaragua News, 30 Sept. 2020

New Disease Map Presented
On Sept. 28, The Health Ministry (MINSA) presented the updated National Map of Diseases that Nicaraguans face. The data show that the most frequent diseases among the population in 2020 are hypertension (222,000 cases); diabetes mellitus (111,901) and rheumatic diseases (81,822). The report also noted that the main cause for hospitalization was pneumonia (12,462) and the main cause of deaths has been acute myocardial infarction (3,833). Nicaragua News, 1 October 2020

CABEI highlights work with Nicaragua Government.
During a press conference held on Oct 7, the President of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) Dante Mossi, highlighted Nicaragua’s performance in execution of projects financed by the regional bank, stating that CABEI will continue to support efforts by the Nicaragua government to develop projects with social impact. He noted that “the quality, planning, dynamism and effectiveness of the Nicaragua project portfolio is excellent and the management of resources by the Ministry of Finance is extremely organized and transparent, allowing CABEI to approve and plan projects in an agile manner and without concerns”. The CABEI President added that “in the context of the Covid-19 health emergency, the regional bank and the Nicaragua Government are preparing financing for a US$300 million dollar project that will be used for post-pandemic economic reactivation of the country”. The Nicaragua Government and CABEI are currently carrying out 29 projects totaling more than US $ 2,818 million dollars for development of productive infrastructure, environmental protection and the fight against poverty which includes building of new hospitals, roads, electricity coverage, low-cost housing, as well as water and sanitation facilities. Nicaragua News, 8 Oct. 2020

Teacher’s Day Celebrated with Trainings
The president’s advisor for educational issues, Salvador Vanégas, emphasized the immense efforts made by teachers to face the challenges generated by the pandemic. He also pointed out that reinforcement days will be developed for students at all levels, and extra attention will be given to final-year students. “They will be given special days of reinforcement in language and literature and mathematics. We want them to enter any further education with the best knowledge. By instructions of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, we will continue giving recognition to the best teachers in the country at the departmental and regional levels, and recognition of students who have shown academic excellence in all levels of primary and secondary.”

During the weekly sessions, teachers will strengthen their capacities through virtual international forums. This coming week educational authorities will hold auditions to form 11 new student orchestras, hold science fairs and prepare to implement new school building projects. Canal 8, 5 Oct. 2020

FTZ Workers Lobby for ILO Convention on Harassment
On Oct. 5, the March 8th Workers Federation of the Free Trade Zone, went before National Assembly Deputies and demanded the ratification of ILO Convention 190 that seeks to “eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work.” Union leader Damáriz Meza explained that this agreement is an important instrument since many types of violence are rooted in the workplace. She added that this is the first international standard that aims to put an end to worker harassment in the world and will cover all those legal gaps that exist in labor legislation. The Maquila (Free Trade Zone) Gender Commission relaunched the campaign “The World of Work without Violence is Decent Work,” which works for the ratification of Convention 190 which was approved by the International Labor Organization in 2019. Radio La Primerisima, 5 Oct. 2020

Successful Operation against Trafficking
Two trucks and US$1.4 million dollars were seized during an operation by the police in El Sauce on October 1st. Commissioner Victoriano Ruíz, Deputy Chief of the Judicial Assistance Directorate (DAJ), reported that three individuals were detained on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. The successful operation is part of the Fire Wall Strategy that the Nicaragua Government is implementing in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime. Nicaragua News, 5 Oct. 2020

Opposition Manipulating Law to Regulate Foreign Agents
Wálmaro Gutiérrez, deputy and president of the Economy and Budget Committee of the National Assembly, explained on Channel 13 Viva Nicaragua that the Law to Regulate Foreign Agents defends the inalienable rights of self-determination and sovereignty of the nation. The objective of the law is to develop a regulatory framework for natural or legal persons that receive financing or resources from abroad, “carry out or develop acts within the framework of legality in the national territory.” Foreign Agents are those natural or legal persons who receive resources, goods, shares, personal property, valuables, or any other type of property from abroad. He emphasized that the opposition is manipulating and distorting the figure of the foreign agent, because being a foreign agent is not a crime, but rather it is a crime when “the foreign agent uses the resources that come from abroad to develop acts that [are in violation of their mission statement and the stated purpose of the funds and] threaten sovereignty, stability, the self-determination and the sovereign security of the state.” Gutiérrez said that those who receive family remittances, retired pensioners from abroad and foreign investors should not register with MIGOB as Foreign Agents. Informe Pastran, 5 Oct. 2020

Health Ministry COVID-19 Weekly Report
In the report for the week from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5 there were 79 new registered COVID cases, 80 newly recovered people and 2 deaths. Since March 18 there have been 4,225 registered cases of COVID, 3,978 people recuperated and 153 deaths. Nicaragua has the lowest mortality rate in Central America. Juventud Presidente, 6 Oct. 2020

New Audiology and Speech Therapy Clinic
On October 1 the Health Ministry inaugurated a new audiology and speech therapy clinic at the Aldo Chavarría National Rehabilitation Center in Managua. Funding for the US$85,505-dollar clinic came from the General Budget. Nicaragua News, 2 Oct. 2020

Pearl Cays Declared Refuge
The National Assembly has passed an amendment adding the 18 cays of the Pearl Cay system to a national wildlife refuge that includes the Laguna de Perlas. The cays are located in the Caribbean some 35 kilometers from Laguna de Perlas in the Southern Autonomous Region. The legislation noted the need to mitigate the progressive deterioration of the coastal areas of the region due to deforestation and damaging fishing methods. Radio La Primerisima, 8 Oct. 2020