By Chuck Kaufman
The willingness of the Sandinista government to go to almost any lengths to achieve national peace and tranquility, including pardoning the crimes of those in the opposition who killed, tortured, burned homes, schools, markets, and public buildings in last year’s failed coup attempt, is consistent with their historical record.
Recall that the triumphant Sandinista revolutionary forces captured many of Somoza’s brutal National Guard. They were tried by courts and sentenced to 30 years in prison, the maximum penalty for any crime under Nicaraguan law then and now. Within two years, in an effort to achieve domestic tranquility and to pacify the new Reagan administration in the US, the Sandinista government declared amnesty for a number of the criminals who had killed 40,000 Nicaraguans in the war. Unfortunately, many of those pardoned headed straight for Honduras where they were gathered up by the CIA and became part of the Contra Army funded by the US. And, in 1989, the government freed almost all the remaining National Guard prisoners, even though they had served only a fraction of their sentences.
When the Sandinistas lost the election of 1990 and the US ended the Contra War, there was little ///to no/// revenge killings at the grassroots level as Contras, who had killed another 40,000 Nicaraguans, returned to their communities. The three neoliberal governments of Chamorro, Aleman, and Bolaños virtually ignored the welfare of the demobilized Contras and demobilized Army, but when the Sandinistas returned to the presidency through elections in 2007, the government promoted reconciliation and funded programs to distribute land, galvanized roofing, pensions, and other programs to demobilized military and Contras alike.
John Perry analyses this newest effort by the government of President Daniel Ortega to achieve peace and prosperity.
Nicaragua’s Amnesty for Crimes Committed in Last Year’s Violence Fails to Satisfy an Implacable Opposition
By John Perry
John Perry is a long-time resident of Grenada, Nicaragua. His family was directly impacted by the violence of the failed coup of 2018.
In February the Sandinista government resumed a “national dialogue” with the opposition, re-establishing a forum to resolve political conflict in the country after the previous dialogue fell apart during last year’s violence. In the new negotiations, the opposition Civic Alliance’s key demand has been the release of those who were imprisoned for crimes committed during the failed coup. In late March, the government agreed to release all detained prisoners by 18 June, a process which is well underway in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Only 34 coup-related indicted or convicted criminals are still to be released.
Agreeing to this demand was very controversial given the large number of Sandinista victims of the coup. There is great reluctance among Sandinistas to accept amnesty for their tormentors. However, many are coming around after their leadership made it clear that this is an important step towards deterring further violence, securing peace and strengthening the country’s social and economic stability.
The Civic Alliance and the international bodies that support them claim that those being released are simply “political” prisoners, “not having committed a single crime”. Supposedly all were protesting peacefully and were improperly convicted under a new anti-terrorism law that they claim violates the legitimate right to protest. However, as the AFGJ report Dismissing the Truth showed, most if not all were charged or convicted for crimes committed under Nicaragua’s long-established penal code. The crimes range from murder to “impeding or seriously obstructing” transit, which of course occurred across the country for three months last year when the nation was paralyzed by opposition roadblocks. The recent series of short documentaries by Juventud Presidente, several of which are now available in English, show the truth about several of last year’s worst crimes.
The government has argued, understandably, that those who are charged or convicted after due process cannot simply be allowed to walk free: their release must also be subject to legal process. To achieve this, the National Assembly has just passed a simple law with four articles (translated here) that creates an amnesty for those guilty or accused of “political” or “related common crimes” from April 18 last year onwards. It also applies to those not yet arrested or investigated, extending the amnesty to those in hiding or who left the country. It is conditional on their not repeating their crimes.
Any objective observer must see this as an extremely unusual act of state generosity, given the seriousness of the violence. This past week there was a reminder of how horrendous this was, with the funeral of Bismarck Martinez, whose incomplete remains were only recovered last month. He was a Managua municipal worker, kidnapped on his way to visit relatives in Jinotepe in June last year and then brutally tortured by opposition criminals before being killed. His case was one of many incidents of kidnapping and torture of Sandinista supporters and police officers.
Far from welcoming the amnesty law, however, their twisted logic led the Civic Alliance to condemn it, on the basis that since their “political” prisoners are innocent and amnesty is unnecessary and they should simply be released. The real purpose of the amnesty is, they say, to exonerate the government for the crimes they allege it carried out. The opposition website Confidencial called it a self-amnesty (summarized in English here).
The Civic Alliance and their supporters reveal themselves to be much less interested in freeing Nicaraguans from jail than they are in getting another round of headlines across the globe saying that the Nicaraguan state is harboring paramilitaries, avoiding justice and failing to meet the demands of international bodies. They see the entire “dialogue” as a strategic part of an ongoing global media offensive to delegitimize the Nicaraguan government, whatever it does.
For example Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was alerted to complain about the planned law even before it was published, saying that “Amnesties for serious human rights violations are prohibited under international law.” Had she waited to read the new statute, she would have seen that it specifically does not apply to crimes “regulated under International Treaties to which the State of Nicaragua is Party.” Among these treaties (listed here) is the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. In the context of last year’s events, it appears to have a major flaw in applying only to state agents (see Article 3 of the convention). Nevertheless, it would not permit the Nicaraguan government to exonerate any state agent who committed torture, under a very wide definition of what that means.
In any case, despite Civic Alliance claims, there is no credible evidence of opposition supporters being tortured by government agents. Most opposition deaths were during exchanges of gunfire, with victims on both sides, so it would be extremely difficult for any further investigation to reach firm conclusions. For example, during the relief of Masaya on July 17 there were six deaths (including a police officer) in heavy firing by both sides.
Apart from their supposed innocence, the opposition also claims that those imprisoned were submitted to a process plagued with illegalities. They make constant reference to the findings of international bodies, who blame the government for most of last year’s deaths, without of course admitting that those bodies accepted evidence only from the opposition side, as we demonstrated in our analysis of Amnesty International’s report last October. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (part of the Organization of American States) was particularly culpable, showing its complete inability to carry out an objective investigation that takes proper account of the opposition’s violence.
The Civic Alliance’s menu of alternative routes to the liberation of the prisoners, presented last month, was also full of legal pitfalls and would have been so time-consuming in terms of court processes that the timetable could not have been met (as a legal expert explained to Radio La Primerisima). The amnesty statute is simply the quickest and most transparent method of meeting the opposition’s demands while complying with Nicaraguan law.
As the government has repeatedly pointed out, the Civic Alliance has acted in bad faith from the start, determined to disrupt the dialogue through non-attendance or else finding fault with whatever concessions the government makes. This is merely the latest example. The opposition refuses to address the government’s main demand, which is that it urges the United States to remove sanctions such as the Nica Act and requests international bodies such as the OAS to desist from further action against Nicaragua, such as threatening to expel Nicaragua because of alleged violations of the OAS’s democratic charter. The Civic Alliance only comes up with excuses, arguing either that Nicaragua has not yet complied with international demands or that it lacks the necessary influence to get the US government or the OAS to change their minds (despite having actively lobbied for sanctions since May last year).
The Alliance is divided: some members want to negotiate with the government but most simply reject the government’s legitimacy and seek regime change. This prevents them from making any genuine commitment to a negotiated settlement, much less one that might lead to lasting peace. Soon after you read this article the last prisoners will have been released: the Alliance will have achieved one of its main objectives, but they will continue to behave like spoilt children, stomping their feet and claiming they have been cheated.
By Nan McCurdy
Amnesty Granted for 2018 Coup Violence
On June 11 the Government of Nicaragua fulfilled a major agreement signed in the negotiations with the opposition, completing, in accord with the Amnesty Law passed by the National Assembly on June 8, the release of all indicted and convicted criminals who had been detained. For example, Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena were convicted last year for the murder of four police officers and a primary school teacher in Morrito, Department of Rio San Juan. Miguel Mora was accused of multiple counts of inciting others to murder. One of those murdered was a young community policeman Gabriel Vado who was tortured, killed and burned on July 15, 2018. They both received amnesty and had their records wiped clean. If they return to violent actions their amnesty is revoked.
President Daniel Ortega Honors Bismarck Martinez
The government and the FSLN on June 5 paid tribute to Sandinista Bismarck Martinez with posthumous ceremonies at the National Palace of Culture which lasted two days. Thousands of Sandinistas lined up to enter Sandino Hall at the National Palace to pay tribute to the victim of last year’s hate crimes whose remains were recently found. President Daniel Ortega said that this was “a horrendous crime, and full of all the evil we can imagine.” “Similar to the practices of the fascists who, after starving millions of human beings, Jews, who were persecuted and imprisoned, then took them to concentration camps and to the ovens, to burn them,” he said. “It seems that the same fascists who committed those crimes were present here in our homeland, to sow terror.” Ortega asked why those who call themselves democrats on the opposition side have not condemned these hate crimes, nor have they issued any communiqués. He added, “Nor have we heard any communiqué from the Bishops. We have not heard it! No communiqué from the Bishop’s Conference condemning these crimes and this crime in particular, which was most brutal with his disappearance.” “We haven’t heard from any of the human rights bodies – they were not concerned about looking for Bismarck’s grave.” He stated that the murder of Martinez recalls the way in which Anastasio Somoza Garcia ordered the killing of General Augusto C. Sandino, whose body was never found. Ortega called on Nicaraguans to fight for peace, stability, and security even at the cost “of our own lives.” (Informe Pastran, 6/5/19; El 19 Digital, 6/6/19; Radiolaprimerisima.com, 6/6/19)
Commissions of Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace Now Number 879
National Assembly Deputy Carlos Emilio Lopez reported on the Commissions of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace to the Government Negotiation Committee. This initiative is based on the Constitution and also on the law passed earlier this year “For a Culture of Dialogue, Reconciliation, Security, Work and Peace” with the objective that Nicaraguan families learn to resolve their differences through peaceful means. Neighborhood meetings are held at least twice a month with agendas related to culture and peace which try to identify difficulties in the community to find ways to resolve them. (El 19 Digital, 6/7/19)
British Magazine Promotes Tourist Destinations on Ometepe
The June 5 edition of International Magazine Kreol included an article entitled “Find all of the Charms of Nicaragua on Ometepe Island.” About the island the article says: “It is the biggest island in Lake Nicaragua and is made up of two volcanoes—one active and one extinct—joined by a narrow strip of land. This is a truly remarkable and intriguing place…. Volcán Concepción is active, while its southerly neighbor, Volcán Maderas, is extinct. Both are a majestic sight.” You can read the article here: https://kreolmagazine.com/travel-2/find-all-the-charms-of-nicaragua-on-ometepe-island/#.XQA_T1xKiUk (La Voz del Sandinismo, 6/7/19)
Electricity Coverage Reaches 96.3% in May and 25 More Towns to Get Power
ENETRAL confirmed that as of May 2019 Nicaragua has 96.3% electricity coverage, an increase of 42.3% from 2006. In June electricity service will be brought to 25 new communities. On June 7 ENATRAL inaugurated electricity in Cano Los Martinez, in the municipality of Waslala in the North Atlantic Region, benefiting 370 members of 70 families. (Informe Pastran, 6/5/19)
Thousands of Lots Ready for Owners
INIFOM reported that as part of the Bismarck Martinez Program of land distribution, 6,000 more lots of land are ready throughout the country and authorities will begin to deliver land titles in Managua, Terrabona, Rivas, San Juan del Sur, Somoto, León and Masaya. The lots have been urbanized: they have been guaranteed street access, drinking water, electricity, sewers, and bus stops. (Informe Pastran, 6/5/19)
Granada Inaugurating New Municipal Palace
The historic Municipal Palace of the city of Granada, which was burned by violent groups last year, was restored and reopened on June 5 by Mayor Julia Mena. This is the first stage of restoration of the building, which on November 22, 1856 was also burned by the American filibuster William Walker. Mena announced that the second stage will be inaugurated in July of this year, based on its original design and structure from 1524. (Informe Pastran 6/5/19)
July 23 Avenue in Leon Inaugurated
The July 23 Avenue goes from the University Center of the National Autonomous University to the Palace of Communications in Leon. The work done on this street gives it a beautiful and inviting atmosphere to encourage tourism and improve the family economy of some people in Leon. Recall that last April the violent opposition burned down the University Center with a student inside, Cristian Cadena. A June 2019 documentary about this tragic incident can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myr9yYMpsbM&t=92s (Radio Nicaragua, 6/8/19) For fotos: http://www.radionicaragua.com.ni/amp/2019/06/08/inauguran-avenida-23-de-julio-en-leon/?fbclid=IwAR3udokb8OzRGaen9V_lp50JAeBedbA2xPU0mluoy5jL8KbkTkh0kUchC0M