Nicaraguan feminists share their experiences and perspectives on the dictatorship in their country
Kathy Bougher, Collaborator with the Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC)
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a group of Nicaraguan feminist human rights defenders, some of whom live in their country and others who have had to flee the country and are living in exile.
They shared their experiences and their analyses of the current situation in Nicaragua through a pronouncement and in individual conversations. They spoke about the realities under the current dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in their country and about how they view a recent United Nations (UN) resolution on Nicaragua.
The women asked that neither their names nor where they are living nor any other information that could identify them or put them at risk be published.
A bit of context: How did Nicaragua get to this juncture?
Many solidarity activists from the northern countries have known other Nicaraguan realities during the past decades.
Human Rights Watch documents recent history in a report.
Since taking office in 2007, the government of President Daniel Ortega has dismantled nearly all institutional checks on presidential power. The Electoral Council, stacked with the president’s supporters, removed opposition lawmakers in 2016 and has barred opposition political parties ahead of the 2021 presidential elections. A constitutional amendment approved by President Ortega’s party, which controls the National Assembly, abolished term limits in 2014. President Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in November amid government repression of critics and the political opposition. Many governments from the region and Europe said the elections had not met minimum guarantees to be considered free and fair.
To pave the way for his re-election, authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government critics and political opponents, including presidential candidates, journalists, lawyers, and leaders of community, business, and student groups.
Police abuses committed during a brutal crackdown by the National Police and armed pro-government groups in 2018 have gone unpunished.
Persistent problems include severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association, political discrimination, and stringent restrictions on abortion.”
Between July 28 and August 26, 2021, authorities ordered the closure of 45 NGOs, including women’s groups, international aid organizations, and several medical associations. Ten others had been closed since 2018. In 2019, Army Commander in Chief Julio César Avilés Castillo called NGOs “coup-plotters.”
The COVID19 response has been characterized by “denial, inaction, and opacity.”
In this context of more than four years of dictatorship, the group of feminists issued the following statement, lightly redacted for clarity and to protect the identities of women.
In Nicaragua the human rights situation has worsened since April 2018. We are living under a dictatorship and repression that make any type of physical demonstration in a public space difficult. [For example, within the framework of the fourth anniversary of the events of 2018, it was impossible to carry out any type of public event to recognize that date.] Nor can the dictatorship or the repression be denounced through social networks because they created a cybercrime law to criminalize that right. No one can organize or demonstrate against the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Currently we have more than 170 political prisoners, of whom 14 are women who defend human rights, participate in political spaces, defend women’s rights, and demand justice for femicides in the country.
In our country, most perpetrators of femicides are fugitives from justice. In 2021 we had 71 femicides, and the authorities do not work to prevent this violence or repair it. Some murdered women had already filed complaints about mistreatment and threats from their aggressors, but the police did nothing.
In just the period from 2021 to March 15, 2022, the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Defenders has registered more than 3,076 attacks on human rights defenders, the majority of whom are women who defend the right to truth, justice and reparation and the right to a free life. of violence. These attacks can be personal, collective, or institutional, as well as physical, psychological, digital, threats, or attempted identity theft, etc. Most of the perpetrators of attacks on women defenders are state authorities, police, paramilitaries, relatives or people close to them, and people who sympathize with the ruling party. It is important to point out that now there is only one party, since the candidates of other political proposals were imprisoned by the dictatorship.
The dictator wants a single thought, he wants a single party, and he doesn’t want anyone to think differently. So, it is very hard to be an opposition person and it is very hard to be a human rights defender or a feminist or to fight for the rights of women in our country.
We have used the Nicaraguan flag upside down as a form of rebellion since 2018. If you see a photo or video and see the shield upside down, it means that we are against the dictatorship, and it is a symbol of rebellion and resistance.
We are not only fighting for political prisoners. During this crisis, the national assembly has withdrawn the legal status of more than 120 organizations that worked for human rights in Nicaragua, of which 17 are feminist organizations that worked for women’s rights and the prevention of gender violence, leaving them nonfunctional while stealing their facilities and work equipment.
However, more than political, the situation in Nicaragua is human. Yes, there is repression, but the humanitarian context goes further. We are on a red alert because the 170 political prisoners are in inhumane conditions, and exposed to diseases, including COVID. They don’t let them sleep. They keep the prison system lights on all the time. They are not allowed to see their children, they do not have blankets against the cold, and they do not have good food. There are intensive interrogations. Some were held incommunicado and at the same time disappeared for 90 days until they allowed the first visit of a family member.
The situation of poverty and hunger in Nicaragua is serious. We know that the contexts [in many other countries] are similar, but in Nicaragua the situation is worrying and painful for those of us inside because we cannot speak because they have us with a gag law.
The only space we have is when we can leave [Nicaragua] and we can let off steam, so we would like Nicaragua to be put at the center of the [regional and international] meetings, because it is a matter of humanity and it is political.
The flag is also a symbol of mourning, because in Nicaragua since 2018 we continue to mourn and continue to resist as best we can, with great pain.
Some prisoners are in particularly [difficult] situations: Tamara Dávila, Dora María Téllez and Suyen Baharona are confined in totally isolated cells. Some have spent months without contact with any other human being other than their jailers.
They are forbidden to speak to each other, and in the case of Tamara and Suyen they are not allowed to have any kind of contact with their children under 5 years of age.
It is a truly dramatic situation where more than one hundred thousand Nicaraguans have obligated to leave the country for Costa Rica, and the number increases to other Central American countries, and the number increases to other countries in Central America, the region and Europe. Please don’t forget us. We thank the countries of Central America, Latin America, and the whole world that have welcomed us, that have opened their doors to us because we have had to leave our Nicaragua, something that we never thought or imagined we would do, having to flee from our own country. while the government gives [the equivalent of citizenship] to international criminals.
Nicaraguans, mainly human rights defenders, feminists and anyone who wishes to defend the right to freedom, are persecuted by the Nicaraguan government.
Thanks to all the countries that have welcomed us.
Long live free Nicaragua!
Freedom for political prisoners!!
Women political prisoners:
- Ana Margarita Vijil
- Cinthia Samantha Padilla
- Christian Chamorro
- Evelyn Pinto
- Julia Hernandez
- Carla Escobar
- Maria Esperanza Sanchez
- Maria Fernanda Flores
- Mary Oviedo
- Nidia Barbosa
- Suyen Barahona
- Tamara Davila
- Dora Maria Tellez
- Violeta Granera
In addition to sharing this statement, several activists expanded on it with their perspectives and analyzes of the situation.
Kidnappings and closures…
“Posing the political situation in Nicaragua from the inside, the kidnapping of feminists and women’s organizations themselves is a situation that has led us to this point today to have murdered women, disappeared girls, kidnappings, torture, sexual assaults every day in our country.
It has to do with the fact that we do not have a secular state and we do not have the independence of the powers of the state. There is no freedom of communication, there is no freedom of the press, and there is no freedom to express ourselves in the street.
There is no independence from the powers of the state, and the population itself knows this very well.
The family is falling apart due to all the repression we are experiencing in Nicaragua.”
Another woman adds that “kidnapping” in the Nicaraguan context is a political term. People who oppose the government are being detained by police and paramilitaries without justification. They are imprisoned without an arrest warrant and without justification. That’s what they call “kidnappings.”
And another explains, “That makes a situation in which we are kidnapped in Nicaragua.”
Many women are not in their own homes, but rather in safe houses, as we call them, or they are with their relatives for security.
She clarified that a safe house is a place where a person has come to live where no one knows them. Many times what the person has is protective measures that include not leaving the house.
If they don’t follow the measures, they can be imprisoned and they experience the persecution that the dictatorship carries out against anyone who opposes a government.
The dictatorship has taken private property from people because they contributed to the civic struggle, which began in April 2018, and has expropriated many people, including people in exile who have been fleeing.
Also, there are numerous arbitrary closures of women’s organizations and theft of property from social organizations, including taking away the offices of various organizations. This is not expropriation, where private goods become public goods. There are legal processes for that. But, illegal appropriation is simply theft of assets from organizations. In many of these organizations, the bank accounts have also been frozen. To date it is not known what has happened to the funds.
Migration is another hard topic
“They experience all the risks of the migration journey. The family is falling apart because of all the repression we are experiencing in Nicaragua.
In our context, people continue to migrate. Women continue to migrate with their sons and daughters because there are no work alternatives. People feel persecuted by their own party because internally it is so clear what is happening.”
One of the most powerful and painful issues is that of political prisoners.
One woman calculates that “since April 2018 we have had [a total of] more than 767 prisoners in Nicaragua, of which to date we have had 64 women. Last year, a good-sized group of prisoners were released.”
“But if we add from 2018 to March 2022 we have had 767 prisoners. This tells us the dimension of the social problem and the beginning of a disastrous dictatorship, an incredible dictatorship that we never thought would arrive.”
“In Nicaragua you cannot live. Nor can anyone stick their head out of their house because you have paramilitaries watching or the police themselves that are controlling.”
“Things that are considered violations of the law and justification for detention include hanging a flag in the house, playing music in the house, or having a multi-person gathering in the house.
A woman shared that when a relative died, many friends and neighbors arrived at the home to express their condolences, but then the police and military arrived.
Not even the left…
“At the same time we are realizing that in Nicaragua neither the left nor the right is an option in our countries because the left, supposedly the one that has more social support, today has become a capitalist left, not a left that really looks out for these social principles.”
As feminists, how do you see the future?
“As feminists we have some hope, we continue to fight, we have resistance. This resistance has shaped us for four years to continue living, to continue looking for alternatives to influence so that they continue to sanction the Nicaraguan government. And, also, that there is freedom for our political prisoners who are in the dungeon-like prisons where the dictatorship violates their rights.
Also, there are several elderly political prisoners and many who are ill, some already with terminal illnesses, and there are no adequate conditions where they are.
And like the cases of Tamara and Suyen, who are mothers of children 4 and 5 years old, and they don’t let them see them.
We believe that this dictatorship is insensitive and violates the rights of political prisoners.”
Speaking of the United Nations (UN) resolution of March 31.
A woman living in exile shared her reactions to the resolution:
This UN vote approved the creation of a human rights report. It established a group of three international experts for one year, as a UN mandate to investigate everything that has to do with human rights and all femicides, in addition to the atrocious murders carried out by the army, the police, and the paramilitaries themselves. They are going to do a thorough and independent investigation into all abuses since April 2018.
The research includes possible gender dimensions that have to do with violations and abuses and their underlying structural causes. When we talk about dimensions of abuse, we have to talk about all the rapes of young people, of women university students who were sexually abused by paramilitaries, who were killed by paramilitaries, or who were abused by the police and the army.
All of this the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has to do. We have tried to document these violations. There is enough material for their investigative process. So, it makes it clear to us that Nicaragua is being heard in the international arena from the point of view of human rights.
Another part is establishing the facts and circumstances of the abuse by collecting, consolidating, analyzing, and preserving evidence information. The IACHR (Interamerican Commission on Human Rights) and the UN already have all this information.
It is a way to be able to identify those responsible for the massacres of young people in 2018 and 2019 and where there are graves of young people who were killed and buried.
Some of us are in exile. We isolate ourselves. We go from country to country to be able to continue working because the task is not finished.
We are following this task regardless of the costs we pay, but we want to see Nicaragua free and democratic , and above all we want freedom for our political prisoners. That has been our greatest demand..
The dictatorship has been vicious and has not had the slightest sensitivity regarding what the political prisoners experience, despite the fact that different international bodies have called on the Nicaraguan government to review its attitude and the human rights violations under which they been subjugating the people of Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan feminists offer suggestions to North Americans in solidarity
The first is that they look at the news reports in the intervening times since the revolution to see how the situation has changed. It’s necessary to compare the actors in their personal dimensions. It is important to understand the accusations of sexual violence against Daniela Ortega from his stepdaughter Zoilamérica. They also say that there are several leaders who committed crimes such as sexual abuse and enrichment, among others. Feminists express that Ortega does not fall because he has his “inner circle” of advisors that maintain him.
To get a complete perspective on the current reality, it’s important to read the non-official media outlets of independent media that come from civil society. In addition, another recommendation is to look for the recommendations of the UPR, the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations, which is a periodic review of the human rights situation in the country.
The important thing about this UN resolution is that the dictatorship was touched by it. It pulled away the mask that the dictatorship had that allowed it to assassinate, to invent charges, to get rich, to have a family in power, a de facto power. The Nicaraguan people are a thinking town and they realized what was happening. This resolution snatched away all that. For us, the mask has been removed.
I have faith in our diaspora that spread through many countries, and faith in the political incidence, the marches, the work that is being done.
We feminist activists are doing the detailed, ground level work. The people have become aware that it is a dictatorship that we have mounted in power.
We have hope. We feminists are going to continue fighting, we are going to continue battling and raising awareness in the international community.
There is hope and dignity, hope of resistance, that there will be a democratic change in Nicaragua not too far away.
Show you solidarity by signing the Open Letter to Daniel Ortega