Saturday, November 26, 2022

It is worrying that the repression in Nicaragua is a model in the region

MEXICO CITY ( Associated Press) — Daniel Ortega’s government in Nicaragua this week shut down seven radio stations owned by the Catholic Church and two other independent outlets that target the largely rural northern region with a history of opposition to the ruler’s party. Used to serve. Sandinista Front.

Experts believe the most recent wave of repression seeks to silence any critical voices ahead of the November 6 municipal elections, similar to what happened in the 2021 presidential election when Ortega was voted off as his main political candidate. He was re-elected for a third time after imprisoning rivals.

But observers in other Central American countries worry that Ortega’s “unbridled repression” has emboldened other political leaders with little tolerance of dissent and critical voices.

Last Friday, Guatemala arrested prominent journalist Rubén Zamora, director of “El Periodico,” a medium specialized in investigating corruption involving the current president, Alejandro Giammattei. After his first appearance before a judge on Wednesday on money laundering and extortion charges, Zamora said everything was a response to a “montage” made by the president and attorney general.

Zamora’s arrest followed a crackdown on Guatemalan judges and prosecutors appointed to corruption cases, many of whom have been forced into exile.

In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele regularly attacks NGOs that criticize his government’s measures, most recently a more than four-month state of emergency that suspended fundamental rights and during which Authorities detained more than 40,000 people for alleged gang connections.

The arrests have been supported by a section of Salvadorans, but have been criticized by human rights organizations because many have been carried out without due respect for investigation or due process.

Ana Maria Mendez Darden, Central America director of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, said she was concerned about how “the region has faced a widespread backlash from powerful pro-impunity sectors and authoritarian leaders is, and how Nicaragua has influenced it. Be, shall we say, a model”.

Consulted by The Associated Press, she reported that Giammattei and Bukele took lessons from Ortega’s “manual” for concentrating power.

In the city of Matagalpa, dozens of police officers surrounded the headquarters of the diocese on Thursday and the residence of Bishop Rolando Alvarez, an outspoken critic of the government. Religious went out into the street carrying a huge cross, the image of the Blessed Sacrament, and began to pray while the police cordoned off the sector.

Riot police, several hours later, prevented Monsignor Alvarez from leaving his residence to go to the Matagalpa cathedral, where he was to celebrate mass, according to video released by the bishop’s aides.

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In statements to official media, Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo attacked those who “manipulate sacred symbols,” apparently referring to Bishop Álvarez.

Murillo said without mentioning, “There are still some characters who are clowns, who make a fool of themselves without any moral stature, characters who believe that time has not passed or that they can occupy places of authority, which they are not entitled to.” names.

This comes three days after the closure of church radio stations in Matagalpa last Monday. Police occupied the residence of Uriel Vallejos, the parish priest in the city of Sebaco, and cut off the power. Pujari and six others are still locked in the building and their food supplies are getting low.

Neither the Nicaraguan government nor the Vatican have commented publicly on the situation.

Matagalpa is a coffee- and cattle-producing province about 130 kilometers north of Managua. During the revolution of the 1980s, it was the scene of the war of the “Contras” that tried to overthrow the first Sandinista government of Ortega.

Among the media closed this week are the feminist community radio station Radio Vos and the television channel RB3, both serving mostly rural populations.

“They suspended our license on technical grounds, but we know it was in retaliation for our important position and our work protecting women and training community leaders,” Argento Olivas, director of Radio Vos, told The Associated Press. Is.” Established in 2004, the station reaches nine of Matagalpa’s 13 municipalities, even remote locations where no other outlet reaches.

On Monday the station issued a statement in support of the priest besieged in Sebako.

The RB3 television channel broadcasts from the mountains of Rio Blanco. David Mendoza, its director, wept after announcing the closure to audiences after 18 years of operation.

“It’s very difficult. We do independent journalism with a social profile,” Mendoza told the Associated Press. “It was a channel of help and hope for the people.”

Mendoza said the government withdrew advertising from the channel following a violent crackdown by the government following the April 2018 mass protests. It has since received threats and been harassed by the police, but the popular television station has continued to operate with the support of local businesses.

Although the majority of the region’s population is anti-Sandinista, Ortega’s party won the 2017 elections in Rio Blanco. Opposition condemned the fraud

“They’re going for total control,” Mendoza said.

In the opinion of Oscar René Vargas, a political analyst who was forced to flee Nicaragua in 2018, the government “wants to silence all possible media outlets” and has sent more than 120 journalists into exile for this reason.

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Last month, Nicaragua’s main daily La Prensa announced that all of its staff had left the country after facing increasing “harassment” from the government. Police have occupied the headquarters of La Prensa for almost a year. So far in 2022, Ortega has also closed nearly 1,000 NGOs, some of them pointed to by his government as receiving funding from abroad to “destabilize” them.

Ortega alleges that the 2018 social uprising to overthrow him was a “failed coup” that was supported from abroad. Last month, his government expelled 18 Missionaries of Charity, a charity founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Brian Nichols, the United States Under Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, denounced the repression in Nicaragua with a message on Twitter. “Ortega-Murillo’s brutal attack on Catholic priests, radio facilities and community members in Sebaco is another blow to religious freedom in Nicaragua, as well as to freedom of expression. How can men and women in uniform carry out such orders?

The US government sanctioned several officials in Ortega’s inner circle and last month targeted prosecutors and judges involved in trials against opposition members this year. But this has not led to changes in the Sandinista regime.

The Joe Biden administration has also imposed sanctions on officials accused of corruption or undermining democracy in Guatemala and El Salvador, to no effect.

“Ortega continues with his strategy of power or death,” said Oscar René Vargas. He said, “He will do anything to cling to power through repression at all levels: religious, political, press, NGO and business.”

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is under constant pressure. Last March, the government expelled apostolic ambassador Valdemar Sommertag and the Vatican has yet to name his replacement.

Some bishops critical of the government have gone into exile since the 2018 protests. After the church initially tried to mediate between the protesters and the government, Ortega accused them of supporting those who wanted to oust him, calling them “terrorists” and “demons in cassocks”.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez knelt on the sidewalk of his home Thursday in front of armed police officers. While the agents tried to evict the spectators and parishioners, some of whom even knelt down, Alvarez determinedly addressed them and raised the image of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Kneel only before God,” he said.

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