A series of controversial government raids on two offices belonging to civil society organizations critical of the administration of President Daniel Ortega has raised alarm over the right to private property, judicial security and due process under the Sandinista government, which critics claim is becoming increasingly similar to the Somoza dictatorship that the Sandinista revolution overthrew in 1979.
State prosecutors, with the help of National Police, broke down the doors last weekend of the offices belonging to the Center of Communication and Investigation, known as CINCO, and the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM). After presenting questionable judge’s orders, the government agents entered the offices by force and removed computers, files and bookkeeping from both groups.
Neither CINCO nor MAM has been formally accused of any crime, nor have they been notified about the exact nature of the state’s investigation, which they claim is a political montage to fabricate false charges against them as punishment for their critical opposition to the government. Prosecutor José Abraham Rojas, in statements to the press, said the two groups were being accused of “crimes against the state,” but did not elaborate.
The official government media, in its increasingly shrill coverage of the news, has informally charged both CINCO and MAM with money laundering, conspiring with the CIA, attempting to destabilize the government and illegally promoting abortion, among other allegations.
CINCO is led by renowned journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, son of former President Violeta Chamorro and martyred newspaper publisher Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, who was killed by Somoza’s gunmen in 1978 for criticizing the dictatorship.
Chamorro says the raid on his office last weekend was reminiscent of the Somoza government’s persecution of his father.
The NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights qualified the raids as “illegal” and claimed they represent a serious violation of citizen’s judicial security and right to due process.
CINCO claims that during the raid government agents removed 15,000 files and five computers, including personal PCs not used for work.
In Sunday’s weekly TV news program, Esta Semana, Chamorro called the government’s actions a systematic effort to “make civil society illegal” and “criminalize the political rights to assembly and free expression.”
Chamorro denies the allegation that his organization was ever involved in money laundering, noting that for money laundering to occur, the funds have to come from an illicit source, such as from drug trafficking.
In the case of CINCO, he said, most of the funding comes from European governments, which the Nicaraguan state would also have to accuse of money laundering if it were serious about formalizing such a case.
“They can’t prove money laundering, so they are fabricating political crimes,” Chamorro said, adding that “only dictatorial and fascist regimes” attempt such stunts.
Chamorro reminded his viewers that in addition to CINCO and MAM, the government is also investigating 16 other non-governmental organizations, and the list will continue to grow if they are allowed to get away with their repression.
“The repression won’t cease; the waters won’t calm,” Chamorro said, addressing what he said is a large part of the population that opposes Ortega but has been intimidated into complacency.
Former Vice President Sergio Ramírez, who worked closely with Ortega during the 1980s and now represents a leading intellectual dissident voice, said he sees the Ortega government carrying out a “long term project” to install a “totalitarian regime” aimed at maintaining Ortega in power and consolidating his control over all aspects of political and civic life.
Sofia Montenegro, a leader of MAM and another major target of government attacks, agreed that the raids on the two civil society groups marks another dangerous step towards a totalitarian project.
She said the government actions last weekend represent a situation that has worsened from an “institutional dictatorship” to a “totalitarian dictatorship.”
A large group of women’s rights organizations from across Latin America released a joint statement this week condemning the violence against MAM.
“These actions are part of a campaign to criminalize feminists for their struggle to reinstitute the right to therapeutic abortion and particularly in reprisal for the denouncement of sexual abuse of Zoilamérica,” the women said in their joint statement from the Social Forum of the Americas in Guatemala.
Ortega was accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez in 1998 but was never investigated or tried due to his legal immunity in Nicaragua.
This week, several other non-governmental groups, including Oxfam Great Britain and Swedish foreign development agency Forum Syd, were cited to appear before the Prosecutor’s Office for similar questioning.
The worrisome situation in Nicaragua has even raised criticism from some who have been politically allied with Ortega, such as former President and convict Arnoldo Alemán, who, despite his power-sharing pact with Ortega, this week accused the Sandinistas of “imposing another dictatorship.”
The country’s main business chambers are also assuming a much more critical role this week.
Both César Zamora, president of the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), and José Adán Aguirre, president of the Superior Council of Private Business (COSEP), compared the raid on the CINCO office to a new Somocista dictatorship.
Zamora said that AMCHAM is working on an official statement that would be released this week. He said that the statement would call on the government to be more tolerant and less divisive.
“The country is going completely in the wrong direction,” Zamora told The Nica Times in a phone interview this week. “The country is becoming unnecessarily polarized.”