San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Judicial System Reveals Its True Colors

MANAGUA – Nicaragua’s sullied judicial system further unmasked itself as a Sandinista institution last week when hundreds of judges, magistrates and court workers abandoned the Managua tribunals to march on the Hotel Barceló chanting “Vive Daniel Ortega!” Vive el Frente Sandinista!”

Neglecting their daily trial dockets to the frustration of lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs who were left standing in empty courtrooms, the members of the Sandinista-controlled Association of Judges and Magistrates of Nicaragua (Ajumanic) protested in the rain outside the hotel, which was hosting VIII Ibero-American Conference on Constitutional Justice. The Sandinista judges blared campaign music for President Ortega, shouted party slogans and pledged their support for the two Sandinista ex-magistrates who continue to usurp seats on the Supreme Court even though their terms expired last April (NT, April 23).

Not only did the guardians of Nicaragua’s justice system reveal an unsettling degree of Sandinista fanaticism, but many of them also demonstrated brutish levels of pettiness and nastiness by jeering and taunting an old woman who was protesting the unsolved attacks against her son and husband.

Margarita Alonso claims her family was attacked by a Sandinista mob two years ago as part of a “political persecution” that dates back to the 1980s. But she says she has not been able to find any justice in a court system controlled by Sandinistas.

“We haven’t had any response from any state institutions, instead they are persecuting us. It is a macabre and diabolical persecution by Daniel Ortega,” Alonso told The Nica Times in a shaky voice, while clutching gruesome photographs of her son and husband, both of whom received life-threatening head wounds from machete attacks.

As Alonso waved her signs and shouted in protest, several Sandinista judges started jeering her, while others laughed and taunted her by yelling over the loud campaign music, “dance, crazy woman, dance.” It took the intervention of several other judicial employees to urge the rowdier judges to “stop provoking the old woman” – not exactly the type of public reprimand one expects to hear of someone who uses the title “your honor.”

The Ajumanic protest was apparently organized at the last minute to counter another protest announced by a recently formed group of lawyers who claim Nicaragua’s judicial system is broken. But when only three lawyers showed up for the protest, the Sandinistas’ massive mobilization of judges and magistrates appeared like a disproportionate response from an overly sensitive and insecure judicial system.

The Nica Times attempted to question several of the Sandinista judges about why they were attending the march, but they refused to give comment, saying they weren’t authorized to speak. Another judge acknowledged he didn’t even know what the protest was about. When pressed on why he would abandon his courtroom and come out in the rain to participate in a protest he didn’t understand, the judge shrugged and walked away.

A sizeable group of judges stood off to the side of the noisy protest, looking embarrassed to be there, while others retreated back to the buses after making their obligatory appearance at the government march.


Summit Not Impressed


Next it was the National Police’s turn to show its partisan sympathies. After doing such an efficient job holding the line against Mrs. Alonso and the three protesting lawyers who tried to enter the conference to deliver aletter of protest, the police officers allowed the Sandinista judges to pass into the hotel.

The Sandinista magistrates marched straight into the conference room where Supreme Court magistrates from 17 countries were gathered for the summit on constitutional law. Legal analysts said the fact that Nicaragua was even hosting the summit was too ironic to stomach. Judges from the Liberal Constitutional Party boycotted the summit in protest over what they claim is the illegal participation of former Supreme Court magistrates Rafael Solís and Armengol Cuadra, the two Sandinista judges who refuse to hand in their gavels.

In the conference room, the president of Ajumanic, Sandinista appeals judge Carlos Padilla, read his group’s political declaration in support of Solís and Cuadra, and attacking the opposition Liberal judges.

But the declaration didn’t go over too well with the judicial authorities from other countries. Spanish magistrate Elisa Pérez asked for the microphone after the Ajumanic declaration and said Nicaragua’s domestic political problems have no place in an international summit on constitutional law.

“We can’t participate (in this debate), nor take any position on it,” she said. “As a result, I don’t think this matter should have been allowed access into the conference room,” Pérez said.

Ajumanic’s prepared statement was not the first time the international magistrates got an earful of Sandinista politics. On July 7, during the opening of the conference, Sandinista Supreme Court judge Francisco Rosales defended President Ortega’s right to be re-elected, despite the constitutional ban prohibiting it. He also criticized the United States and the Catholic Church.

“We want to re-elect Daniel Ortega,” Rosales told the visiting magistrates. The international judges refrained from commenting on Rosales’ intervention, or on Nicaragua’s political crisis.


“We’re Living in Anarchy”


Veteran legal analyst Sergio García Quintero, one of the three opposition lawyers who attempted to protest the summit last week, said Nicaragua is now in “an open and manifest dictatorship” under Ortega.

“You can’t talk about state of law in Nicaragua; there isn’t even anything that looks like that anymore. Nicaragua has entered into complete (legal) anarchy,” García told The Nica Times.

He said the continued participation of Solís and Cuadra on the Supreme Court has made the judicial system completely inoperative until the National Assembly can appoint new magistrates.

Sandinista congressional leader Edwin Castro this week predicted that the National Assembly would elect new officials before breaking for a month-long midyear recess on July 15.

But in the meantime, García and other legal analysts argue, the high court is illegally constituted with de facto judges.

“Here there is a political delinquency in operation in the highest court of the land,” García said. “It’s embarrassing to see the judicial power trying to support a supreme court of slag.”

García said Nicaragua’s democracy has become so politically corrupted that the country is now “in a corner with no way out.”

The lawyer added, “When the Constitution is not convenient to the government, they just interpret it how they want to. Then, when that doesn’t work, they come out with a new interpretation of their original interpretation. Then they come out with a clarification, and then a clarification of that clarification.”

In the end, García said, the ruling party has “played with the law so much in a corrupt manner” that they’ve created a monster that can’t be tamed.

“There is no legal way out out of this problem,” he stressed; “none. And the government will be responsible for the violence that this situation generates today, tomorrow and in the future.”


Substitute Judges?


García warned that the immediate institutional crisis will only get worse if the Sandinista judges follow through on their promise to convoke the Supreme Court with replacement magistrates – a move the country’s two biggest business groups are also urging the ruling party not to make.

The Sandinista magistrates have been trying to hold session in the Supreme Court for the past two weeks but have been unable to get quorum due to the continued boycott of Liberal Constitutional Party magistrates.

The high court’s acting president, Sandinista magistrate Alba Luz Ramos, announced this week that she will convene the court with substitute judges on July 15, at press time, if the Liberals fail to show.

The leaders of the Superior Business Council (COSEP) and the Nicaraguan- American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) held a press conference last week warning the Sandinistas to not worsen the crisis of governability by convoking the Supreme Court with substitute judges.

“That would not be a court, rather a happy hour among friends who get together and do whatever they feel like,” said AMCHAM President Roger Arteaga.

“This country is losing its international credibility and the business climate is being pushed to the edge,” Arteaga said.

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