Ortega’s Rampage Against Non-Profits Spins Systematic Harassment into a Propaganda Campaign, but Leaders Won’t Shut Up.

The regime’s Interior Minister, Maria Amelia Coronel, officialized the cancelation of legal status for CISAS, IEEPP, CINCO, CENIDH, HADEMOS, POPOL NAH, Instituto de Liderazgo de las Segovias (ILS), IPADE, and Fundacion del Rio. This is how Coronel explained the cancelations:

those organizations violated the legal requirements that allowed them to function, and they violated the nature of their functions by actively participating in the failed coup, promoting terrorism, hate crimes, and encouraging and celebrating the destruction of public and private institutions, homes, businesses, and the assault on human dignity of thousands of people and families, who suffered humiliating treatments, with kidnapping, torture, threats, which disrespect the dignity and human rights of all Nicaraguans.”

After making it official, the regime sent out its police force to raid the offices of several of the non-profits on the list. CENIDH, IPADE, POPOL NAH, CINCO, Fundacion del Rio, and ILS were all raided This is how CENIDH’s office’s looked after the raid

Also raided were the offices of Confidencial, the investigative reporting outlet directed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The police took equipment and documents; they left behind what you see in the photos.

Though Chamorro is a founding member of CINCO, Confidencial is a separate, private entity, operating under the umbrella of Promedia, an LLC partly owned by Chamorro. In a tweet, Chamorro accused the regime of attempting to seize Confidencial illegally

We denounce the plan to confiscate confidential. The dictatorship gave the order through the Ministry of the Interior to seize the assets belonging to the non profits that were stripped from legal personhood. Confidencial is not owned by a non-profit, but by an LLC. No to confiscation!

Getting back to the topic of the non profits, I think we need to clarify what each of these organizations do, so here is a rundown:

CISAS is a non-profit organization that specializes in matters of public health, particularly reproductive health and HIV prevention, through strategies that are grounded in best practices in health communication. The organization works towards improving primary health access, community health, and water and sanitation, among other issues related to the right to healthcare, particularly among vulnerable populations.

IEEPP is a think tank that focuses on public policy, defense, government transparency, human rights, and public budgeting and spending. The institute produces research and provides training in these areas.

CINCO is the Center for Investigation of Communication. It is also a think tank that specializes in research about democracy, media, public opinion, and investigative journalism. Since its inception, CINCO has produced invaluable research that helps us understand how the media operate in Nicaragua. The Center also generates research in the areas of government corruption, citizen security, electoral participation, among other topics.

HADEMOS (Hagamos Democracia) focuses its work on the promotion of democracy, citizen participation, government transparency, and electoral monitoring. HADEMOS produces periodic reports on the legislative work of the Assembly

CENIDH is one of Nicaragua’s premier human rights watchdog organizations. They investigate human rights violation, provide training on human rights, and monitor and report on the state of human rights in Nicaragua.

POPOL NAH is a foundation that focuses on sustainable local development. The foundation provides training to municipal governments in best practices to improve service provision. In addition, the foundation also works in the area of public health, providing primary health services through its clinic in Managua. Popol Nah is among the organizations that opposes the Gran Canal project; the organization published a collection of essays outlining its position against the Canal project.

The Instituto de Liderazgo de Las Segovias (ILS) focuses on poverty reduction, through a strategy that starts is based on the idea of empowerment of individuals and communities. To support empowerment, the ILS provides training, particularly in the area of community leadership. In addition, the ILS promotes and monitors human rights in the geographical area known as Las Segovias, in northern Nicaragua.

IPADE is the Insitute for the Development of Democracy. IPADE works in the area of sustainable development and the promotion of democracy. The organization also participates in the process of electoral observation.

Fundacion del Rio works in the field of environmental protection and restauration, as well as environmental education, alternative technologies, ecotourism, and sustainable development. The Fundacion opposes the Gran Canal Project, which it considers to be unsound and a threat to the ecosystems along the projected route. The Fundacion has also been very vocal about the protection of the Indio Maiz Reserve, even criticizing the government for its unwillingness to act decisively in its protection. The Fundacion also sounded the alarm when the Indio Maiz Natural Reserve fire began, and demanded swift action from the regime. For its actions, the Ministry of the Interior accused the Fundacion of fraud for collecting funds under false pretenses. The Indio Maiz fire is widely considered to be one of the inciting incidents leading up to the current crisis.

All of these organizations, at one point or another, have produced research or taken public positions that are critical of the regime. These positions became even clearer after the April crackdown on protesters and the subsequent escalation of violence. In addition, the leaders of these organizations used the public stature, visibility, and name recognition to denounce human rights violations committed by the regime. As a result, one of these individuals went into was deported, and three went into exile :

  1. Ana Quiros (CISAS) – Deported to Costa Rica on November 26
  2. Felix Maradiaga (IEEPP) – In exile since June, 2018
  3. Monica Lopez Baltodano (Popol Nah) – In exile since October, 2018
  4. Luciano Garcia (HADEMOS) – In exile since August, 2018

Other organization leaders are still in the country, though they are subjected to constant threats and harassment. I was able to verify information for two of them, Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia and Haydee Castillo. Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, of CENIDH, has been the object of systematic intimidation and propaganda campaigns against her and her work for years. In fact, the IAHRC issued precautionary measures to protect her against in 2008; those measures are still in effect, though the Ortega regime never implemented them, according to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Right’s Defenders (see page 244 of linked document).  Haydée Castillo, of the ILC, was illegally detained and interrogated at the airport on October 14. In September, Castillo reported harassment by orteguista para-police individuals, who threw rocks at her vehicle, breaking its windows.

The cancelation of legal status is only the latest suppression tactic against critical voices in Nicaragua. It has also been spun by the Ortega Propaganda Machine into an alternative universe, where the regime’s retaliation is presented as a defense of human rights and as a move that will favor “victims of terrorism.”

Indeed, Minister Coronel announced today that the assets owned by CISAS, IEEPP, CINCO, CENIDH, HADEMOS, POPOL NAH, Instituto de Liderazgo de las Segovias, IPADE, and Fundacion del Rio will be used to set up the “Fondo de Atencion y Reparacion Integral para las Victimas de Terrorismo.”

In other words, the regime has confiscated millions in assets, and plans to use the money to support and offer reparations to victims of terrorism, as long as they are orteguista sympathizers.

The regime does not recognize itself as responsible for terrorist acts against the Nicaraguan people, and it has said in numerous occasions that the opposition, broadly defined as pretty much anyone, is responsible for the crisis after attempting a coup. Ortega himself has complained in interviews with international media that international organizations like the IAHRC do not recognize the orteguista dead. For example, in August when Andres Oppenheimer interviewed him on CNÑ, Ortega acknowledged 195 dead and claimed that 22 were police officers and 44 were orteguista activitsts. When Oppenheimer pressed him to account for the rest of the dead, Ortega added “there are also government workers” among the deceased, and he claimed that there were many deaths that were “fabrications”.

At the time of the interview, there were over 300 dead, according to the IACHR.

The regime’s latest attacks introduce a new element into the arsenal of repressive tactics used against critics. First, the regime’s police cracked down using excessive force against protesters. Then came operation clean up, whereby orteguista police and para-police attacked civilian barricades (tranques) all over the country. On its bloodiest day, July 9, operation cleanup left 38 dead, according to CENIDH reports. After operation clean up, the regime proceeded to criminalize protests, abusing the legal system to charge and convict protesters of a variety of crimes, including terrorism. Now, the regime is going after organizations, by stripping them of legal personhood, which effectively strips them from any legal rights to own property, represent their interests, enter into contracts, fundraise, or handle their affairs.

Unfortunately for the regime, this latest tactic will do very little to shut down dissenting voices. You don’t need legal personhood to speak out. You need guts, as Sofia Montenegro said in an interview with Esta Semana:

“They’re not going to shut us up. I don’t need to have an office or legal personhood to continue investigating and denouncing to the public through social media. I am responsible for my signature, for my opinion, and my face. The only thing left for Mrs. Rosario Murillo to do is to order us killed, so she can shut us up.