I wrote about the government crackdown on protesters in Nicaragua last month. Very briefly, socialist president Daniel Ortega has been using both the police and paramilitary goons who support his regime to battle pro-democracy protesters who believe he plans to remain in control of the country for life. In a few months, over 300 people have been killed, most but not all were protesters.
Initially, Ortega appealed to the Catholic Church as mediators between the government and the protesters but as the body count increased so too did the denunciations from Catholic leaders. Now Ortega has turned against the church. From the NY Times:
The government “has declared war on the church,” said Juan Sebastián Chamorro, a member of the opposition alliance.
While the church tried to strike the delicate balance between mediator and defender, it was Monsignor Báez who emerged as the face of the opposition, with a commanding presence over social media. The role gives him the freedom to denounce the government without reservations.
“What there is here is an armed state against an unarmed people,” he said in an interview at the seminary where he lives on the outskirts of Managua. “This is not a civil war.”…
Protesters die daily, and many more have been injured and arrested as the resistance hardens against the rule of Mr. Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Most of the dead were civilians, some teenagers — but police officers have also been killed.
In addition to the protesters who have been murdered in the streets, many more have been injured and there are reports of severe torture. Sunday NBC News reported the story of Marco Novoa, a 25-year-old university student who spent a week being tortured in May:
“They hit me with the gun and they said, ‘No we’re not going to kill you yet,’” he recalled.
Novoa said the men wanted to know where the money was coming from to support the protests. They asked him if it was from the U.S. Embassy and seemed to know he was a U.S. citizen by birth. He told them the support for the protesters came from the community.
With the passing days the questions remained the same but the tactics changed, he said. In his cell, which had no toilet, he was forced to defecate on the floor. He said he could hear other people in cells nearby but couldn’t speak to them. Still tied up, he tried to find a position that would bring sleep.
When he did drift off, he said cold water was dumped on him, then he was shocked with electricity. “They tased my body and they tased my genitals,” he said. After that came Russian roulette with a pistol, Novoa said.
He said he lost track of time as the torture went on, but some things he cannot erase from his mind: The way he could not breathe when waterboarded him. And the day one man sodomized him with an object, telling him, “I’m going to give you something so you remember this the rest of your life if you get out of here.”
Novoa was released but only after he agreed to make a staged confession in which he admitted to being part of a “rebel group that planned to kill a monsignor, destroy government buildings and kidnap members of the ruling party and their families.” His statement was pre-written by his captors and recorded. Once he was well enough to travel, he fled with his family to Miami.
Ortega gave an interview to Fox News’ Bret Baier today in which he was asked repeatedly about the paramilitary groups attacking and killing protesters. Ortega spent most of the interview intentionally confusing the questions he was being asked. When Baier asked about paramilitaries siding with the government, Ortega answered the question as if “paramilitaries” was a reference to the student opposition groups. When Baier asked who was in control of these paramilitary groups supporting his regime, Ortega said it was people who opposed him.
At one point, Baier tried to point out that the paramilitaries he was talking about were the ones siding with the government, but Ortega just kept going, answering a subsequent question about the groups who support his regime by claiming the U.S. was funding groups that murdered Nicaraguan police. Here’s the frustrating exchange:
The New York Times video report from last week does a good job of explaining the current crisis. Ironically, it began with protests by people who were upset Ortega was threatening to cut social security payments. It was the brutal crackdown on protesters which quickly turned this protest into something much broader.