Blog Post by Elliott Abrams
The desperate human rights situation in Nicaragua is now very clear, and a Washington Post story today makes for grim reading. Just as the Castro regime in Cuba has long used paramilitaries for unofficial police violence against dissidents and the regime in Iran uses the “Basij” forces, the Ortega regime in Nicaragua uses “turbas divinas” or “divine mobs.” The Post story tells of the armed attack by such groups this past weekend against protesters holed up at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and then in a Catholic church.
Nicaragua is rebelling against the repression, venality, and personalized rule of Daniel Ortega, who is president, and his wife, who is Vice President. Human Rights Watch, certainly an organization of the Left, said this on July 10:
High-level Nicaraguan officials bear responsibility for grave, pervasive abuses being committed on their watch, Human Rights Watch said today. These officials have failed to take meaningful steps to prevent or punish human rights violations by their subordinates.
Since protests broke out on April 18, 2018, at least 270 people have been killed and over 1,500 have been injured, in most cases at the hands of police officers and pro-government armed gangs.
The facts are fully set out in a lengthy special report of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights issued in June and entitled “Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of Social Protests in Nicaragua.”
Here is one paragraph:
The Commission concludes that the State of Nicaragua violated the rights to life, humane treatment, health, personal liberty, assembly, freedom of expression, and access to justice. The Commission finds especially worrisome the assassinations, extrajudicial executions, abusive treatment, possible acts of torture and arbitrary detentions committed against the country’s majority young population. Similarly, the IACHR states its concern over the violation of the right to health and medical care, the reprisals against public servants for refusing to carrying out orders contrary to human rights, acts of press censorship and violence against the press, acts harassing human rights defenders, irregularities in beginning investigations with respect to the assassinations and injuries that have occurred in this context, as well as other serious events verified by the Commission.
So there is no confusion about the events in Nicaragua, and human rights defenders are condemning the regime.
But from the regime’s great fans there is silence. I have in mind the mayor of New York, Bill di Blasio, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Di Blasio travelled to Nicaragua in 1988 (this was prior to his 1990 honeymoon in Cuba) in solidarity with the Sandinistas. He worked in Masaya, a town near Managua that was a center of revolutionary fervor, and has long said the visit affected him deeply. But this year, the Ortega regime has attacked Masaya because it is—once again—a center of anti-regime activity. As The Guardian put it, “Today, Masaya is once again in full revolt – this time against the Sandinistas themselves.” The regime’s attacks on Masaya and other rebel strongholds have been so fierce that the Nicaraguan Army has actually complained about them and sought to distance itself from them. But I’ve found no evidence that Mayor di Blasio has done so.
As for Sanders, a 2015 story in BuzzFeed recounted an interview in which he called Ortega "an impressive guy.” BuzzFeed reports that “According to his book, Outsider in the House, Sanders traveled to Nicaragua on the invitation of the Sandinista government, to witness the celebration of the Seventh Anniversary of the Revolution. By his own account, he was the ‘highest ranking American official present’ at the event. Upon his return, Sanders said that he was ‘impressed’ with the ‘intelligence and sincerity’ of Sandinista leaders....”
Perhaps I’ve missed their statements but it seems di Blasio and Sanders have suddenly become silent about Nicaragua—just when their silence is most damaging and their voices most needed. They have credibility as former Sandinista supporters to lead the criticisms of the Ortega regime today and pressure it to stop the abuses. This is not a political point: their voices might actually reduce the killing and help end the repression. Their silence helps Ortega and is in effect an act of solidarity with dictatorship. It’s time for them, and others who long defended the Ortega regime, to speak up on behalf of the people of Nicaragua.