The stage was set for an important piece of news: the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Nicaraguan Army, held in the legendary plaza full of officials and high-ranking members of the national and foreign military. The head of the Nicaraguan armed forces, General Julio Cesar Aviles, took advantage of his speech – reviewing past achievements and future challenges – to align the military institution unconditionally with the leadership of strongman Daniel Ortega.
Ortega, who is going through the worst political crisis in his eleven years after having perpetrated the April 2018 massacre, termed the military leader’s declaration of loyalty “as clear as water, as solid as steel”.
The regime dusted off the historic Plaza of the Revolution to celebrate the military anniversary. The ceremony was graced with the presence of the all-powerful Venezuelan Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who was sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department in 2018. Padrino is considered to be the principal pillar sustaining President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
With a line of red-and-black Sandinista party flags, and the Nicaraguan blue-and-white national banner at his back, Aviles declared to Ortega: “Mr. President, count on this institution to continue along the road to a Nicaragua that enjoys security, stability, economic development, prosperity and peace.”
Seconds previously, Aviles had thanked Ortega for “all of your support in strengthening our capabilities for the benefit of all Nicaraguans. Thank you, President, for your help.” Gratitude was also expressed to First Lady Rosario Murillo: “Thank you, Vice President, as well, for your constant support in all of our dealings.”
The general’s justification
The general’s declaration of alignment had been preceded by vague accusations with no names or evidence offered: “We have a strong Army: solid, forged in a thousand battles, and strongly cohesive. They’ll never succeed in breaking that cohesion, they’ll never divide us, as some functionaries of non-governmental organizations and others planned to do, calling on loyal companeros to consider the possibility of leading a coup d’etat against the legitimately constituted government, something that we will never do.”
“They’re the same ones that pressured for us to fulfill missions that aren’t within our scope [disarming Ortega’s paramilitary forces], ignoring or wanting to ignore the laws of the Republic, plotting to draw us out and to provoke a war among brothers,” Aviles emphasized.
It’s the first time that the head of the Army has made any reference to the narrative of a supposed “coup d’etat”. This story has been the chief allegation of the Ortega regime to justify the repression that was unleashed against the population, a repression that left some 325 dead, 3,000 wounded, dozens missing, hundreds of political prisoners, and over 70,000 exiles.
The official discourse of a “failed coup” has been written off by national and international human rights organizations. Instead, these have documented how the regime perpetrated crimes against humanity to the detriment of their own citizens.
A blind eye to the paramilitary
“The Nicaraguan army has done absolutely nothing to provoke the grave crisis that beset this country beginning in April of last year. The Nicaraguan Army has done absolutely nothing to aggravate it, and we will never take actions that could drag us into a war… Those of us who have lived through one, would never want it back,” commented the military head.
He added: “Our position since April 21, 2018, three days after the crisis broke out, has been of support for all efforts that allow our nation to enjoy stability, serenity, economic development, well-being, and to remain always at peace.”
Aviles complained of the supposed existence of a smear campaign against the military. However, the only criticisms they received have been towards the higher army echelons for their passivity in the face of the criminal actions of the paramilitary groups, which since last year have been openly participating in repressive operations, in coordination with the National Police.
According to Article 95 of the Nicaraguan Constitution: “No other armed bodies can exist in the national territory other than those established by the Constitution”. Nonetheless, the Nicaraguan Army has tolerated the presence of these illegal bodies, and General Aviles has gone to the extreme of denying their very existence.
“We are aware and very clear about our constitutional and legal roles. We will never fall into erroneous actions on the margins of the law, as those who have directed the pressure campaigns, slanders and lies, as well as the assaults on our institution and our family members, have wanted us to,” Aviles stated. He did not mention the crimes perpetrated by the paramilitary in the “clean-up” operations of June and July of 2018.
They know who we are
The military leader continued: “We know who are behind that brutal campaign of attacks and provocations. We hold them responsible for the physical and moral effects on our fellow soldiers and family members. Don’t let them say that we’re threatening them, because that’s not our intention.”
Aviles alleged that his soldiers have put forth “the greatest quota of sweat, blood and sacrifice for the welfare of all Nicaraguans, without distinctions of any nature”. He added: “We will always listen to healthy and constructive criticism, but we will always denounce and always reject calls to violate the law, offenses, slander and lies.”
Ortega spoke for more than 40 minutes, jumping from one topic to another without a coherent central theme. He took advantage of the supposed smear campaign against the Army to add the regime’s police as a victim as well. Police leaders have been accused by national and international organizations and human rights groups of being the ones who commanded the paramilitary groups in their actions against the civilian population.
“When they’re being assaulted or robbed, they run to find the Police. And when they’re being assaulted and robbed out there in the countryside because there’s an armed band operating there, they run to look for the Army, after some of them have cursed them,” the strongman complained.
“They don’t realize that the Army is a force for stability and balance, so that the country can progress and prosper in the long road that we’ve been walking and that was so brutally shaken in April of last year,” Ortega lamented.
Call for peace
Aviles recalled that at the onset of the crisis, the Army suspended its regular activities and was authorized by the ruler to reinforce the vigilance of the land, sea, shore and air borders, as well as guarding the “200 strategic objectives that are vital for the country to function.”
The military leader ended his speech with an appeal for peace. “For the love of Nicaragua, we must abandon the violence and hatred that only brings us harm and division. We should all give ourselves the opportunity to live in harmony and be guarantors of the peace and development of our people.”
His petition was later raised on high once more by vice president Murillo, who termed Aviles’ words, “a great speech, a great message for the nation.”
“He used a beautiful phrase in that great speech, great message to the nation and to the army itself, from our General Aviles, Commander in Chief of the Army, when he said that we were born struggling.
“One feels an infinite pride when listening to those messages of General Aviles and of Comandante Daniel,” she added.