The woman we’ll call “Alejandra”, since she asked to remain anonymous, was walking down a street on the outskirts of Managua when she was overtaken and questioned by two youth, because she was wearing a mask and gloves, something discouraged by the Ortega government. She was followed to her house, and hours later a team from the Ministry of Health (Minsa) arrived, guided by one of the men who had intimidated her.
“Alejandra” identified the youth who directed the Minsa officials to her home. He was a family member of a leader of the Sandinista neighborhood organization in the zone. The health team demanded information about all the people living in the house and ordered them “not to go out” and to follow all the recommendations for avoiding spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“Alejandra’s” experience isn’t just anecdotal. In order to contain a possible propagation of the Coronavirus, the regime has authorized its sympathizers to spy on their neighbors and later to report suspected cases of Covid-19 to Minsa. This methodology has been acknowledged by Sandinista leaders and Minsa workers.
In a recent interview on Channel 10 TV in Nicaragua, Martha Reyes Alvarez, recently named head of Minsa, admitted that reporting on neighbors is a practice within the government’s model of health security. [She didn’t mention that anyone taking personal protection measures is suspect.]
Those coming from Costa Rica
“On the topic of vigilance, we have three main pillars: the points of entry; the work in coordination with different institutions; and the vigilance we have through the health centers and the community,” stated Reyes, who was previously director of Health Security.
Within the topic of community vigilance, she acknowledged that neighbors will be denouncing others in their vicinity. The official gave an example that in the cases of those coming in via the points of entry, it’s the “organized community” that will make “contact” with the health center or other medical personnel close by, to inform on the case.
According to Reyes, the type of complaint they will receive are like: “I’m seeing that Martha who was working in Costa Rica arrived two days ago.”
She specified that following the denunciation, the cases will be investigated and the same measures will be taken as with those citizens who entered the country legally. “They’ll be under watch for 14 days, and there’ll be a follow up with all the preventive measures for their whole family, so that, if a situation of risk should really develop, we could detect it in an opportune way and control it.”
The government has officially registered only six confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus, according to them, all “imported”. One of the patients died, another was released from the hospital and three remain hospitalized. There are ten cases receiving followed up, says the health officials.
Opposition leader Dora Maria Tellez, who was Minister of Health in the 1980s asserted that in those years, “health wasn’t used to spy on anybody,” neither was it “administered with political sectarianism.”
“[During the 80s] there was no health vigilance in the communities. There was a monitoring and administration of medications for cases of malaria. They underwent examinations and gave out the medication. They were called ‘Voluntary Collaborators’”, recalled Tellez, who is currently a political dissenter and founder of the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS).
“The current minister ignores the repression. What trust is a returning exile going to have to report to a health center, if they could be imprisoned or become a victim of persecution from the paramilitary?” she commented.
Part of the health system model
During the session held on Thursday, April 2, Sandinista deputy Gustavo Porras, president of the National Assembly, indicated that citizen denunciation is part of the model for family and community health that has been implemented by the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, through more than 40,000 Minsa workers and thousands of volunteers, known as “health brigadistas”.
“The groups of community brigadistas are told, for example that ‘in a certain house, so and so arrived from Costa Rica, and I noticed that they have a cough,’” said Porras, as a way of demonstrating the “close work” and effectiveness of the health model.
This model is made up of departmental and municipal health offices known as “Silais”. The municipalities have also been divided up by sectors that “cover a geographic area where there’s an average of three thousand inhabitants, some 500 families,” according to Porras. Each sector has a medical team charged with attending to those 500 families.