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The Ortega dictatorship’s alliance with the COVID-19 pandemic

For Ortega, a responsible reaction to the struggle against COVID-19 would have involved reestablishing civil liberties, to attend to the emergency

Some crises are resolved, others grow worse; but in Nicaragua, we’re living in a permanent crisis with no expiration date and a menu of options set by the Presidential residence in El Carmen. Take your pick: more poverty, jail, exile or death.

Just when we thought we were already in bad enough shape, with the economic recession and the suspension of our democratic freedoms, the global health emergency arrived. Since then, the country has had to cope with both a dictatorship and a pandemic. To top things off, the dictatorship has allied itself with the pandemic.

In March 2020, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo found themselves faced at a public health crossroads. They opted to maintain their absolute power at the cost of their citizens’ health and lives. At that time, the world was beginning to experience the most serious phase of the public health emergency, and no government around the globe could – or would be able to – successfully defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Ortega, responsibly assuming the struggle to prevent contagion and give humanitarian assistance would mean reestablishing the civil liberties he had de facto stripped away from the country after April 2018.

Freedom to meet, to mobilize, freedom of the press and the organization of civil society were needed to assume coordinated actions between the government, the institutions, private business, the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and create a crusade to promote life. That meant acting as a statesman, and Ortega isn’t one.

Opening spaces of liberty isn’t tolerable to a regime that has radicalized its control, even if the lives of its population are in danger. That’s when Ortega and Murillo decided to seal this providential alliance with the pandemic. By default, their pact had one condition: deny reality in order to prolong their political agony. Facilitate contagion, and never recognize it.

Since that time, they don’t discuss the inefficiencies that exist in the health system. They guaranteed the continuity of the police state; the reclusion of the prisoners of conscience; and the political persecution against members of the opposition, doctors, journalists and priests who post warnings about the pandemic and denounce the human rights violations.

As an outgrowth of that life-threatening political decision, Nicaraguans don’t have the right to know their real diagnosis. The COVID-19 tests remain centralized. The causes of death for patients who don’t survive are hidden, or the fatalities are justified as effects of diabetes, acute heart attacks, high blood pressure and bacterial pneumonia. As if people weren’t dying from the virus.

Since March 18, 2020, when the virus was first reported in Nicaragua, right up through September 14, 2021, the FSLN political functionaries working in the Health Ministry have admitted only 202 total deaths from COVID in Nicaragua. Each week since October 2020, they’ve reported one new death. Meanwhile, the independent group COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory has reported 4,531 total suspected deaths through September 8.

This monitoring group reports as “suspected deaths” both deaths confirmed as COVID and those from “pneumonia” or other causes linked to the virus. In the North of the country, medical sources from two hospitals in Esteli and Jinotega offered Confidencial an estimated death toll of 315 patients, during August and the first half of September 2021 alone.

The official lies can no longer even be defended: no one believes them, not even the Ortega supporters themselves, who have seen their leaders, their neighbors and their own family members die.

This isn’t official negligence, but a deliberate policy of promoting contagion and, as a result, death. It amounts to a crime against the population.

We’re in the mode of “save yourself if you can, and if you want to.” Although Ortega and Murillo promote crowd activities, people have the power to not participate. Although the medical personnel have given their all to their vocation of saving lives, they can’t bear up under the accelerated tragedy in the hospitals.

Let’s not turn our backs on reality, but respect the lives of those trying to avoid contagion.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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