“Rubén” studied medicine and completed his specialty in Cuba. That experience allowed him to come across militants of the Sandinista party who were attracted by the spell of what Fidel Castro meant to them, calling the longest-lived dictatorship on the continent a revolution. Because of this, the doctor was no stranger to an ideological attachment to the left throughout his life. After all, even as a child, his grandparents had also taught him to vote for Daniel Ortega. However, in April of 2018, when the first bodies of the young opponents killed were dragged through the streets near his house in Esteli, in the north of Nicaragua, a feeling of discontent was born inside him, which became irreversible once the Orteguista massacre extended and left more than 355 people dead.
“Rubén’s” attitude put him on the radar of the paramilitary groups lead by Pedro “El Hondureño”, a former army major who led the seizure of this city in 1993, when Nicaragua had not yet been pacified after the ten turbulent years of the first Sandinista government. They knew everything about his life, he had been the object of espionage: where he worked, who he was with, who his relatives were.
Despite the obvious risk that this information represented in the wrong hands, “Rubén” always kept protesting. When he was forced to attend countermarches organized by the government – like thousands of other public employees – to try to counteract the effect of the massive protests, he would grab two blue and white flags and put them in his car.
The Nicaraguan flag was his symbol of resistance, which later became a subversive sign for the dictatorship, which even went on to imprison the merchants who sold them.
In the midst of the so-called “April Rebellion”, “Rubén” saved several patients and rescued another one, practically stealing him from a hospital care center to reunite him with his relatives, thereby internally challenging the doctors loyal to Ortega, affiliated to the FETSALUD white union, who were denying care to citizens and opponents injured in the protests.
Those were hard times. Several family members looked for “Rubén” to implore him to help them with their relatives in the Esteli medical center. Then, the regime also focused on repressing doctors like him, who attended to patients without political distinction. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 135 doctors and Health workers from several hospitals were fired in retaliation until August 2018.
Having become a target of Ortega’s regime, he decided he had to leave Nicaragua to protect his well being.
The trigger for his departure was a phone call. He listened to a friend who told him he had to leave, and in less than 24 hours he moved to the border with Honduras with no other plan than to breathe a different air.
Three years later, more than 355 killed and 2000 wounded are registered as victims of repression by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and with a country imprisoned by impunity “Rubén” says, from the United States, that the migratory restrictions imposed by Orteguismo, which prevent citizens, businessmen, former state workers and active public servants from leaving without justifications, were already in place since 2018, although they were only aimed at certain opponents then. There is a “credible fear of information leakage”, he estimates.
“In Venezuela, colonels, ministers and high-ranking officials began to flee, and released all the information. The sanctions were so hard that (Nicolás) Maduro has had almost everything blocked. If Daniel(Ortega) has all his information leaked, all his accounts will be blocked. The only damage that matters to him is economic and that is what they are taking care of,” says “Rubén”.
Prohibition to speak to officials
The doctor assures that he personally knows the situations of legislators who were directly threatened to watch what they said by one of the main operators of Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, the president of the National Assembly himself, Gustavo Porras.
In November 2018, economist Ligia Gómez, former official of the Central Bank of Nicaragua and former political secretary of the FSLN in the institution, revealed the orders issued from the Vice Presidency to attack the demonstrators who demanded an end to the repression and the resignation of Ortega.
“The orders we received from Fidel Moreno in the meeting that took place the following day was: Let’s go all out. We are not going to let them steal our revolution. There is nothing to discuss, nothing to say, we have to comply,” Gómez said at the time, in an interview with journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, on the Esta Semana program.
In the eighties, the first Sandinista government had famous deserters such as Edén Pastora, who led the seizure of the National Palace in 1978 and then went to fight with the Contra from Costa Rica, to later return to Ortega and die as one of his allies. Another famous case was that of Commander Róger Miranda, who was accused by the then head of the Army and brother of the president, Humberto Ortega, of allowing himself to be prostituted by the United States after he stole several army secrets.
Since 2018, several public employees of different levels have had to live under the rules of political violence imposed by the Executive: a justice system controlled by the party at all levels, which imprisons dozens of citizens, opponents, civic, political and business leaders, and consolidates a de facto police state that violates citizens’ freedoms.
“Obviously not all the people were in agreement. Out of fear, many people did not speak out,” explains “Rubén”. In the weeks leading up to November 7, public employees reported that they were victims of pressure from the State to vote for Ortega.
This atmosphere of tension intensified in the electoral context, but it has been part of the life of public employees in many parts of the country for years. In Matagalpa, a department neighboring Dr. “Rubén’s” Estelí, the courts of justice were made up of some religious people, who later devoted themselves to defending Ortega.
“There were women in the judiciary who used to go around inviting people to retreats. All that was left aside because of fanaticism. I was hurt by the murders. That is what broke our souls and we took to the streets when we saw so much cruelty”, says “Maria,” a former official who was fired in 2019.
Political violence: paramilitary judges
“María” worked in that branch of the state for six years in Matagalpa. They always looked at her as a subversive. In fact, she used to carry two Nicaraguan flags in her bag, ready to take them out whenever possible.
There, she learned about the support of the judicial apparatus for the caudillo, the same that was denounced by by former judge Rafael Solís when he went into exile in Costa Rica, dissatisfied with a system he defined as “an absolute monarchy of two kings”, referring to Ortega and Murillo.
“In the Judiciary, it was known that judges directed paramilitaries, who traveled to Jinotega to operate against citizens. There were judges that people had a good image of, but then they were forced to demonstrate their loyalty to the party. It was unusual violence. In my case, for example, they approached me behind my back and I heard all kinds of threats from people I never imagined would be violent”, says “María”.
One of the most notable cases of a judge, promoted for his position as a paramilitary, is that of Otoniel Aráuz Tórrez, who was a substitute judge in San Ramón, a Matagalpan community, and was denounced for shooting at a group of demonstrators.
“María’s” last hours as an employee of the Judicial Power were preceded by her statements on social media, of which the vice-president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Marvin Aguilar, the person who leads the Government party within the institution and whom the United States sanctioned for being part of that structure of repression, was informed.
For “María”, the recent migratory restrictions for officials close to the regime show that they are “scared to death”, because there is a lack of loyalty within Ortega’s party, which has begun to feel the impact of the international community’s sanctions due to human rights violations.”María” insists that they must be dismayed internally within the FSLN, because they are being harmed by the actions of their leaders and it is foreseeable that there will be more discontent.
“Many of our persecutors in the judicial complex, fierce Sandinistas who were dedicated to the creation of memes against the Judicial Branch officials who supported the marches, we know that some of them are already here in the United States”, she denounced without specifying names.
Hostages of the ruling party
Both “Rubén” and “María” agree in their testimonies that the majority of people in the public sector remain with the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) because they are hostages of the party in power, although there are some who believe in the Executive for a matter of nostalgia for the years of the revolution, but they are fewer and fewer. Others stay to keep their jobs or simply out of pure interest to obtain or keep a benefit.
For years, “Nathan” worked in the legal digest area of the National Assembly out of convenience. There, he learned first hand about the blackmail carried out by Porras against State workers, whom he threatened so that they would desist from lawsuits against this power of the State. He went into exile in 2020, a year after it was discovered that he participated in the 2018 protests.
Strangers even provided videos in which he could be seen supporting the opponents. The videos were sent to him. First they demoted him and wanted to send him to a corner of this State power. Then they ordered him to resign. Threats against his integrity and that of his family followed and then he had to leave like thousands of citizens who opted for exile.
“Nathan” sold his assets and, unlike “Rubén” and “María”, left for Europe. “They came to besiege us, they called us from private numbers, they even told us that they were going to kill our son. In order to leave, we did everything very quietly. We were detained at the airport, but they let us leave at that moment. Now, as far as I can see, that is impossible… The presidential couple is insane”, he says.
For “Nathan”, the eventful history of Nicaragua can be summarized with this idea: “The country did not collapse in 2018, it has been collapsing since corruption at all levels was implemented as a system, since the possibility of electing a president was agreed among politicians, not with the majority of votes of the citizens, but with a minority. And, since the constitutional figure of non-reelection was eliminated, which meant the prolongation in power of the person in charge. This has cost the blood of thousands of Nicaraguans in the past”.
“You cannot leave the country”
“Mariela” recalls that her boss at the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) told her that she could not leave before the voting last November 7.
“How can you consider that? We can’t lose your vote and that would be frowned upon by the superiors,” she recalls her saying.
She convinced her to try to travel to the United States after the voting. However, days later she told her: “No, no, there are no permits to travel anywhere, they might take your passport at the airport”.
Although she believes it is a violation of her right to request a vacation, her boss insisted that “it could be frowned upon”.
For “Mariela” the indications given to her by her boss are a clear warning “of something someone has told her”.
“I know that she is meddling in my private life, because what I do on my days off should not interfere in my work space, but we have trust and she tells me this to prevent me from being fired, because my position requires trust,” she explains.
She also says that she has information that there are several civil servants, and even children of state workers, who have been prevented from leaving the country. “We don’t know why,” she admits, “but we know that they are afraid that we will go into exile and that this will show discomfort, or that we will reveal some kind of information about the functioning of sensitive institutions”.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff