The main orders coming down from El Carmen – the residence and command center of the presidential couple in Nicaragua – involve the type of repressive strategy executed by the National Police. In the months following the April 2018 outbreak, the institution was in charge of dismantling, by violent means, any protest or demonstration by the opposition. Between 2019 and 2020, police officers constantly harassed, intimidated and threatened opposition leaders throughout Nicaragua.
In 2021, the Police made a turn in their repressive tactics and opted for “preventive action” to avoid any opposition gathering. Next to this, they unleashed a selective “hunt” of opposition leaders, among them seven presidential candidates, and closed the year with at least 160 political prisoners.
The 167 political prisoners in Nicaragua
Throughout a 2021 marked by the intensification of the de facto police state and political persecution, the regime of Daniel Ortega raised the number of political prisoners in Nicaragua to 167, with 67 new prisoners of conscience being incarcerated between the end of May and mid-November.
Data from the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners show that 105 opponents were detained in 2021. Of these, 24 were released; another 24 have no information on their release; and 57 people remain in cells of departmental delegations, “La Modelo” prison, or the Evaristo Vasquez prison, known as “the new Chipote”.
The change in the repressive police strategy, according to sources linked to the Police, was a “political decision” of the presidential couple, and “not an operational decision” of the National Police Headquarters. “There is a maxim in the police: Let’s leave political things to the commander (Ortega). He knows what he is doing,” said the source.
Of the 57 political prisoners in 2021, 19 were captured in June of that year. In that month, the Police captured five opponents – all members of the Unión Democrática Renovadora (Unamos), formerly called Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (MRS) – on the same day. That Sunday, June 13, former guerrilla chiefs Hugo Torres Jiménez and Dora María Téllez; former Sandinista vice-chancellor Víctor Hugo Tinoco; Ana Margarita Vijil; and Suyén Barahona were arrested.
Less than 24 hours earlier, activist Tamara Dávila had also been detained. And on June 8, presidential aspirants Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, civic leader Violeta Granera and the former president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), Jose Adan Aguerri, were also arrested within hours of each other.
Police are without loans and purchases
Two weeks after the US sanction against the National Police, on March 5, 2020, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) cancelled the disbursement of US$7.6 million (about 254.6 million córdobas at the exchange rate of that date), of a loan for the Police.
The suspension, according to the regional bank, was “in agreement” with the Ortega government. The loan was for a project of “Expansion of the Rural Coverage of the National Police to strengthen Citizen Security”.
The loan was subscribed in April 2014, for a total amount of US$16.3 million. The 7.6 million, which was cancelled, was what was still to be disbursed. In the last five years -until 2020-, CABEI had disbursed at least US$8.7 million to the Nicaraguan Police.
CABEI has been the only multilateral organization that has maintained its financial support to the regime, especially to the police, despite national and international accusations of human rights abuses and violations in Nicaragua.
The US sanction makes it difficult for the National Police to receive foreign financing directly, since -according to experts- foreign loans cannot be “triangulated” and must be provided via bank account, to which the police institution no longer has access.
The U.S. punishment also affects the police’s foreign purchases; however, the institution has relied on private companies to evade this situation. An investigation by CONFIDENCIAL revealed that Servicios de Protección Física y Seguridad S.A. (Serprosa), a private security company authorized to operate in the arms trade in 2019, bought at least 350 uniforms and gear for riot use, for an amount exceeding US$302,000 from a Mexican factory – Giramsa SA de CV.
This equipment is not sold to the public or to private security companies, so it is intended for the National Police. The purchase list includes: helmets; complete riot suits; gladiator model shields; English model shields; gloves and balaclavas. Of each product 350 pieces were acquired, according to the packing list in possession of CONFIDENCIAL.
Sources in the security and arms sales industry described the authorization to Serprosa as “unusual”, because since the civic protests of 2018, the regime canceled the granting of new permits for the import of weapons.
The budget of the National Police has grown annually during all the years of Orteguismo. In 2007, Ortega drafted and approved a budget line item of 1193 million córdobas for the police institution, which was executed in 2008.
The largest budget increases occurred between 2013 and 2017. In those years, the budget went from 1738 million cordobas, in 2013, to 2126 million in 2014; then it went up to 2505 million in 2015; it rose to 2936 in 2016, and reached 3293 million cordobas in 2017, according to the budget liquidation reports for those years, published by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit.
According to the data, more than 90% of the total police budgets have been used for current expenses, mainly payment of salaries and other benefits for permanent personnel.
For 2022, the National Assembly -dominated by the regime- endorsed a budget of funds in excess of 4048 million córdobas.
According to the 2022 General Budget of the Republic, the National Police budget will be used mainly -more than 3780 million cordobas- in current expenses. In this section, the payment of salaries and other benefits takes more than 60%, with at least 2714 million cordobas for this purpose.
Of the 2022 budget, only 267 million cordobas are programmed for capital expenditures or investments.
The socio-political crisis, derived from police repression, has not affected the police budget, which has maintained annual growth. However, funding sources have seen a decline in external donations and loans.
In 2018, external loans and donations totaled 139,741,630 cordobas; for 2019 that figure dropped by -34.6% and closed at 91,266,084 cordobas. In 2020 -the year of the US sanction against the Police-, the drop was 72% and the year ended with 25,427,798 cordobas. In 2021, there was no external financing.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff