FIU panel discusses Nicaraguan humanitarian crisis

109 dead. 1,400 injured. 690 wrongfully detained.

These stats, detailing the acts committed by the Nicaraguan government on its citizens from April 18 to May 30 of last year, are part of a report its authors say was suppressed by President Daniel Ortega’s regime.

On Thursday, people connected to that report as well as journalists and academics spoke about the crisis in the Central American country during a panel discussion at Florida International University.

They included: Claudia Paz y Paz, a human rights lawyer, and former attorney general of Guatemala, Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director for Amnesty International, Univision journalist Tifani Roberts, and Luis Guillermo Solís, an FIU professor and former president of Costa Rica.

The deaths and injuries occurred, according to the report, during the political upheaval between paramilitary forces led by the Nicaraguan government, the Sandinista National Liberation Front and students.

It states the unrest led the unjust arrest of students and independent journalists, infringing upon their human rights and causing widespread migration to Costa Rica.  Student leaders such as Lester Aleman, who told Ortega to resign, were forced to go into hiding for fear of their lives.

The report was created and prepared by the International Group of Independent Experts. On its site, a tab labeled “Victims,” honors those who have lost their lives.

It spans across six months of field research and direct contact with affected families and victims, the eyewitness to acts of violence, and human rights organizations in Nicaragua. The report notes that the Nicaraguan government refused to release asked for documents and did not answer requests for meetings.

“We should have access to the files, we should work side by side with the prosecutor, and we never had access to official information,” said Paz y Paz, who added she felt confident in the accuracy of the report due to the significant on-the-ground research.

The 450-page document is split into three sections: Why these acts of violence occurred, what characteristics embodied these acts of violence and the response from the justice system.

She said to understand why this happened, it’s important to understand the past.

“Since 1990, with reforms that crystallized in the 2000s, there was a systematic modification of norms, decisions that were fundamentally directed to vary the necessary majorities so that the president could be elected,” she said.

Paz y Paz added that reforms in 2014 – including the closing of public spaces and institutions –  had the sole purpose of keeping Ortega and his supporters in power.

On April 19, GIEI documented the reaction of the police against the students. Rubber bullets were used directly against the protesters. Many were injured and some lost their lives.

On the third day of protests, tires on fire were thrown at protestors and the use of firearms and military weapons was also used against unarmed students, the report stated.

Recorded at that time were at least 109 deaths, more than 1,400 injured and 690 arrested. From the 109 dead, this is not an exact number of all the deaths. Only of those who died in this protest.

Roberts, the Univision journalist, said it became significantly harder to do her job as the days of protests got closer. Government officials constantly asked her who, what, and where she was interviewing and attempted to take control.

“As a foreign press, they did not let me bring my equipment. And every time I arrived in Nicaragua, there were many questions,” she said. “Obviously characteristic of a totalitarian government that wanted to control the politics of communication.”

Those on the panel stressed that both the citizens and the democracy of Nicaragua itself suffered. They warned that this is a dire humanitarian crisis and international action should be taken.

Paz y Paz said many in custody are being tortured, sentenced to ridiculous sentences with no trial and many who are still missing.

Mayra Tijerino said she had to flee to the United States with her children, but without her 21-year-old son, Manuel Tijerino, because she had a warrant out for her arrest. She said she fights for him to get released from prison each day.

“My son belongs to the April 19 protests in Matagalpa, he and other young people started the protests and due to this, he was kidnapped by paramilitaries on July 26,” she said. “He is sentenced to 18 years, accused of organized crime.”

Many cases like this are still happening in Nicaragua.

To end the panel, Guevara-Rosas, of Amnesty International, said justice will prevail, even if it takes a long time.

“Despite the adversity, Nicaragua has been through, justice may come late but it comes,” she said.