In Nicaragua, political dissidents targeted
A noted journalist, Oxfam, and a women's organization have become enemies of the state.
Managua, Nicaragua — Thirty years after legendary Nicaraguan newspaper publisher Pedro Joaquín Chamorro was gunned down in the streets of Managua, he's seen as a martyr for his relentless criticism of the ruling right-wing regime.
Today his son, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, lives under the new leftist regime that his father helped bring into power. Like his father, he's also become an investigative journalist who keeps a close eye on the government. Now Carlos says he's become the target of a similarly repressive regime.
Although Nicaragua's government has moved from the far right to the far left, it's remained consistently repressive, say its opponents. Political analysts say that the crackdown against Carlos and other critical voices is the latest step by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government to move the country toward a totalitarian regime by limiting political and civic participation. His tightening control over other state institutions has resulted in an "institutional dictatorship," according to dissident leader Edmundo Jarquin from the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
"Ortega is oppressive like [the former Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio] Somoza, yet with a totalitarian vision that even Somoza didn't have," says Mr. Jarquin, whose party was recently banned from participating in the November municipal elections by the Ortega-controlled Supreme Electoral Council.
The country's main business chambers have also raised serious concerns about the direction of the country.
Government prosecutors claim the state is investigating "irregular" activity. The administration denies that its efforts are political in nature and says that those who make dictatorship claims are members of the oligarchy who feel threatened by a "government of the poor."
Yet many of the names on the top of Ortega's growing list of enemies are former Sandinista leaders who supported the original revolutionary government.
Chamorro, who in the 1980s was head editor of the Sandinista government's official newspaper, Barricada, is now treated like a traitor for his investigative journalism into government corruption and his nongovernmental work as head of the Center for Communications and Investigation (CINCO).
For more than a year before the government raided the offices of CINCO on Oct. 11, Sandinista media outlets had been accusing him of everything from involvement in drug trafficking and mafia activity to money laundering and corruption, though no official charges have ever been brought against him.
In the absence of evidence, government prosecutors and police last Saturday raided his downtown office to "look for proof" of a crime, said public prosecutor Armando Juarez in a statement to the press. After breaking down the door, government agents confiscated five years' worth of bookkeeping records, files, and computers, including his personal files.
Human rights advocates say that searching for evidence without any clear cause is the same as trying to "fabricate a crime."
President Ortega has attempted to explain the government's efforts by employing a revolutionary rhetoric of combating class entitlement.
"The oligarchy thinks they have impunity; they did before, but not anymore," Ortega said during a speech Monday night, referring to Chamorro, whose family name has a long and distinguished history in Nicaragua that goes beyond his father.
For Chamorro, the argument of class remains unconvincing.
"My name was the same when I was a member of the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front, which toppled the right-wing Somoza regime in 1979] and defended the revolution," says Chamorro, adding that no one called him an oligarch back then. The journalist says the issue is his investigative reports exposing government corruption. [Editor's note: The original version stated that FSLN toppled the prior regime.]
In a simultaneous raid last weekend, government agents stormed the central office of the Autonomous Women's Movement – a social organization with roots in the Sandinista revolution that is now in opposition to Ortega – and confiscated their records.
The women's movement claims it's a victim of political revenge for its support for Ortega's stepdaughter, Zoilámerica Narváez, in her 1998 sexual abuse accusation against him, and for internationally denouncing the Sandinista government for "betraying the revolution" by outlawing therapeutic abortions for women.
"If they are revolutionaries, I'm an astronaut," says feminist leader and former Sandinista militant Sofia Montenegro, who is being targeted by the government's "anticorruption" movement.
Also on the government's list is Oxfam Great Britain, the Swedish development organization Forum Syd, the US International Republican Institute, and a civil society umbrella group called the Civic Coordinator.
All are being investigated for undetermined causes. No one has yet been formally charged with any crime or notified why they are being investigated.
Gonzalo Carrión, a lawyer for the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, says, "The only real crime was that these groups think differently than the government. This is political persecution."
As for Chamorro, he says he has no aspirations to become a martyr like his father, but he also "refuses to become a hostage."
"I will never match the figure of my father, but I feel satisfied in trying," says Chamorro.