At least 420 doctors and health workers from the Ministry of Health’s network of public hospitals in Nicaragua were removed from their position between 2018 and 2019 for defending the right to medical care of people labeled as dissidents, says the Nicaraguan Medical Unit, a nongovernmental organization that fights for the rights of health professionals. In contrast, clandestine health care services are flourishing.
“The government is trying to subdue its people to the max, so that they only have two options: remain in the country and wait for the worst, or leave,” Carla Sequeira, head of legal counsel at Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights, told Diálogo. “Repression and threats didn’t start in the spring of 2018, but rather since Ortega returned to power [in 2007].”
“Many of the country’s living rooms [are] small medical offices and clandestine clinics that tend to the victims of repression,” José Luis Borge, a doctor and president of the Nicaraguan Medical Unit, told Diálogo. “Police harasses health professionals for assisting those that the government refuses to assist, especially protesters, ex-prisoners, and relatives of political prisoners.”
Nearly 70 years after the United Nations declared health access to be a basic human right, in Nicaragua the situation is different. Amaya Coppens, a Nicaraguan student, was detained in September 2018, on charges of terrorism, and released in June 2019. “Coppens was labeled as a second-class citizen, and she cannot access medical and educational services,” said the Mexican newspaper La Tribuna. “This is the other side of repression,” said Borge.
“Former prisoners and their relatives experience a civil death. They cannot use public hospitals because they are treated badly or rejected, they are denied identification documents, they cannot work, and they are expelled from universities and other public service facilities,” Sequeira added. “Many of them are being prosecuted again for common crimes.”
Public health management in Nicaragua led Canada and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to impose sanctions on then Minister of Health Sonia Castro in June, for denying medical treatment to injured protesters and firing medical staff. Currently, Castro serves as Ortega’s personal advisor.
The population suffers the negative effects of losing health specialists and volunteers. According to Borge, Nicaragua ceased to provide more than a million medical appointments and 20,000 emergency surgeries in the last 20 months. The waiting list for patients needing specialized surgery is almost a year long, he said.
Borge told the press that he was kidnapped when he arrived at a restaurant on November 19. “They never took responsibility. I wanted to know what they were going to do with me, if they were going to kill me or what. They just said, ‘We haven’t received any orders yet.’ [On November 20] they took me out with my face covered and left me near the National Agrarian University. They said: ‘Okay, doctor, you were very lucky. Some of the missing persons will never be seen again.’”