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Nicaragua: Paramilitaries Spread Terror with Kidnappings

Nicaragua: Paramilitaries Spread Terror with Kidnappings

By Lorena Baires / Diálogo
February 12, 2020

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Nicaraguan paramilitary and vigilante groups carry out kidnappings and keep their victims locked in clandestine cells, Roberto Orozco, a Nicaraguan security and organized crime adviser, told Diálogo. They are the public face of repression. Their main goal is to send a message of fear throughout the population to protect the Daniel Ortega regime. Those who experience the violence of these groups in Nicaragua can’t do much, as cases are generally dismissed, shelved, or ignored by the judicial system.

“Members of the opposition disappear for some time, to later be found in police stations’ cells,” Orozco said. “[Paramilitary members] walk around the communities with weapons of war so that the population will notice their presence.”

In addition to kidnappings, paramilitary groups use different forms of aggression against members of the opposition. “Ex-prisoners and their relatives are constantly harassed with surveillance, illegal raids, physical assaults, social media harassment, threats, and vandalism,” Asunción Moreno, a professor in Nicaraguan Constitutional and Criminal Law, told Diálogo. “Not only do paramilitary agents and supporters of the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front, President Daniel Ortega’s party] perpetrate this, but so does the National Police.”

“They are the ones doing the ‘dirty work,’ what the National Police cannot do,” Orozco said. “They are hired assassins of the political party in power, the FSLN, willing to kill those who threaten the regime’s stability.”

Although these groups make a lot of money by committing crimes, “they do not engage in extortion and kidnapping for money; rather, they pursue political ends,” Orozco added. “They operate with the National Police, and receive its protection. Although they are blamed, they are never prosecuted.”

Xavier Mojica was a graphic design student when he was kidnapped in July 2018, in Managua, during Operation Cleansing (Operación Limpieza), a State initiative to repress protests with weapons of war in April 2018. He was not part of the opposition, and his only passion was for his professional future.

“I was walking back home when armed, hooded men put me in a van,” Mojica told reporters. “I was locked in a cell; I couldn’t even see my hand. They interrogated me, they beat me up. I was never with other prisoners. My only contact for 10 months was with the kidnappers.” Mojica was released after 303 days, in exchange for $600.

“The paramilitaries’ strategy, where victims are tortured, with some having their bodies branded, is similar to what the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs use,” said Eliseo Núñez, an activist with the Broad Front for Democracy, a coalition of Nicaraguan political parties that seeks to restore democracy in the country. “The model is the same; they exert territorial control through violence.”

The Permanent Commission for Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH, in Spanish) reports cases of people who were kidnapped and branded on their arms with the acronyms “Plomo” (for Free Homeland or Death in Spanish) or “FSLN.” In 2019 alone, 2,600 victims reported various forms of torture conducted by government forces.

“In 2018, when social protests broke out, the Commission received more than 4,000 complaints against the regime,” said Marcos Carmona, CPDH executive secretary. “The [current] decrease in cases doesn’t mean the situation has improved; rather, it’s because of the Police’s permanent siege on the Commission’s building, which intimidates those who attempt to file complaints.”

Moreno and Núñez agree that the lack of independence of the judiciary is evident in the procedures conducted by judges and magistrates, whose resolutions and sentences criminalize the protests.

“Victims of torture, detention, rape, and murder must wait for ‘times of justice,’” Moreno said. “That may happen at a later stage, when the regime is over, because Ortega Murillo has seized all the State’s institutions and powers; the judiciary is subject to the executive.”