Nicaraguan Government Cracks Down On Dissenters

Dec 30, 2018
Originally published on December 30, 2018 8:28 am
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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Nicaragua, life is becoming more dangerous for opponents of President Daniel Ortega. Police have been raiding independent media outlets, jailing reporters and shutting down nongovernmental organizations. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that, in response, the international community is moving to isolate Ortega's regime.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Veronica Chavez was in her husband's office at their cable news network, 100% Noticias, on the Friday before Christmas when they heard loud noises downstairs. They quickly turned to their bank of security cameras. Police were forcing their way in past the security guards.

VERONICA CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "My husband hugged me. I held onto him. And we just began praying," says Chavez, recounting the experience to reporters.

CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They were screaming, get on the floor. They handcuffed us and hauled us out," she says. Chavez, her husband, Miguel Mora, the station owner, and Lucia Pineda, the news director, were all arrested. Chavez was interrogated but later released. Mora showed up the next day dressed in blue prison garb in court, charged with fomenting hate and terrorism. Pineda, the news director, faces similar charges.

Since last April, when government opponents began protesting, hundreds have been jailed and more than 300 killed. Thousands more are in exile. But the last few weeks have been increasingly repressive, say international observers, as Ortega has shuttered human rights organizations, thrown out international monitors and gone after news outlets.

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KAHN: Earlier this month, police raided the offices of Confidencial, an independent online publication and nightly TV news program.

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CARLOS FERNANDO CHAMORRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The owner Carlos Fernando Chamorro has been able to keep broadcasting his program. He declined to say how for security reasons. But police remain camped out in his offices.

CHAMORRO: This is a criminal government responsible for crimes and the massive violation of human rights. This is the worst crisis in our history.

KAHN: It took Venezuela's repressive regime 10 years to muzzle the opposition press, says Natalie Southwick of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Nicaragua, she says, has done the same in just months.

NATALIE SOUTHWICK: So far, they've been able to get away with it. And so they're going to continue doing it until they're given a more significant reason to stop.

KAHN: The U.S. hopes it's giving that reason. Earlier this month, President Trump signed a bill curbing Nicaragua's access to international development banks. The Organization of American States is moving to revoke Nicaragua's membership. The Nicaraguan government did not provide comment when contacted through email. In the past, Ortega has said he is defending himself against well-funded opponents backed by the U.S. intent on overthrowing his government. With the economy in free fall and unemployment soaring, it's unclear how long the opposition can hold out.

Vilma Nunez, the head of the prestigious Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, who had her offices raided and license revoked, says all her workers have fled the country.

VILMA NUNEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

CHAMORRO: "But I've decided whatever happens happens. I'm not moving from here," she said. Now 80 years old, Nunez says she's too old to flee. She's staying and fighting. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "KNIVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.