GRANADA, Nicaragua – Leaders of nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups are uniting their voices of protest against an aggressive new campaign by the President Daniel Ortega administration to “persecute” civil society groups that have dared to criticize the government or the direction of the country.
First Lady Rosario Murillo last week launched a brazenly aggressive government campaign called “Operation No More Lies,” aimed at discrediting civil society by calling non-government organizations (NGOs) “modern day Trojan Horses” that mask “an international campaign against the revolutionary government” of Ortega.
The campaign, launched under the guise of investigative journalism in the administration’s new weekly bulletin “El 19,” accuses the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), the Center of Investigations for Communication (CINCO), international group OXFAM and a network of other Nicaraguan human-rights and democracy groups of being part of an international conspiracy against the government.
According to the administration, “right-wing international groups,” such as OXFAM, are supporting a “triangulation of slander” by sending money to women’s groups via CINCO, a non-governmental group headed by journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The women’s groups, according to the administration, then use the veil of “feminism” to attack and slander the government.
Sandinista media outlets, infamous for playing judge and jury, jumped on the story and accused Chamorro and feminist leader Sofia Montenegro of “money laundering.”
The Government Ministry (MINGOB) apparently interpreted the Sept. 2 report in “El 19” as an official presidential order and quickly announced it was opening an investigation of MAM, CINCO and OXFAM, among other groups that have criticized the government. Gustavo Sireas, head of MINGOB’s registry of nongovernmental organizations accredited in Nicaragua, said the government’s efforts were to make sure that the registry is “in order” and denied it was part of a government crackdown on political enemies.
But for those in the government’s crosshairs, that explanation is unconvincing.
“This is an attempt to intimidate not only us but all other non-governmental organizations,” Ana Quirós, a leader of the Autonomous Women’s Movement, told The Nica Times yesterday.
For Quirós, the government campaign is part of a political revenge against the feminist movement for supporting Murillo’s daughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, in her 1998 sexual abuse case against Ortega.
“This definitely has to do with the Zoilamérica case, which has become internationally relevant again,” Quirós said, referring to recent protests by feminist leaders in other countries who have called Ortega a “rapist.”
Quirós added that MAM – a social movement, not a registered NGO – is studying the possibility of taking the case before the International Commission against Torture, on the argument that the government’s campaign is one of psychological torture and terrorism. She said that if anything happens to Montenegro or any other of the leaders of the women’s movement, “it will be the exclusive responsibility of this government.”
“We can’t forget what happened to Carlos Guadamuz, who was assassinated on the street,” Quirós said of the anti-Ortega journalist who was gunned down in broad daylight by a Sandinista assassin in 2004.
Chamorro, speaking on his weekly television news show, Esta Semana, called the government campaign a “dangerous escalation of persecution” of civil society groups and a violation of citizens’ rights to organize and participation in society.
Chamorro said his organization has always followed the law, and mocked the so-called “investigative journalism” by the government newspaper, saying all the information they reported was taken from the organization’s Web page and other sources in the public domain.
The same Sandinista media outlets in 2006 accused Chamorro – without any basis or formal charges – of drug trafficking after he ran an investigative report linking Sandinista officials to a land extortion case in Tola.
Chamorro has called the newest set of government slander campaign “cowardly,” and is calling on others to stand up to the Ortega administration’s fear tactics.