Nicaragua Cries Freedom with Felix Maradiaga

Felix Maradiaga, Nicaraguan opposition leader and human rights activist, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full remarks in English and Spanish.

On human rights abuses in Nicaragua:

“It was the case of the child Conrado Alvaro, who was shot in the neck as he carried water to students protesting in Managua on April 20. While he shouted ‘It pains me to breathe,’ his companions tried to save his life, but the Ortega regime had already ordered that the wounded of the protests were not to be treated in public hospitals.”

“Franco Valdivia—another university student, singer, and father of a girl – was killed with a high-precision shot in his eye. In one of Franco’s songs, he tells us ‘I want death to return to me what life has taken from me…’”

“In little more than ten months, more than 82,000 Nicaraguans have been exiled, more than 2,000 political prisoners have passed through the prisons, of which more than 650 are still under arbitrary arrest. They still remain in jail…”

Call for help from the international community:

“Today I come before you, with a great weight in my heart for the sacred respect to that bloodshed, in order to ask you: Do not leave us alone. Help us in our determination to build a peace with freedom. That peace is only possible with the right to memory, truth and justice.”

On authoritarianism:

“A lesson learned from the Nicaraguan odyssey is that the apparent stability that many authoritarian regimes claim to assure is only an illusion when there is an absence of freedoms.”

“Peace without freedom is the peace of the grave.”

Full Remarks (English)

It is an honor to be before some of the most qualified voices on a global level to speak about human rights. I am pleased that the organizers of the Geneva Summit decided to inseparably link the issues of human rights and democracy. In the contemporary world, there are opportunistic interests that would like to separate these two concepts, as if that were possible. A lesson learned from the Nicaraguan odyssey is that the apparent stability that many authoritarian regimes claim to ensure is only an illusion when freedoms are absent. Sooner or later, that illusion shatters like a mirror whose fragments scatter violently, hurting the innocent. Peace without freedom is the peace of the graves.

It was thus that in April 2018, the regime of Daniel Ortega, which a few months prior was praised as “the economic miracle of Central America” ​​thanks to the solid alliance of the government with the main economic groups in my country, was transformed into a monster that attacked citizen protests, with the most severe violence against civilian population recorded in the history of Nicaragua. All of that happened in times of peace.  

As you are an audience highly specialized in human rights, you know the facts well and I do not have to delve into details. However, the truth is that no report can accurately describe the terror of seeing national police snipers shooting at unarmed civilians who, in the worst cases, tried to defend themselves with slingshots and stones, against a uniformed and paramilitary army that in less than 90 days murdered more than 350 civilians. We estimate that, to date, the number of those murdered may have risen to 500.

This was the case of the boy Alvaro Conrado, who was shot in the neck while bringing bottles of water to the protesting students in Managua on April 20. As he shouted “it hurts to breathe” his companions tried to save his life, but the Ortega regime had already ordered that those injured in the protests were not to be treated in public hospitals. Franco Valdivia – another college student, singer, and father of a girl – was killed by a high-precision shot to his eye. In one of his songs, he tells us “I want death to return to me, what life has taken from me…”

And it is the Nicaraguans since Daniel Ortega came to power, who have been stripped of the right to free elections, and despite efforts to sound the alarm, the world fell silent. The Ortega regime has carried out dozens of extrajudicial murders against peasants in the mountains of Nicaragua since 2007, nevertheless, Nicaragua was declared the safest country in Central America. Opposition political parties were outlawed and even, in February 2016, the UN Development Program mission in Nicaragua was expelled from the country, and the world remained silent.

The voices of indigenous peoples and peasants who for years have been asking the world for help in the face of loss of their property rights due to the expansion of open-pit mining, the destruction of nature reserves or projects such as the so-called “Interoceanic Canal”, that a development group from China wants to build, all those voices, before April, were still very far away for many.

In April everything changed, but it is tragic that hundreds of young people like Franco and Alvarito had to die in order to assure the world’s attention. For this reason, today I come before you, with a great weight in my heart for the sacred respect for that spilled blood, in order to ask you: Do not leave us alone. Help us in our determination to build peace based on freedom. That peace is only possible if the right to memory, truth, and justice is secured. This cry is especially important at a time when Daniel Ortega’s regime, fearing severe international sanctions, has decided to negotiate.

While I bring your attention to that commotion, in just over ten months, more than 82,000 exiled Nicaraguans have left my country, most of them due to political persecution. In addition, more than 2,000 political prisoners have been incarcerated, of which more than 650 are still under arbitrary arrest. Still in Nicaraguan prisons are democracy activists like Victoria Obando, Cristhian Fajardo and his wife María Adilia, Medardo, Pedro, Amaya, Irlanda, Nardo, Edwin, Brack, Amort, Byron, Kenia; the journalists Lucía and Miguel, and hundreds others.

I confess that no one is emotionally prepared to hear the testimonies of many of the citizens who have been imprisoned and tortured by the regime without that experience marking us for life. Nor is it possible to leave with an unharmed soul after seeing with our own eyes the bodies of young people mutilated by torture, or seeing so much flesh torn by bullets that were fired by a tyrannical regime.   

Precisely this morning I spoke with someone, whom I will call Esperanza to protect her identity. She was kidnapped by Liberation Front agents, from whom she managed to escape after being raped multiple times in the city of León:

“They kidnapped me after participating in the protests. For days, they made me feel pains stronger than childbirth. They threw me on the side of the road thinking that they had murdered my soul. They did not know that, rather, they had planted a seed…”

That seed of hope from victims like her is our conviction that it is possible to get out of tyranny through civil resistance and non-violence. That is the hope that is born from actions such as the resolution recently passed in the Human Rights Council. However, for that seed to be a fruit of freedom, it is urgent that it be irrigated with international action that prevents crimes against humanity from being forgotten.

Just as there is no future without memory, it is not possible to cultivate freedom without the light that only emanates from justice.

Full Remarks (Spanish)

Es un honor estar ante algunas de las voces más calificadas a nivel global para hablar de derechos humanos. Me satisface que los organizadores de la Cumbre de Ginebra, decidieron unir de forma inseparable los temas de derechos humanos y democracia. En el mundo contemporáneo existen intereses oportunistas que quisieran separar esos dos conceptos, como si eso fuera posible. Una lección aprendida de la odisea Nicaragüense, es que la aparente estabilidad que muchos regímenes autoritarios dicen asegurar, es una sólo ilusión cuando hay ausencia de libertades. Tarde o temprano, esa ilusión se rompe como un espejo cuyos fragmentos se dispersan con violencia, hiriendo a los inocentes. La paz sin libertad, es la paz de los sepulcros.

Fue así que en Abril de 2018, el régimen de Daniel Ortega, que pocos meses antes era adulado como “el milagro económico de Centroamérica” gracias a la sólida alianza del gobierno con los principales grupos económicos de mi país, se transformó en un monstruo que atacó las protestas ciudadanas, con la más severa violencia contra la población civil registrada en la historia de Nicaragua, en tiempos de paz.  

Al ser ustedes un público altamente especializado en derechos humanos, conocen bien los hechos y no ahondaré en detalles. Sin embargo, la verdad es que ningún reporte puede describir con precisión el terror de ver a francotiradores de la policía nacional disparando contra civiles desarmados quienes, en el peor de los casos, se trataban de defender de con “huleras” (slingshots) y piedras, ante un ejército de uniformados y paramilitares que en menos de 90 días asesinaron a más de 350 civiles. Estimamos que, al día de hoy, el número de asesinados puede ser de 500 personas.

Es fue el caso del niño Alvaro Conrado, que recibió un tiro en cuello mientras le llevaba agua los estudiantes que protestaban en Managua el 20 de abril. Mientras gritaba “me duele respirar” sus compañeros trataban de salvarle la vida pero el régimen de Ortega ya había ordenado que los heridos de las protestas no fueran atendidos en los hospitales públicos. Franco Valdivia—otro estudiante universitario, cantante y padre de una niña—fue asesinado con un tiro de alta precisión en su ojo. En una de las canciones de Franco, nos dice “quiero que la muerte me regrese lo que la vida me ha quitado…”

Y es que a los Nicaragüenses, desde que Daniel Ortega llegó al poder, se nos quitó el derecho a elecciones libres, y a pesar de los esfuerzos por sonar la alarma, el mundo calló. El régimen de Ortega realizó decenas de asesinatos extrajudiciales contra campesinos en las montañas de Nicaragua desde el año 2007 y más bien se anunciaba que Nicaragua era el país más seguro se Centroamérica. Se ilegalizaron partidos políticos de oposición e incluso, en febrero de 2016, se expulsó del país a la misión de PNUD en Nicaragua, y el mundo seguía callado.

Las voces de pueblos indígenas y de campesinos que hace años le piden al mundo auxilio ante la pérdida de sus derechos de propiedad por la expansión de la minería a cielo abierto, por la depredación de las reservas naturales o por proyectos como el supuesto Canal Interoceánico que un grupo de China desea construir, todas esas voces, antes de abril, estaban todavía muy lejanas para muchos.

En Abril todo cambió, pero es trágico que tuvieron que morir cientos de jóvenes como Franco y Alvarito, para poder captar la atención del mundo. Por ello, hoy vengo ante ustedes, con un gran peso en mi corazón por el respeto sagrado a esa sangre derramada, a fin de pedirles: No nos dejen solos. Ayúdennos en nuestra determinación de construir una paz con libertad. Esa paz, sólo es posible con el derecho a la memoria, a la verdad y a la justicia. Este clamor es especialmente importante en el momento en que el régimen de Daniel Ortega, ante el temor a severas sanciones internacionales, ha decidido negociar.

Mientras elevo este clamor, en poco más de diez meses han salido de mi país, más de 82 mil nicaragüenses exiliados, la mayoría de ellos por persecución política. Además, han pasado por las cárceles más de dos mil presos políticos de los cuales aún están en condición de arresto arbitrario más de 650 personas. Aún permanecen en las cárceles de Nicaragua, activistas de la democracia como son Victoria Obando, Cristhian Fajardo y su esposa María Adilia, Medardo, Pedro, Amaya, Irlanda, Nardo, Edwin, Brack, Amort, Byron, Kenia; los periodistas Lucía y Miguel, y cientos de personas más.

Confieso que nadie está preparado emocionalmente para poder tomar el testimonio de muchos de los ciudadanos que han sido apresados y torturados por el régimen, sin que esa experiencia nos marque por vida. Tampoco es posible salir con el alma ilesa después de ver con nuestros propios ojos el cuerpo de jóvenes mutilados por la tortura, o ver tanta carne rota por balas disparadas por una tiranía.   

Precisamente esta madrugada hablé con alguien a quien llamaré Esperanza, para proteger su identidad. Ella logró escapar del secuestro de agentes del Frente Sandinista luego de ser violada múltiples veces en la ciudad de León:

“Me secuestraron después de participar en las protestas. Durante días, me hicieron sentir dolores más fuertes que un parto. Me lanzaron al lado de la carretera pensando que habían asesinado mi alma. No sabían, que más bien habían lanzado una semilla…”

Esa semilla de esperanza de víctimas como ella, es nuestra convicción de que es posible salir de la tiranía a través de la resistencia civil y la no violencia. Esa la esperanza que nace de acciones como la resolución recién aprobada en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos. Sin embargo, para que esa semilla sea un fruto de libertad, es urgente que sea irrigada con la acción internacional que impida que los crímenes de lesa humanidad queden en el olvido.

Así como no hay futuro sin memoria, no es posible cultivar la libertad sin la luz que sólo emana de la justicia.  

12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019

Speakers and Participants

Felix Maradiaga

Nicaraguan opposition leader, targeted by the government on false criminal charges

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