Nicaragua’s Truth Commission Presents Its Third Report

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Above Photo: Peter Connolly/Flickr

New data on deaths, influence of social networks, and the role of the Catholic Church.

On February 5 th the third report of the Truth, Justice and Peace Commission (CVJP) an entity created by the Nicaraguan legislature in order to “understand, analyze, and clarify the violent events and deaths that occurred in Nicaragua since April 18, 2018,” was issued. It includes many important new details, including an updated death count, the influence of social networks on the crisis and their psychological impact, and the role of the Catholic Church.

According to the document, “after a rigorous process of investigation, analysis and verification,” the number of deaths was determined to be 253, primarily men (243) and under 35 years of age (175).

Of the total number of deaths, 220 were directly related to the conflict, 27 were from crossfire, and 6 were indirectly related to the conflict.

At least 9 names taken from lists published by human rights organizations, including the OAS Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), do not exist. There is also a discrepancy of 14 deaths between the two lists (CVJP vs. GIEI/OAS).

Another important fact, which partially dismantles the theory of the “massacre of peaceful and unarmed protesters” put forward by opposition groups, international human rights organizations, and taken up by the OAS and the OHCHR, is that of the total number of dead, 31 belonged to “groups of spontaneous demonstrators,” 48 were allegedly Sandinistas, 22 were police officers, and for the remaining 152 there is no reliable information (page 6).

Deadly Roadblocks

140 people died as a result of the hundreds of roadblocks (“tranques”) raised by opposition groups throughout the country; 31 died in protests over the Social Security reform; 27 died in crossfire; 13 were murdered for reasons unrelated to the protests; and 11 were killed protecting public and private property.

56% of the deaths (141) occurred between May and June 2018, following the announcement of the National Dialogue and once the roadblocks multiplied “in an attempt to coerce the government.”

The vast majority of the dead were workers (60), street vendors (57), and unemployed persons (40). Seven high school students and eight university students also died.

That last statistic—8 student deaths—contradicts the coverage in the mainstream media and the opposition’s independent news outlets. For months they have been publishing national and international headlines to the effect that there was a gigantic “peaceful, spontaneous, and unarmed” student uprising in Nicaragua, which was later violently repressed by the police and paramilitary forces, provoking a “massacre of students.”

Detainees in the system of justice

Contrary to reports by opposition organizations and media, last December the CVJP confirmed the presence of 438 persons deprived of liberty in the country’s main prisons in the aftermath of the violent events of 2018. New visits made in January of this year confirmed that 76 people had already been found not guilty, leaving a total of 362 inmates (page 15).

The report also provides details on access to communications and relationships with family members, medical care, and other services provided, such as cultural and sports activities.

“Among the detainees, none showed evidence of bodily injury and none said that they had been subjected to torture, cruel or inhumane treatment,” reads the document.

In this regard the report also contradicts the information provided by national and international human rights organizations, as well as the figures circulating on the internet of almost a thousand or more detainees, most labeled ‘political prisoners’ by the opposition.

Nor was evidence found of disappeared persons—another subject of frequent social media posts by opposition activists.

Kidnappings, torture, and psychological abuse

We remind readers that none of the international human rights organizations that have visited or organized missions to the country have agreed to meet with the CVJP to compare facts and figures. However, the CVJP said it was extremely concerned about the many complaints from citizens who were victims of kidnappings, torture, abuse, and inhumane treatment in the context of the socio-political crisis.

The document contains an extensive analysis of these events (page 17), as well as testimony from victims and survivors. This includes the impact of the roadblocks where most of the deaths occurred and which were used for “illicit activities and the excessive use of violence to inflict bodily harm, abuse, rob, humiliate, violate, dominate, torture, destroy or even kill” (page 21).

Property damage, social networks, and psychological impacts

Fifty-five per cent of municipalities (84 out of 153) suffered severe damage to public infrastructure (page 31) for a total amount of almost $28 million. The municipalities most affected by criminal groups were Masaya (27% of total damage), Managua (19%), and Matagalpa (17%).

As for social networks (page 40), although only 10% of Nicaraguans have a computer, more than 80% have access to the Internet, primarily through mobile devices. The most used apps are WhatsApp (88%), Facebook (86.4%), Instagram (68%), YouTube (63%), and Twitter (55%).

“Social networks were decisive in allowing things to go viral during the protests of April 2018. Tools like Facebook and Twitter were used to share content created with premeditation and malice aforethought. Their objective was to connect with the feelings and emotions of people who generated angry and violent behavior against not only the government, but also sympathizers of the governing party, and even persistently condemned those who held neutral positions,” writes the CVJP.

“Fake news that went viral through the social networks dealt a decisive blow, encouraging the protests. … An ideal opportunity was created by a fake news report about the murder of a young student from the Central American University (UCA) … which resulted in the spread of extreme negative feelings,” the report continues.

To that end, the CVJP study warns that there are organizations in Nicaragua “that for years have been training hundreds of actors from different sectors of society to use social media to run campaigns, which have been primarily directed against the governing party, its leadership and sympathizers, as well as against government activities and governing authorities.

The CVJP also analyzed the psychological impacts of the crisis on the population (page 47) and the role of the Catholic Church (page 54).

“From the beginning, the participation of the Bishop’s Conference was marked by the ambiguous handling of two concepts and realities: the Catholic Church and bishops of that Church. There was a need for a rigorous definition of two key concepts: the national dialogue table and the role of the mediators.”

In that regard, the report analyzes the lack of minimum conditions for the national dialogue to work due to serious limitations, ambiguities, and confusion. The bishops were ‘mediators and witnesses,’ but were unable to guarantee results (page 57).

“Throughout the whole process, certain bishops maintained that they could perform two roles at the same time: that of mediators and that of defenders and promoters of the sector opposed to the government. … This error had serious consequences. The language of some bishops radicalized people and inflamed tempers, and even led to strong divisions in the Catholic community,” according to the report.

For the CVJP, there is a national and universal consensus that the crisis in Nicaragua must be resolved through dialogue.

“We have just experienced a failed attempt at forced capitulation. The only conclusion is that all of us have to review our behavior in order to discern better strategies to overcome the crisis and prevent immense and irreparable damage to all Nicaraguans,” concludes the report.