Open Letter Criticizes Human Rights Watch On Nicaragua

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Above: Violent protesters yell from behind the roadblock they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua in Managua, Nicaragua, April 21, 2018. Source: Voice of America

Note: We have previously published criticism about Human Rights Watch coverage of various countries being doubted by people in those countries and by facts they do not include in their report as well as about the organization’s ties to government and Wall Street. The open letter below criticizes Human Rights Watch for their reporting on Nicaragua.

Previous articles on Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch: The Empire’s Human Rights Group by Telesur

Media Don’t See Problem With HRW’s Proximity To Power by Keene Bhatt, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Nobel Peace Laureates Slam Human Rights Watch By Mairead Maguire, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Richard Falk, Richard Falk and Keane Bhatt, AlterNet

Rwanda: Another Example Of Human Rights Watch As An Arm Of US Empire by Anne Garrison of Black Agenda Report

Human Rights Watch’s Weak Position On Drones By Jeffrey Bachman, Common Dreas


I am writing to protest vigorously about your August 23rd press report in which you accuse two Nicaraguan police officials of leading the ‘assassination of dozens of protesters’ during the recent crisis in Nicaragua. These accusations rest on evidence supplied by local ‘human rights’ organizations, either directly or via bodies such as the IACHR, which in many cases are contested or unsubstantiated, or misleadingly blame state actors for violence that was actually carried out by protesters. Neither the IACHR, nor more recently the UN in its report on the Nicaraguan crisis, has been willing to take seriously the analysis by the state, by the official truth commission or by independent observers, showing that the real picture of deaths over the period April-July is very different from that painted by any of the local human rights bodies (e.g. the ANPDH).

No one is arguing that the police have a spotless record during this period, but neither should anyone be under the illusion that the protesters were unarmed and ‘peaceful’: this was far from the case. For example, after the Mother’s Day march on May 30, regularly cited by the opposition as an example of police attacking innocent people, dozens of police received firearm injuries; clearly whether or not the police were responsible for the casualties among demonstrators, they were under heavy fire themselves. Any responsible analysis should therefore take into account the fact that local human rights bodies have a long history of opposing the Daniel Ortega government, are not impartial, and have been very far from diligent in recording properly who is responsible for deaths that have occurred or – in the many cases where there is doubt – making this clear.

My first argument is therefore that named individuals such as these two police officers should not be publicly condemned by HRW unless there is firm evidence of their complicity in (as you claim) the ‘assassination of dozens of protestors’.

My second argument applies specifically to General Avellán, responsible until recently for the police in Masaya. I would like to know if you have taken account of the following facts:

1. Avellán and his police were under siege for 55 days from groups initially armed with homemade mortars but quickly armed with more serious weapons, as has been testified in, for example, the evidence by Santiago Adrián Fajardo Baldizón, one of the opposition leaders in Masaya. Of course, the fact that protesters were armed was well-known in Masaya, as the arms were openly carried at the barricades or when the groups assembled each evening to begin their attacks on the police.

2. Not only were the police under daily attack, but several buildings adjoining or close to the police station were deliberately destroyed by fire, by the protestors. These included the main secondary school for 3,700 students (sharing a common boundary with the police station), the tourist market (opposite) and the prosecutor’s office (in the next block, a fire which also destroyed three private houses including that of a well-respected local doctor.

3. The police were under orders not to shoot live rounds during this period, despite the fact that mortar rounds, contact bombs and other munitions were being fired into the police station.

4. This order was rescinded when the police entered the north side of Masaya to retake control there, and finally on July 17 when the government regained control of the whole city. You protest that Avellán used the words ‘cleaning up the barricades’ but you fail to point out either that the city had been completely strangled by around 600 barricades for three months, preventing virtually all movement except on foot, or that many of these barricades were defended by regular arms as well as by possibly hundreds of mortars and other homemade but none the less potentially lethal weapons.

5. To give you an example of the violence, here are the experiences of a close friend who lives in Masaya; he and his wife report that:

a. A land mine was discovered in the road they use to enter Masaya, left by protesters at one of the barricades. Two more were later exploded in a nearby valley.

b. Many Sandinista supporters and officials had their homes burned down (as also were many public buildings); my friends were also threatened with this punishment solely because one of them is a former municipal council-woman.

c. At the barricades, they were threatened with weapons twice (once homemade, once a regular firearm).

d. One of my friends was publicly threatened with death at one of the barricades (of course at this stage it was impossible for the police to act on such threats, as the barricaded area was entirely controlled by the protesters).

e. At many of the barricades, especially those on the main roads around the edges of the city, protesters had weapons such as AK47s.

6. In the operations to liberate the city, given the multiple firearms available to those defending the barricades, it was only through minimal use of force by the police that so few deaths were recorded. For example, in the liberation of Monimbó, initially only four deaths were recorded, one a police officer. This has since risen to just seven.

7. Finally, you should bear in mind that of the 22 police officers killed during the crisis, and hundreds injured, three were killed in Masaya. These included the appalling torture, execution and public cremation of police officer Gabriel de Jesús Ruiz Vado on July 15. Altogether in Masaya there were 40 deaths, of which only four are clearly identified as protesters and the majority are victims of violence linked with the barricades.

While any police violence which took place in response to opposition attacks is to be deplored, it can hardly be described in the terms of your press notice, where it is clearly suggested that the government is entirely responsible for the ‘bloodbath’ which you say occurred. This is wrong, because there is compelling evidence that protesters are responsible for a large proportion of the violence against both officials and the civilian population. In my view, the police response to this violence was entirely proportionate and would have been judged as such in any Western country if similar circumstances prevailed.

You may be interested to know that General Avellán has twice appeared in public in Masaya, in front of large crowds of local people who applauded him warmly for his efforts in saving the city and restoring normal day-to-day conditions. This last Sunday, September 2 nd , he received the freedom of the city award from the mayor. Thousands attended and people were queuing to have ‘selfies’ with him. This is unlikely to have been the case if General Avellán had been guilty of human rights abuses.

Nan McCurdy is with United Methodist Missionary and lived thirty-one years in Nicaragua. 

  • nn24321

    But she hasn’t lived there in years! Things change…she is an Ortega supporter.