Continuing Oppression in Nicaragua
It is bad enough to be deprived of the freedom we often take for granted in the Western democracies. What must be doubly hard for those who live under an oppressive regime is to have their cry for help and understanding ignored. This is precisely what is happening to the people of Nicaragua who refuse to side with a government that is in the process of constructing a one-party dictatorship. What is all the more appalling is that many Christians and church-related groups go on denying the true character of that regime. Why is this important? Because the truth is the first defence of the defenceless and the oppressed, whereas oppression is always accompanied by falsehood.
The Permanent Commission on Human Rights of Nicaragua has courageously battled the disinformation so often spread by Western visitors to that country. This Commission issues monthly bulletins in which it reports on specific cases of suppression, providing names, dates and exact descriptions of the mistreatment. A recent "Special Report" on the human rights situation in Nicaragua makes compelling reading and contradicts reports of countless Sandinista supporters who have visited Nicaragua during the past years.
The report begins by explaining how the Sandinista party projects an image of political pluralism and respect for human rights to the outside. It continues: "On the other hand, internally the Government practises a policy of terror and intimidation, of persecution and blackmail against those persons who hold divergent opinions and who refuse to give in without protesting the implementation of a political and ideological project which in essence ignores the fundamental rights of the Nicaraguan people."
During a conference of the lnterparliamentary Union (UIP) in 1987, the Nicaraguan government went all out to create the impression that different points of view can freely be expressed and practised in Nicaragua. However, the Commission points out that the repression and threats did not stop.
Dozens of families of prisoners have been summoned to the offices of State Security and the penal centers, or have been visited in their own homes, and have been threatened so that they will not complain about what is happening to the prisoners; hundreds of prisoners have been threatened to prevent them from telling their families about what goes on in the prisons and many have been transferred to other detention centers in the interior of the country; visits to prisoners have been suspended until the UIP Conference ends, so that the thousands of peasants that visit the political prisoners will not come to Managua during this period.
The Commission described the dilemma of Nicaragua's peasants as follows:
The situation of the peasants is really dramatic, in that they are pressured into joining the different "organizations" of the Sandinista Party, such as the Association of Field Workers (ATC), the National Fanners' Union (UNAG), the Sandinista Defence Committees (CDS) and the Sandinista Peoples' Militia (MPS). The peasants who refuse to join these organizations are considered "reactionaries" and "counterrevo1utionaries", and whenever military operations are carried out to destroy what the soldiers consider "potential social bases for the Contras", these peasants are jailed and accused of being "informers" or "runners" of the Contras. In 1986 alone, in different military operations carried out principally in the departments of Zelaya, Chontales, Boaco, Matagalpa, linotega, Nueva Segovia, Madriz and Esteli almost 2,500 peasants were jailed, the majority of whom were transferred to Managua to be prosecuted in the Exception Court which operates in the capital for the whole country, where they are irremediably sentenced.
The report then provides many details about the forms of oppression imposed under the various states of emergency, the nature of "revolutionary justice," the cases of death and disappearance, the prison situation, freedom of expression, the situation of the church, political rights, and labour rights. It details the way labour unions are treated.
The situation of the labour unions in Nicaragua, as with other sectors, can be viewed in two senses: on the one hand, the official labour unions, or those affiliated with the Sandinista Party, which enjoy many advantages, do not have problems with the Ministry of Labour in their inspection, their members possess cards to make purchases at low prices in the Centres for the Supply of the Workers (CAT), . . . and in addition they can utilize the vehicles of the business, use the time necessary for their labour activities, etc. But, on the other hand, for the independent labour unions, such as the Nicaraguan Workers Central (CTN) and the Confederation of Labour Unification (CUS), the situation is completely opposite. Its members are constantly accused of robberies and attempts at sabotage, they do not possess cards to make purchases at CAT, the approval of their labour unions meets all types of obstacles at the Ministry of Labour, as constantly citing or visiting their intermediate staff to get them to abandon their labour-related activities or to become informers for State Security.
Allan Ernesto Gaitan, an official of an urban transit union affiliated with the independent, non-Sandinista CTN, was taken into custody, interrogated, and accused of participation in antigovernment demonstrations, which warranted 30 years in prison. He was told that he would be given a new "opportunity" if he would leave the CTN. If not, however, he had better remember that he had a wife and children, that he would not want "to leave them without support," and that he would be watched 24 hours a day. It takes extraordinary courage to withstand that kind of pressure.
The report concludes that the new political constitution is a tool of oppression rather than a safeguard for the rights and freedoms of the Nicaraguan people.
It is high time that the cries of the oppressed in Nicaragua are heard. To ignore the testimony of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights of Nicaragua is to aid and abet a government that has officially allied itself with and regards the Soviet Union as its protector and model. That is why the much-heralded Arias peace plan was doomed from the start. Sandinista spokesmen have made it unmistakably clear that they will never surrender power voluntarily. We had better take them at their word, for the sake of truth and for the sake of the helpless people of that beleaguered nation.