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Ortega’s Groundless Attack on Humanitarian, Democracy Groups in Nicaragua

Nicaraguan police take a photo with President Daniel Ortega (center) after weeks of unrest in Masaya, Nicaragua, on July 13, 2018. (AP Foto/Cristobal Venegas)
Nicaraguan police take a photo with President Daniel Ortega (center) after weeks of unrest in Masaya, Nicaragua, on July 13, 2018. (AP Foto/Cristobal Venegas)
Nicaragua Interior Ministry

Nicaragua Interior Ministry

“[Foreign aid and rights groups] have failed to comply with their obligations under the laws that regulate non-profit organizations.”


On August 16, Reuters reported that the communist-led Nicaraguan government had canceled permits for six foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the country. The groups promote democracy and offer development and humanitarian aid.

The groups “have failed to comply with their obligations under the laws that regulate non-profit organizations,” the government’s official register reported.

The allegation is unsubstantiated.

A more likely explanation: The move advances President Daniel Ortega’s aggressive clampdown on journalists, opposition leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and rights groups in the run-up to November elections.

In July, the Nicaraguan parliament voted 70-16 to shut down 24 NGOs, most of them working in health care. The Ministry of Government (MIGOB) similarly alleged that the organizations hadn’t provided “detailed” accounts of their financial dealings.

Medical groups, including the Nicaraguan Medical Association and the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine, were most affected. Several of these groups claimed the action was retaliation for criticism of the Ortega government’s coronavirus pandemic response.

The government has been widely condemned for a cavalier approach to virus containment and for underreporting COVID-19 cases. The July legislation also transfers the groups’ assets to the state, according to news reports.

During the month of July, Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo amped up the pressure, issuing what were perceived by some as threats to medical professionals. “You pay for everything in life, and if we do harm, harm will reach us,” she said.

Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), said harassment of health care workers has led some to stop practicing and others to flee. Three doctors were questioned by the Ministry of Health about their media statements.

Rights groups and Ortega’s opponents see a systematic campaign of suppression.

As of late July, 22 opposition leaders had been arrested or detained, including seven potential presidential candidates, the Associated Press reported. Many of those arrested are “being held incommunicado, at undisclosed locations and with no access to lawyers or family visits,” the AP said. Agence France-Presse put the number of critics arrested at 32 as of August 10.

Last week, Soraya Rodriguez, a member of the European Parliament from Spain, told VOA that the number of political prisoners is 140. Citing an August 14 raid on opposition newspaper La Prensa, the arrests of opponents and attacks on civil groups, she said the election has become a “farce.”

“We can say that in Nicaragua there is not the slightest, the slightest possibility of a free exercise of civil rights, of political rights,” Rodriquez said.

Ortega, 75, is seeking a fourth consecutive term as president, backed by his communist Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Carmella Rogers, head of the opposition Citizens Alliance for Liberty party, decided to leave the country on August 10. Officials have canceled her passport and identity card and disqualified the party from the upcoming election.

In early August, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Nicaraguan election “lost all credibility” after the Citizens Alliance for Liberty party was banned.

“This autocratic maneuver follows the detention of seven presidential candidates and 24 other opposition figures, human rights activists, business leaders, students, and NGO workers over the last two months,” Blinken said.

“The United States views the regime’s latest undemocratic, authoritarian actions – driven by Ortega’s fear of an electoral loss – as the final blow against Nicaragua’s prospects for a free and fair election later this year.”

On August 2, the European Union sanctioned eight Nicaraguan individuals, including Vice President Murillo, citing serious human rights violations. These sanctions subject the named individuals to travel bans in EU designated territories.

A few days later, the United States issued visa restrictions on 50 people who allegedly profited from Ortega’s presidency. This list includes relatives of government officials as well as members of the judiciary.

“Without strong and sustained international pressure, the Ortega government will have no incentive to curb the crackdown and eventually allow free and fair elections,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

The six foreign organizations whose licenses were revoked are Danish NGO Oxfam Ibis, Spain's Oxfam Intermon Foundation, Sweden's Diakonia, the U.S. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, The International Republican Institute (U.S.) and Helping Hands The Warren William Pagel, MD Foundation (U.S.).