Over the first few days of 2019, persecution and threats against my physical safety and liberty from the Ortega-Murillo regime, including the illegal police occupation of the Confidencial newsroom and the jailing of Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau—my journalist colleagues from 100% Noticias—forced my wife and me into exile.
I fled to Costa Rica to keep doing journalism, and offer thanks to the extraordinary solidarity of Teletica, Canal 7, and the Telenoticias team that Ignacio Santos directs. Other colleagues from our newsroom also fled into exile, while most reporters and editors from Confidencial and Esta Semana have, despite the government siege, continued working in Nicaragua. With the help of a network of independent media outlets, we have managed to overcome the television censorship over the past months.
Today I am returning to my country with a group of exiled Nicaraguans, each of us at our own risk and lacking guarantees of our constitutional rights.
The instability and lack of respect for human rights have not changed in Nicaragua. In many ways, following the imposition of a de facto state of emergency that has violated constitutional rights, they have gotten worse. That state of emergency, imposed in September of 2018, is failing. It has not managed to subdue the civil disobedience of citizens, the cries for justice from the mothers of victims, and the calls for liberty and democracy from students, political prisoners and their families, former prisoners, persecuted priests, and independent journalists—who, despite the aggressions, have kept the flame of press freedom alive.
Every minute spent pursuing the truth through journalism, and after every act by which the citizens exercise their right to freedom of expression despite government intimidation, the coalition for freedom grows stronger and the dictatorship’s authoritarian power is weakened. But this is no guarantee of safe return for the tens of millions of people in exile.
Some 80,000 compatriots are seeking refuge in Costa Rica alone. Most are in precarious socioeconomic conditions, but cannot return to their country until an authentic democratic change establishes safety.
To initiate that process, we Nicaraguans and our allies in the international community should continue to demand:
The return of international human rights organizations to the country, including: the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations; and Amnesty International.
The disarmament and disbanding of government-affiliated vigilante groups, as recommended by the IACHR in May of last year and accepted by the Nicaraguan government under the accords of the first national dialogue.
The full restoration of democratic liberties, in fulfillment of the accords reached between the government and the Civic Alliance in presence of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States and the Apostolic nuncio representing the Vatican on March 28 of this year.
The suspension of the de facto state of emergency, so that the citizens can exercise their constitutional rights without enduring government threats, persecution, or retaliation.
I thank the people and government of Costa Rica led by president Carlos Alvarado, whose democratic tradition has led them to receive tens of thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing persecution. We urge them to accelerate their immigration processes so that the refugees can exercise their rights and support themselves economically and with dignity. We likewise call upon the international community to back the steps taken by the Costa Rican government to finance the support programs that Nicaraguan refugees urgently need.
I am returning to my country to continue demanding the end of the de facto seizures of the properties of Confidencial and 100% Noticias, which, since December 14 and 21 of 2018, respectively, have been occupied by armed agents of the National Police.
We have exhausted all our legal remedies before the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court of Justice, without response. Francisco Díaz, Director General of the National Police, admitted in a report presented to the Supreme Court of Justice on February 19 of this year that the assault and occupation of Confidencial were without legal justification. Díaz claims that the police raided Confidencial upon request of the Ministry of Governance, to take possession of the assets and property of the non-governmental organization Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación (CINCO) which was stripped of its legal status on December 12, 2018.
In reality, though, the police raided the facilities of three businesses—Invermedia, producer of Confidencial; Promedia, producer of Esta Semana; and the consultant Cabal—which are not part of nor owned by CINCO, but listed in the Registry of Commerce as separate entities. The equipment and legal documents of these businesses, as well as the property of their workers, have been illegally seized. Furthermore, the police have taken possession of a building that, likewise, does not belong to CINCO.
The Director General’s confession demonstrates that the State attacked the freedom of the press and committed a de facto seizure without legal basis, with the purpose of forcing the closure of a media outlet. Furthermore, there is no economic, legal or institutional relationship, let alone shared property, between CINCO and the businesses Promedia, Invermedia, and Cabal.
As a result, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice should have ruled in favor of the constitutional complaints presented on December 17 of last year and ordered the police to suspend the occupation and return the seized property, so that the affected parties can appeal their compensation claims. None of that has happened, even though in a message to the IACHR responding to our complaint, the government alleged that the appeals are “under consideration.”
Despite the occupation of our newsroom and aggressions against our journalists, we will continue unwaveringly in our commitment to journalism as a means of checking power, investigating corruption, and fostering public debate in Nicaragua.
I return to my country filled with emotion, to hug and kiss my sick mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. During these 19 months of pain and hope amid the April Rebellion, and in the most brutal moments of repression, I have always kept in mind her example of integrity and the values she represents. Together, with the democratic legacy and sacrifice of my father Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, they are the moral reserve that spurs on my conviction that “Nicaragua will be a Republic again.”
*Translated by Roman Gressier