Ever since pro-democratic demonstrations broke out on April 18th, 2018, the response of the Nicaraguan government, led by Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, has been characterized by indiscriminate violence towards protesters. While most of the violence is evidenced through the brutal response handed down by the Nicaraguan National Police, leaks have also confirmed a long-suspected state-sanctioned cyber campaign to defame and harass members and sympathizers of the student-led opposition movement. Those targeted include activists, intellectuals, clergymen and academics, as well as members of independent media outlets, including journalists.
From the outset, the aim of the state’s cyber defamation campaign has been to dehumanize its victims. Just recently, for example, Felix Maradiaga, director of the IIEEP (a think tank), was beaten by 50 members of the Sandinista Youth after weeks of being the target of a negative campaign on Twitter and Facebook. The government has been to keen to send a message against those who oppose it.
As mentioned above, even members of the clergy have also been included in this cyber blacklist. Silvio Baez, the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, was viciously attacked in Diriamba by a large group of masked men from turbas (pro-government mobs), where he was wounded in one of his arms. As a member of the peace talk conference, Mr. Baez also has one of the largest followings on Twitter in Nicaragua – almost 88,000 – and is a highly respected individual. For weeks he has been the subject of attacks on the social media platform, where the government has attempted to smear his name, suggesting that he is an agitator.
As the commander in chief of the police forces, Mr. Ortega wields ultimate power. While International pressure has been put over the government – pronouncements in OAS (Organization of American States) sessions, a damning Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) report, as well as the U.S. inclusion of four of Ortega’s cronies under the Magnitsky sanction regime – it is unclear whether these actions will have a long-lasting impact upon the government’s approach to the present crisis. Political analysts have suggested that despite the pressure, the strategy of Mr. Ortega is to inflict as much damage as possible and return to the Diálogo as the best possible alternative to restore peace to the country.
What is certain is that there has been, at least, 260 deaths, and that number is growing every day. Worse, on July 07, Mr. Ortega declared he will not accept the early election proposal from the student-led movement. Instead, they must play by the rules of ‘his’ constitution. That is, to not have elections until 2021.
In the last years, the country’s Ministry of Tourism had aired a tv ad in one of the presidential family-owned channels. Images of a peaceful country were shown, as a lovely lady sang that Nicaraguan’s liked their country as is – “Te quiero tal como sos”. It turns out they were anything but right.