Nicaragua: Feminists under attack by fundamentalist forces

An open letter appealing for expressions of solidarity from feminist, human rights, and social justice groups.

More information on the crisis: “Nicaragua: Feminists under threat and attack”
By Mercedes Peralta

Managua, November.– Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s relations with the feminist movement have never gone smoothly, but they have become stormy this year.

The list of actions against it has included police searching and seizure of account books and PCs owned by leaders and officials of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) and CINCO (an NGO devoted to research, communication and journalism).

Another 15 civil-society and women’s organizations are also being investigated, although there are no formal charges against them. The Attorney’s Office has accused them of money laundering and associating to commit crimes (because of the movement’s defense of therapeutic abortion).

The Venancia Group, the Local Women’s Network and the Civil Coordination Office have been accused by First Lady Rosario Murillo of acting as “agents of evil”, working “for the Empire”, getting involved in “political terrorism”, and faithfully serving European and American interests.

Sofia Montenegro, a leader of MAM and head of CINCO, announced that a march organized by Civil Coordination in León had been crushed by government supporters. A similar action had been seen in Managua, where a group of young people were protesting in front of a pro-government television channel building.

Feminists Azhalea Solís and Ana Pizarro have been threatened. Pizarro indicated that she had received anonymous phone calls announcing that her 13-year-old son would be kidnapped. Other activists have had personal belongings stolen from cars and offices. Montenegro stressed that police searching is part of a government campaign seeking to establish a non-deliberative civil society.

The attacks have also reached international organizations like UK Oxfam and Forum Syd. The former manages the Common Fund to Support Civil Society and Democratic Governance in Nicaragua, while the latter is in charge of the Fund to Promote Gender Equality and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Their representatives have been asked to appear at the Attorney’s Office. Under international agreements, international organizations are supposed to report only to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This had been the procedure used by previous administrations.

National and international solidarity

The attacks on CINCO and women’s organizations have been repudiated by outstanding personalities and the general population.

Local personalities who have supported CINCO include former commanders of the Sandinista revolution (Henry Ruiz and Victor Tirado), former President Sergio Ramírez and writer Gioconda Belli. Police forces, however, burst into and besieged CINCO offices for several days.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates —Ireland’s Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchú, U.S.’ Jody Williams, Iran’s Shirin Ebadi and Kenya’s Wangari Maathai— have supported Sofia Montenegro.

A total of 53 women’s organizations and 11 noted people have signed a declaration indicating that Ortega’s government is despicable.

Twenty-seven European Union member states, including seven major fund donors, have expressed concern over the situation in Nicaragua.

A bit of history

Relations between the local government and the feminist movement have been damaged after the latter organized large-scale protests against the elimination of therapeutic abortion and attempts at replacing democracy with a dictatorship, as some feminists said.

Feminists in Peru, Honduras and El Salvador staged an international protest to express solidarity with Ortega’s stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez (42).

Ten years ago, she had accused Ortega of abusing, harassing and raping her. As he was an MP at the time, he sought immunity until the case expired and was filed by the Judiciary.

Last September, Narváez withdrew a suit at the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission. She did not drop the charges, however.

The government did not take long to react. El 19 weekly newspaper quoted Mrs. Murillo as saying that feminists promote abortion, exude political intolerance and sexist vulgarity, cut off freedoms, renounce religions and God himself, branding him as authoritarian and patriarchal, and accuse and harass those who have faith, as if they were goddesses.

The government undertook an investigation into CINCO a week after Murillo’s statement. Headed by prestigious journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, this NGO has denounced corruption cases involving government officials.

CINCO and MAM have signed an agreement to participate in public activities convened by the Common Fund, and have rejected money-laundering charges.

Oxfam and Forum Syd funds come from states and taxpayers in donor countries. The local government has been duly informed about them.

Source: SEMLAC – Women’s News Service from Latin America and the Carribbean

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