WASHINGTON, DC — The administration of Nicaragua’s communist dictator Daniel Ortega is denying ”access to healthcare” to dissidents and forcing families, likely from the opposition, to lie about the cause of death of their loved ones before they can retrieve their body, a senior U.S. Department of State (DOS) official told lawmakers.
On Thursday, Michael Kozak, the senior advisor and senior official at DOS’ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing, “Citizens have been unable to access health care for their injuries; government-run hospitals have reportedly forced families to sign certificates that falsified the cause of death in order to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones, increasing distrust among the general public.”
The ongoing demonstrations against Ortega started on April 18 allegedly over now-scrapped pension reform, but have now erupted into demands for the dictator — a Sandinista communist who ousted U.S.-backed President Anastasio Somoza in 1979 – to step down.
Clashes between pro-Ortega groups, which include armed paramilitaries, and those opposed to the dictator’s rule have left more than 300 people dead and over 1,500 others injured. The regime has also imprisoned over 2,000.
“The reason the government faces these protests is precisely because it has responded to legitimate concerns and grievances with violence. More of the same will not end the crisis. Daniel Ortega should know better than most. This did not work for Somoza; it will not work for him,” Kozak declared.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has come out in support of the oppressed opposition, taking the role as a mediator between groups for and against Ortega. This week, Archdiocese of Managua Rolando Alvarez condemned an attack on bishops by pro-Ortega paramilitaries.
“Government-backed paramilitary groups are behaving more aggressively and in larger, more coordinated groups,” Kozak said.
Various human rights organizations have accused the Ortega government of gross human rights violations.
Citing human rights groups like Amnesty International, Kozak noted, “[T]here is substantial evidence that the government is directing the National Police, the Sandinista Youth and government-controlled gangs (turbas and motorizados) to suppress protests violently. There are credible reports of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture in custody.”
The U.S. officials who testified Thursday vowed to support the victims of the Ortega government crackdown on those who stand against him. Kozak proclaimed:
The continued government campaign of violence and intimidation against protesters and widespread violations of human rights in Nicaragua is self- defeating. We will continue to stand with the Nicaraguan people peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms in the face of this repression.
Amb. Carlos Trujillo, the envoy to the U.S. President to the Organization of American States (OAS), blasted the Ortega regime for its “brutal” crackdown on Nicaraguans. Trujillo said:
The United States condemns the Nicaraguan government’s brutal actions and ongoing violence and intimidation campaign in the strongest terms, and assure the Nicaraguan people who suffer repression that they are not forgotten. The United States is under no illusion as to who is responsible for this violence.
The world is watching, and these attacks and threats against peaceful protestors and the general population are unacceptable. They must cease immediately. It is critical that the Government of Nicaragua protect all its citizens. Human rights abusers and violators must be held accountable.
Kozak accused Ortega of “hollowing out of democratic institutions and separation of powers … Ortega’s regime has disregarded the rule of law, basic tenets of democracy, and international commitments to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in favor of ‘pacts’ where they allocated the political and economic spoils of dictatorship with other groups.”
The Trump administration has already sanctioned Nicaraguan officials linked the human rights violations and carnage in the Latin American country.