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Nicaragua’s OAS envoy calls his own government a dictatorship

MEXICO CITY—Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States denounced his own country as a dictatorship Wednesday in a dramatic and original speech during an online conference at the Washington, DC-based hemispheric organization. He then apparently quit his job.

Ambassador Arturo McFields, who was appointed envoy to the OAS last year, said he was speaking on behalf of thousands of Nicaraguan officials who are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. He also spoke of the nearly 200 political prisoners and more than 350 people killed, most by state security forces, since the massive 2018 protests that rocked the government of President Daniel Ortega.

“Speaking out against my country’s dictatorship is not easy, but remaining silent and defending the indefensible is impossible,” said Mr McFields, a former journalist. “I have to speak even if I’m scared. I must speak out even though my future and that of my family are uncertain.

In perhaps Mr. McFields’ final act as ambassador, his delegation sent a memo to the OAS asking to be included as a co-sponsor of the organization’s recent resolution condemning the invasion. of Ukraine by Russia. The Ortega government, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, defended the invasion and did not support the resolution backed by 25 countries.

In a subsequent letter to the OAS, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs disavowed Mr. McFields’ action.

The ambassador is the first senior Nicaraguan government official to publicly step down from the Ortega government since 2019. Ortega, a former Sandinista guerrilla, was re-elected as Nicaragua’s president last November in an election widely condemned as a sham. Mr. McFields did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is a dramatic development and shows that even senior regime officials cannot stand the regime’s abuses,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society, a Washington-based think tank. “It is very clear that the regime is losing a lot of support even among its own officials and that the only way to stay in power is to continue repression and oppression.”

In his speech, which surprised other envoys, McFields said Nicaragua had become the only country in Central America where there were no more newspapers in print, no more freedom on social media and no more human rights organizations. He said there are no independent political parties or credible elections or separation of powers. Private universities are being confiscated and civil society groups closed, and more than 170,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country, he said.

“Although all seems lost, there is still hope,” Mr McFields said in his speech. “I mean people inside and outside are tired – tired of the dictatorship and its actions, and more and more they say ‘enough!'”

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said on Twitter that he appreciated Mr. McFields’ courage to speak out. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also praised Mr McFields, saying the ambassador had resigned in protest against the Ortega regime for its record of oppression and respect for human rights. “We commend Amb. McFields for the courage of giving voice to the millions of fellow Nicaraguans who are hoping for a return to democracy,” he tweeted.

Many of Mr. McFields’ colleagues on the conference call, including the US envoy, praised his speech. “We commend Ambassador Arturo McFields for the courage to resign from his position,” Bradley Freden, the acting U.S. representative to the OAS, said in a statement. a twitter post.

Mr. Ortega won his fourth consecutive presidential victory in November after jailing seven presidential candidates on charges bordering on treason. The candidates are part of a group of nearly 50 of Nicaragua’s most prominent journalists, political, economic, peasant and student leaders who have been jailed by Mr. Ortega on such charges.

Most of the defendants have already been tried and sentenced to terms of up to 13 years in prison. In his speech, Mr McFields said he had argued last year that 20 of these elderly political prisoners should be freed, along with 20 other prisoners in fragile health, but had been ignored.

Mr. Ortega’s growing crackdown has sparked a flow of migrants fleeing the country to Costa Rica and the United States. Some 50,000 Nicaraguans were apprehended at the U.S. border in fiscal year 2021, compared to just 13,000 in fiscal year 2019, according to U.S. government data. Another 50,000 Nicaraguans were arrested in the four months to the end of January.

The US State Department said Mr Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also Nicaragua’s vice president and government spokesperson, aim to turn the country into a dynastic dictatorship. A State Department spokesperson said the United States would continue to “press for a return to democratic rule and respect for human rights in Nicaragua.”

Ms. Murillo did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Mr. Ortega began the two-year process of Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the OAS, angered by the organization’s repeated condemnation of his government for human rights violations and electoral abuses. Shortly after being named ambassador, Mr. McFields handed Mr. Almagro a letter from the Nicaraguan government announcing the withdrawal. The country is expected to leave the OAS in November 2023.

Write to José de Córdoba at [email protected]

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