Interview with Commissioner General Ramón Avellán
Masaya, November 13, 2021, by Ahmed Kaballo *
Ahmed Kaballo: Between April and July 2018, a wave of extreme violence broke out here, my question is if you could explain what happened
Commissioner General Ramón Avellán: In 2018, Nicaragua enjoyed a very favorable situation. From the economic point of view we were growing with a percentage of three, four, five percent, some other Latin American countries were also growing, but not all of them. This produced a situation of calm, of peace in the country. The other important issue, of citizen security, was also one in which we were doing well, we have had a rating of more or less eight homicides per one hundred thousand inhabitants and we are lowering that rate. We must remember that the United Nations regards a homicide rate of nine homicides or less, considers that such a country has good citizen security.
We are also growing in terms of construction of infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools at a national level, which was also something favorable. In the social area, there was also a series of projects promoted by the government. So, in my opinion, a whole situation was created back then based on what Gene Sharp elaborated, which is a way of intervening in countries without using the marines, without using military force. They have been creating the conditions that for several years in Nicaragua based on the experience they had in other countries as well. There's the famous Arab Spring. There are the color revolutions they applied in several countries. And for me that was one of the mistakes of those who staged the attempted coup d'état with regard to which we now know how they financed it, how they organized it and who were the leaders of that coup attempt.
So all pf this brought about the situation that they were able to set up. Something important that is not known outside Nicaragua is that the shock forces used by those who led the coup were in practice common criminals and organized crime. The common criminals were, you might say, like the troops they used, which in the long run was also a big mistake, a serious mistake because people like that of course are undisciplined, they have no good order and in the end they ended up carrying out barbaric actions that generated total rejection in the population. Those elements were... sorry, and organized crime too here in Masaya and in other places also financed the actions of these common criminals. Here they paid 500 córdobas a day, they gave them a quota of marijuana and a quota of liquor, that's based on interviews we did with many young delinquents in the case of Masaya.
This generated, in the long run, rejection from the population. Additionally, Masaya is one of the towns in Nicaragua with the most hard working population. Here in Masaya supplies all the markets of Nicaragua. Just yesterday I was in the area of Waslala in the north of the country and I bought some avocados and when I asked if they were grown in Waslala they told me no, they came from Masaya.
And if you go to all the departments of the country, all kinds of fruit and vegetable produce and all what we call wood, leather and textile products, all that is produced and sent out across Nicaragua. Such that, having spent from April to July in that situation, with the population practically held captive, held prisoner, held hostage, that also generated a feeling of rejection towards them.
So, for me, those are the aspects that I think did not work for their color revolution, as they call it, that might have worked in other countries. And on the other hand, the actions of the police that we were taking at a national level, and we must also remember that there was a commission coordinating and negotiating on the part of the government. There was also the role of big business, there was the whole Catholic Church hierarchy which in the long run ended up leading this attempted coup d'état and who finally the criminals themselves ended up ignoring. In the case of Masaya, right at the beginning, we are talking about April, May, when they attacked us we did arrest several young people and other people of all ages.
Then the parents and some of the human rights people came to say that these young people should be handed over to their families, but they also began to kidnap police officers, to kidnap government officials, to kidnap relatives of these officials and police officers, so there was a kind of negotiation via which they would hand over the government officials to the police and we would hand over their detainees to them. And back then, in the early days, the church worked in an expeditious way. However, later, in June, July, when we asked the Catholic Church for support on this matter and they told us that they were afraid, that they had already been threatened by the criminals themselves and that they could not take part in that kind of negotiation.
But eventually we were also able to observe that whereas at the beginning we worked with the church to find some way out of the situation, they still ended up being afraid and rather took the line of supporting these groups. The churches were the places where they had weapons, firearms, handmade weapons, the criminals were inside the churches. They fed them there. They even reached a point, as I was telling the Nuncio who came here to visit Masaya, that they had a system in all the churches, where the bells work with a rope, with a cord and they rang the bells when they wanted to gather those criminals together for any reason.
So in fact all this happened, but in the long run the population saw that the situation was not what they had said at the beginning about how they were going to take power and that they were going to make various changes, when in fact what people saw was a gang of louts, a bunch of criminals, drugged up, a bunch of delinquents, taking drugs, getting drunk in the streets and who in the end were stealing, stealing from the citizens, taking cell phones, taking money, touching women, abusing them, and all of that generated the rejection from the population who withheld support.
It is important to remember that there were about three hundred of us police officers, and just so you know, Monimbó alone has more than 60,000 inhabitants. If Monimbó had marched against the police we would not have held out for a minute, not even half a minute. So it is not true what they also said, namely that Monimbó was against the government or against the police. No. That is not true. With this situation that I have explained to you, the number of inhabitants in Monimbó alone would have been enough to finish off three hundred policemen who were there, defending ourselves.
Ahmed Kaballo: When you got Comandante Daniel's order for the police to regroup and stay inside their stations, what was the perception, the response, the feeling of you and your police colleagues?
Commissioner Avellán: Myself, I came here on April 20, to Masaya and in that period some incidents took place, they began by attacking and burning a gas station, they attacked a place serving food, fast food, they assaulted it and took everything. There were some state institutions, some state buildings like the Attorney General's Office. They entered, they burned it. In the municipal installations they entered, they burned several vehicles that were used to collect garbage, for the disposal of garbage and some vehicles such as trucks and heavy vehicles to work on highways,
They burned all that. There was a situation in that period, we went out to the street but when we went out they had already committed their outrages and early in May they gave us the order to regroup, so we could not leave our stations. In this period it was very hard, we suffered, by our count, 132 attacks on the National Police because as we knew, they were saying that if they could take over the police headquarters they were going to declare Masaya "free territory" and ask the government of the United States and some European governments to accept the creation of a new government, something similar to what the Sandinista Front did in '79 when they took control of León and there they declared a provisional government.
All of us in the police were aware of that and we managed to resist. They attacked us during the day, at night, and in the small hours. We suffered two comrades killed, several wounded, some... because they attacked us with industrial weapons and handmade weapons. In the worst moment we were attacked by about two thousand, we reckon two thousand, of those criminals at seven points around the police headquarters.
But we managed to resist. We were able to resist. There was a feeling that we, the police, were maintaining this resistance for the people of Nicaragua. The population called us by telephone to come to their aid, but by then there was an agreement that we could not leave our station. Furthermore, people in Monimbó itself were calling us a lot and a moment came when the self-same population began to give us information, where the criminals were moving, when they were going to attack us, people warned us and we could prepare to receive the attacks. So the local population supported us a lot with information, including a great many people from Monimbó. They told us that they were kidnapped, that they were not allowed to leave their homes because the criminals managed to keep control of the city at many different points with what they called "tranques".
These were roadblocks that allowed them to control the city. If someone passed through they had to say where they were going, what they were going to do and the criminals made them pay money to do so. Something similar to what the maras do in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They have territorial controls and they make people pay money to go somewhere from their house and they also have to pay to return home. All this also provoked rejection from the local people in the long run. They also stole cell phones if they liked them. If they liked a girl, a woman, they would also commit acts of abuse....
We were running out of food, and we also had a prison population of about eighty people detained for common crimes. There came a time when even their parents and the human rights people themselves asked us to release them. But we told them that they were there because they committed crimes and we could not release them because once the country returned to normal these citizens had to be held accountable. However, something very interesting happened, namely that whereas we thought these detainees were going to riot, they did not. They stayed calm and instead they supported us. In the end, after everything was over, they were presentd to the corresponding authorities.
the So the police had high morale and also in terms of religion, all Nicaraguans are either Catholic or evangelical, and so there was a lot of unity, praying to the Lord for the situation to soon pass. And among the police officers there were even two or three young men who also worked as pastors and we all prayed, in the morning and at night. Personally, I am Catholic but I was not actively practicing. However, during that experience I learned to pray in the morning on getting up and I learned to pray at night before going to bed. Praying to the Lord and asking Him for things to turn out well and I think that in the end the Lord listened to us.
Today we are in peace, we are in tranquility. We are moving forward and it seems that we are developing. The National Police continues to be the best police force in Central America and one of the best in Latin America. The economy is picking up again and we are trying to keep up a climate of peace and tranquility.
Something I did not talk about during the period when we were locked up in our station is that of the three hundred police officers who were there, we're all human and there was some fear, so we, the chief officers in charge, talked to our colleagues and out of the three hundred police officers about twenty chose to leave. They said they were afraid. Others were being called on by their families. And there were cases of police officers who were a couple. So we told them yes, because there was no problem, they could leave and they made a written request to leave and handed in their uniforms, but very few left. The rest decided to stay of their own free will because we are free to do so, whoever wants to leave leaves and whoever wants to stay stays. So in the end we were left with about 280 police officers.
Of course, among all those attacks, those 132 attacks, led us to a certain point when we had to repel a group attacking us with firearms in the southern part of the police station. Because they have been claiming formally that they did not use firearms, which is false. The first fatal casualty we had was hit with a bullet in this part in the center of his forehead by a sniper. And the other offcier died on July 17th, which is when the police cleared all the criminals who had kidnapped Monimbó. Both officer were very young.
Overall, Nicaragua's police suffered 24 dead, both men and women officers, and more than eight hundred wounded. In other words, it is just not true that the protesters were people with no weapons, that they were people protesting peacefully.
Yesterday, even the Costa Rican government deported, expelled one of the most bloodthirsty leaders here. People called him "El Fantasma", Wilner, is his name. Even the Costa Ricans could no longer put up with him, because he is a criminal. There in Costa Rica they had given him refuge but he began to do there what he did in Nicaragua, committing assaults and robberies for which he was detained, he was in prison. Yesterday he was handed over to us at the southern border in the area of Rio San Juan and he is going to receive a trial and due process.
But here in Masaya, this guy along with other individuals formed the group they called "Los Zetas". From just from that you can see what kind of mentality they have. We all know "Los Zetas" is a group of Mexican drug traffickers and they assumed that same name.
One of the cases that was one of hardest cases to bear, one that was very difficult and received the rejection of the population was the death of a policeman. That policeman passed through Masaya on his way to Carazo and they detained him. They kidnapped him and held him for several days and in the end they shot him in both legs. Then they tied him up and dragged him behind a motorcycle and finally they set him on fire at one of the roadblocks. And they were brutish that they themselves recorded the moment when they set him on fire. And that was in public. It was made public in Nicaragua and public worldwide because it got posted on social media.
In the end, only a part of his body remained. Out of respect for the family I will not say in what condition we found him. And like him there were others who were set on fire and burned in Managua. There was another person who died after being set on fire in Jinotepe, Carazo and so all that made the population and the whole world see that these were not people who could be said to be peaceful, that their protests were legitimate and so on, that was simply not true. We tried to document some of these cases and most of them, how were they documented? By the criminals themselves because they published their crimes on social media. Something important throughout this failed coup attempt was the use of social media. Their use was brutal in Nicaragua and I think it was one of the peculiarities of this particular type of coup attempt.
Our information is that many young people were used, sent abroad to learn how to use social networks and each of these young people from their homes or some other place were using up to 150 Twitter, Facebook, Instagram accounts for what was called "fake news" or false news in such a way that at the beginning they were able to create a situation in which a great many people believed them. However, as time went by, people generally realized that it was not true. The violence even started with an alleged death at the Universidad Centroamericana, the UCA. They claimed a student had been killed, which was not true. Then they criticized the Social Security over a law that had been made and the government actually ordered the law to be withdrawn.
They also talked up a fire that occurred in the area of the Indio Maíz Reserve and I actually traveled to the area and spent a week investigating the fire there and it turned out to be a matter of some farmers who were planting their crops and the culture here is that they set fires so as to burn away scrub and the fire broke out and entered the Reserve. However, it was brought under control with international help from the Mexican Air Force and Central American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, and the pilots were here helping us to put an end to the fire, which was successful.
But all those things were used as reasons to justify the attacks against us. Here they even used photos of dead monkeys from the other side of the world in the area of some islands in Asia. They were photos of something real but not from Nicaragua.
Ahmed Kaballo: What do you think or how do you perceive the role of the United States, both in promoting the violence of the failed coup attempt of 2018 and in terms of the coercive measures they have applied in the last few months and recent years?
Commissioner Avellán: Well we, before answering that question, I wanted to tell you that on July 17 when Monimbó was liberated something very beautiful happened to us. For me it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. And it was when we entered Monimbó and there was a group of children and here the children in the countryside have a custom that they offer a greeting with their hands together which people call "santito". It is a very old traditional custom but one in rural areas. However, I was very impressed to see they put their hands together for me and thanked me for the fact that we had put an end to the problem that the criminals there did not let them sleep, did not let the children go out, did not let them play, did not let them go to school. I felt very, very happy, and then one of the children also told me that they wanted to be a police officer. We wear two types of uniform, this blue one, light blue as we call it, and also a black uniform. So they said that they wanted to be one of the officers with the black uniform, which are our anti-riot comrades. That too was something very special.
And to answer your particular question, it is a situation, in my opinion, that is embarrassing for the U.S. government. We are clear that one thing is the US government and another thing is the American people. The American people are a noble people, a hard working people. However their government represents the empire that sought to carry out regime change here in Nicaragua. The United States and its governments have always had an interest in Nicaragua, not just now but our in '34 or '36, and they have invaded us several times. This is not the first time they have attacked us. However, Nicaragua's people have always had great affection for US tourists and they are the largest number of tourists who come to visit us and they are very friendly, very warm people.
But we are clear that the US financed... not only financed but organized and created the conditions for the attempt at regime change, as did some European countries as well. However, they did not succeed, because here the Nicaraguan people love their freedom, they love their independence, they love their self-determination, and we have the mechanisms, if people don't like the government, that's what elections are for. And in the past the Sandinista Front lost the elections and there was a change of government and there was no problem. And that continues to be the principal mechanism for us to make changes peacefully. The population itself decides which government it wants to have. So I consider that the United States hes been shameless. They financed everything, they organized everything and even then they still come and apply coercive measures against us.
When I became aware of the measures applied against me by the United States, and even by governments in Europe and by Canada, I felt that things are the other way around. I regard it as a recognition of the work that I have developed as a police officer for forty-two years worked throughout the whole country, serving the people, which is what is fundamental. And I don't lose sleep over it. I have no bank accounts anywhere in the world. In fact, not even here. If you check my financial position you will see that I haven't even a penny saved... and they also applied coercive measures purely on a whim to other men and women comrades and that is why I consider that despite having attacked us, using aggression against us, they still apply these coercive measures against us. It is something illogical, something unjust and that is why I instead have felt honored by the measures they have taken against me, it presents no moral dilemma or anything like that. To the contrary, I feel proud to have served my People and to be able to continue serving them until the very last day of life our Lord may grant me.
* Ahmed Kaballo is a British documentary filmmaker. The recording and translation was done by the Tortilla con Sal Collective.
Interview with Commissioner General Ramón Avellán