Tortilla con Sal, June 29th 2018
Interview with Francisco Valenzuela Blandón, Mayor of Estelí
Tortilla con Sal: How do you see what we have experienced recently in Nicaragua?
Francisco Valenzuela: Well we have undergone a situation over the last two months or so that was really unexpected by everyone in Nicaragua that began as a protest over a social issue to do with a reform of the Social Security system aimed at managed correctly the finances of that social fund that covers almost a million people in our country. But then later there were some confrontations, protests, clashes involving students and other groups that went beyond the limits of social protest and turned into events that were difficult to control. At that point the call of people demonstrating was to withdraw the reform. And in fact President Ortega did withdraw it when he saw what was happening.
However, that was not the root cause of the protest. The root cause of the protest turned political with the regrouping of opposition forces that have always existed in our country around very aggressive economic interests and they tried, and are trying, to make the issue a political one. It's clearly political because with the social security reform withdrawn, all that makes sense is to open talks about how to maintain the stability of the Social Security system. But the protests intensified and went from being peaceful to being very violent, because the groups protesting have been using various weapons. The protests became more violent with the burning down of municipal offices, social infrastructure, machinery, attacks on the police, attacks on sandinistas and social instability caused by roadblocks that have practically closed off the highways and streets of our city.
All this led to the establishment of a national dialogue proposed by President Ortega and he asked the Bishops Conference to mediate the dialogue with groups representing the protests. In effect we have had two months of tension and confrontation. All that we had before April 18th has disappeared, the social stability, citizen security for everyone, tourism is practically zero, people's freedom of movement has been curtailed by the roadblocks, by the violencethus. There are now armed groups. Criminal activity, that is always there, has flourished and now is happening with impunity because one of the preconditions agreed for the national dialogue was that the police stay off the streets. So that meant crime has had a free hand. And that also involves drugs trafficking because Estelí is an important corridor and that sector constantly attacks the Nicaraguan State for its high levels of security. That attack has increased in support of these groups so as to create distractions via their criminal and destructive actions, permitting the passage of drugs through our territory and coasts because we are focused on stabilizing and rebuilding the country.
It's really been a very difficult situation.We think now that with the national dialogue in progress and the good will of President Ortega that the way is open for us to be able to reach social stability. But something that has really been surprising to us was the social media warfare from teams of people set on creating destabilization and confusion among many of our citizens. They managed to have a negative impact in many sectors of our community and also among Nicaraguans living abroad and also via NGO networks funded to promote what they call governance or civil society and suchlike. Not all of them, of course, but an aggressive group of them have taken the side of this opposition movement aiming for a coup d'etat and pressing to change the legally constituted government of President Daniel Ortega and all the workings of the Nicaraguan State. In other words, a coup d'etat proposed and promoted so they can take power de facto as if the State were some kind of toy. But a State and the institutions of the States cannot be changed overnight and likewise legitimately constituted authorities cannot be changed in that way.
TcS: What do you think of the way the issue of human rights has figured in this coup attempt?
Francisco Valenzuela : Within the disinformation campaign of this coup d'etat movement, they have insisted precisely that all the victims are from the opposition, something that is absolutely false. Certainly a number of the people involved in direct confrontation have been killed, as have police officers and sandinista supporters have also died. People unconnected to the conflict have died. Members of families caught up in things by happenstance have also been victims and have died. But the opposition have portrayed everyone indiscriminately as victims of repression by the Nicaraguan State of the opposition. The truth is we have all lost. We all know people, relatives, comrades who have died and all as a result of arrogance, of a way of thinking that wants to change a legitimate government in the most underhand way.
I think it's important to open up information, to check it out, because even organizations specializing in the matter who have come to verify what's happening have only gone where the opposition have taken them. So when the IACHR or some other organization has visited, they only pay attention to people who are allegedly the victims and only get that version of events. They haven't taken into account the version of events of the Nicaraguan State or the sandinista version of events or of what has really happened in the moments of confrontation.
We need indicators and to validate information from different standpoints, not in a biased way. Even on that score the opposition have managed things in such a way as to make it look as though we have a repressive government here when the truth is that the opposition has been violent and have carried out attacks. On the opposition roadblocks people are armed with military rifles and weapons that have killed people. There have been torture and kidnappings. Sandinista people crossing the roadblocks have been stripped naked, tortured and they have painted them in white and blue.
One has to remember that two million people are Sandinista supporters. That is a large number and we have a vocation and a culture of peace, reconciliation and calm. But the opposition have set out to sow hatred. I don't say all of those who have been in the protests, but small groups are calling for hatred, stoking hatred and promoting violence to create a climate of instability. So we need things to be made clear. We want justice, an honest, real, impartial justice and it's important that our testimonies are taken into account and verified. We have everything documented, everything recorded. One of the advantages right now is that there are plenty of images, because people can film with their mobile phones and we are able to use those resources so as to make our denunciations and ensure the available versions are not one-sided.
The damages can definitely be classified in order of importance. First, the suffering and human victims that we all lament. Secondly, all that has to do with the economy and with people's freedoms, those roadblocks that impede freedom of movement and have affected employment. The inability to move goods and products for export has caused enormous financial losses. Tourism has suffered nationally and locally, especially small businesses. Most businesses in Nicaragua are small or medium sized and have been very badly affected. A lot of business have closed, a lot of people are now unemployed and a lot of people have lost the opportunities they enjoyed before April 19th. There has been a campaign of fear and terror.
Local municipal governments have been affected. Construction machinery has been burned. Whole complexes of municipal offices have been burned down, garbage disposal vehicles, machinery of all kinds. And projects generally have been paralyzed because there has been a certain level of fearfulness. But it's important to clarify that the worst situations have occurred in just 23 out of the country's 153 municipalities. The remaining municipalities in country, mainly in rural ares, have been much calmer. Things there have been different perhaps because the social networks don't reach as much into the countryside as they do more easily into the cities. So a large part of Nicaragua is calm. I'd say as much as 80% of the country is quiet. And as for the big cities where things have taken place as we are all well aware, parts of Managua, Masaya, León, Jinotepe. Estelí had its moment but now we are back to normal.
But further north Las Segovias, Madriz, they are calm. The Caribbean Coast and Rio San Juan are calm. In the municipalities some have been affected by the roadblocks on the highways, but even there we have continued working, however minimally, for example in municipal services like waste collection and other vital services that a municipality cannot allow to fail. But there is a big backlog and the losses nationally are around US$400 million. And the economic growth that we have had in the last few years, among the highest in Latin America at around 5.1% according to our Central Bank, that has dropped now to 3% with the tendency to fall even more, perhaps even becoming negative. So I think it's important that we understand what the situation is and avoid making statements based on prejudice, that we know various sides of the story, check things out before making judgments, investigate and be even-handed in any investigation so that we really do understand things.
That said, everything points to a campaign, an attempt at a power-elite coup to overthrow a legitimately constituted government, that it wasn't a social problem at bottom but a political one, taking advantage of social policy reform that was duly withdrawn. Now obscure forces are putting everything in one basket, as one might say so as to take advantage and try to wipe out our country's institutions. Our President is open to dialogue, that space is open for discussions, but only within the constitutional framework of our laws, as our Magna Carta, our Constitution lays out. It has its solutions, its ways allowing problems of any kind to be resolved. So I think we might understand this crisis perhaps as a kind of experiment maybe. But we remain firmly committed to making progress. Our people may have been passive to begin with, because we have a culture of peace, calm and reconciliation, but our people are actively committed to moving ahead and defending our national project.
TcS: Do you have a message for the sister cities of Estelí in North America and Europe?
Francisco Valenzuela : We are committed to sending them information about events here. We have been caught up in resolving various problems in our municipalities. We haven't managed communications perhaps as well as we might, but our message is that they can be confident that we are acting in good faith, and be confident in our efficient administration and in our capacity for unity and reconciliation in our municipality and in our families.
We too have been attacked in the social media and accused of many doing things we have not done. Our families have been threatened and in general we too have lived through a climate of menace. The information being sent out is ill intentioned, not just in relation to Estelí, but to all of Nicaragua.
However, in relation Estelí, I am saying to all our friends in Esteli's sister cities that they can be completely sure that we are in the right, we have been attacked, we have been victims of aggression and with God's help and especially with the support of all our citizens we will get through this current difficult situation. We are not responsible for it in any way. To the contrary we seek peace and reconciliation which are our guiding lights. We will be in contact to explain what is going on now and how we expect to progress in future.
Please don't let people manipulate you or take at face value disturbing information without first checking it out, as I mentioned earlier. There is a massive global campaign against us that has been very helpful to the opposition attempting the coup d'etat. But it's important to understand that everything being said against us is false, completely, totally false. You can be absolutely certain that we are working in good faith.