Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a
Marxist-Leninist group, exercises complete control of the
Government of Nicaragua. The national election of November
1984 was won handily by the Sandinistas but boycotted by much
of the opposition due to seriously flawed electoral
practices. A new Constitution, promulgated in January 1987,
provides the legal framework for the perpetuation of FSLN
control. The opposition during 1986 came under increased
official pressure, through intimidation, imprisonment, and
other forms of harassment. Repression affected both organized
opposition entities and, more broadly, sectors of the
population viewed as hostile to the regime or sympathetic to
the armed resistance. This repression is the result of the
FSLN's control of the Army, the state security apparatus, the
police, and the various militia and paramilitary forces as
well as of the judiciary and legislative organs.
The General Directorate for State Security (DGSE) and the
Popular Sandinista Army (EPS) are key elements in the
increasingly sophisticated internal control network. With the
involvement of Soviet bloc and Cuban advisers, the DGSE has
become increasingly efficient and sophisticated.
The Government expanded its drive to immobilize the opposition
during 1986 with official attacks on political parties
previously spared more threatening forms of intimidation, such
as detention or arrest. It increasingly circumscribed the
legal activities of political, labor, private sector, and
religious organizations. Officials of these organizations
also charge that their operations are disrupted by FSLN
infiltrators. The FSLN generally has been careful in dealing
with well-known opposition leaders, but mid- and lower-level
opposition activists, unprotected by international
recognition, have been interrogated, imprisoned, and, in
several cases, assassinated.
Major human rights abuses in 1986 included mass arrests of
civilians on vague charges of counterrevolutionary activity;
torture and abuse of prisoners; disappearances; summary
executions of civilians and prisoners of war; the continuing
involuntary relocation of rural residents; civilian deaths
resulting from the Sandinista military's indiscriminate use of
artillery and air bombardment; the closure of the opposition
newspaper La Prensa and Radio Catolica, operated by the
Catholic Archdiocese of Managua — the last vestiges of the
independent, nongovernment-controlled mass media; and the
forced exile of a leading bishop, the Curia's spokesman, and a
priest .
There were also continuing unconfirmed claims of the murder of
civilians in the Atlantic coast region during 1986. These
reports came from refugees entering Costa Rican camps who
allege that the Sandinistas have begun using "death squads"
for the execution of rural inhabitants, mostly young males,
considered sympathetic to the resistance.
The armed resistance similarly has been charged with numerous
violations of human rights, including forced recruitment, use
of pressure-sensitive mines, summary executions of prisoners
and regime officials, torture, kidnapings of noncombatants,
and attacks on civilians. As with most of the reports
concerning the massacre of civilians in remote areas by the
Sandinista authorities, it has proven extremely difficult to
obtain objective independent verification of these charges.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There were reports that 32 persons were killed by Sandinista
authorities for apparently political motives during the past
12 months, with unconfirmed claims of as many as 500 civilians
killed by government troops in the Government's counter-
insurgency efforts. In addition, 15 to 20 prisoners
reportedly were killed with automatic weapons fire in one of
Nicaragua's largest "model prisons" when authorities broke up
a hunger strike involving several hundred prisoners.
Victims of political killing included:
— Salomon Telleria, a member of the Social Christian
Party (PSC), died on February 14 of internal injuries after
being severely beaten in a DGSE prison in Leon.
— Eduardo Jose Trejos, a Ministry of Interior (MINT)
official convicted of espionage, was reported by the
Government on June 4 to have hanged himself with a sheet in
his cell in El Chipote prison. Former prisoners report that
cells in that facility are not provided with sheets. A
request by the Trejos family for an autopsy was denied by the
authorities. They also forbade the family to open Mr. Trejos'
casket prior to interment.
— Daniel Gonzalez, a campesino activist of the PSC
Revolutionary Youth, was shot to death by Sandinista soldiers
Eugenic Laguna Silva and Pablo Urrutia Aviles on January 20;
Gonzalez had been badly beaten by the two soldiers on November
22, 1985.
— Tomas Reyes Gutierrez died while in the custody of the
DGSE. In January the Permanent Commission on Human Rights
(CPDH) , Nicaragua's only independent human rights group,
received a complaint concerning his murder, following his
detention on suspicion of having links with the resistance.
Reyes had been shot several times and his body showed evidence
of torture and mutilation.
— Juan Pablo Pineda, an evangelical minister, was killed
while under arrest by a two-man patrol in November 1985,
although the case was not made public by the Government until
January 1986. One of the perpetrators was arrested, according
to authorities, while the other escaped.
— A farmer and his wife in Nueva Guinea were reported by
neighbors to have been killed by an army patrol in October
after admitting to having given food to the armed opposition.
— Two members of the military were shot "while trying to
escape," one after being arrested for desertion and the other
after shooting Belgian agricultural adviser Paul Dessers .
Although Dessers was killed at a spot identified by local
residents as a routine Army checkpoint, the Government
publicly claimed he had been shot by a soldier "recently"
discovered to have ties to mercenaries.
In addition to the above persons, 23 others were reported to
have been summarily executed by military or security forces.
There also were numerous unconfirmed reports of murders of
civilians in isolated rural areas by the Sandinista military.
Although names, places, and in many cases dates of death and
names of the perpetrators are available, it has not been
possible to verify the allegations.
The Government has been accused of siommarily executing
prisoners taken during combat. An example was a wounded
resistance combatant who was sprayed with machine gun fire by
Sandinista militia following an attack on the military
headquarters at El Nispero.
In the 5 years of civil war, only 600 to 650 resistance
combatants have been identified as coming to trial before the
Popular Anti-Somocista Tribunals (TPA's), special courts
created to try political crimes. This figure compares to the
Government's claimed total for resistance combat deaths of
16,000 as of July 1986, with 4,000 allegedly killed in 1986
alone. While it is not possible to determine the numbers of
resistance prisoners being held by the Sandinistas (or the
actual number of resistance combatants killed in fighting),
allegations have been made by refugees and defectors that
resistance prisoners are being held without the formality of a
TPA trial or have been executed without trial while in
Sandinista custody.
According to the Government, about 1,000 civilians were killed
by the resistance in 1986. Independent verification of the
combatant status of victims, of the number of civilian deaths
attributable to the resistance, and of the number that
constituted deliberate as opposed to inadvertent killings is
virtually impossible since the Government controls access to
sites of alleged killings and the dissemination of pertinent
Determining the number of civilian casualties is complicated
by the Government's practice of tasking persons engaged
primarily in civilian occupations with additional defense
responsibilities. The Government consistently withholds
information on the military or paramilitary functions of
victims, publicizing only their alleged civilian status.
Charges against the resistance during 1986 included the
following incidents:
— On July 3, the official Nicaragua press reported that a
civilian truck had struck a mine placed by the resistance,
killing 32 civilians. Resistance headq^aarters was
simultaneously informed that a grenade thrown by a Sandinista
unit at resistance fighters had struck a passing truck, causing
an explosion that resulted in the deaths of 31 civilians.
There is no evidence available to confirm either version of
the event .
— On July 28, the Sandinista media reported the deaths of
five persons in a "contra" ambush of two official vehicles.
Two victims were reported as Nicaraguan Sandinista Party
militants and three as "internationalists." Documents
recovered from the bodies indicated that at least four and
probably all five were Europeans. Three carried Ministry of
Interior permits for AK-47 assault rifles and pistols; one
carried a document identifying him as a Sandinista official
and a photo in which he wore a Sandinista military uniform.
— On May 17, eight West Germans were taken prisoner by
the resistance after an attack on an agricultural cooperative.
They were captured in a military barracks attached to the
project. Some, according to the resistance unit, were
uniformed and armed. Despite intensive efforts by the West
German Government and the Nicaraguan Democratic Forces (FDN),
the main armed resistance group, to reach an agreement with
the Sandinistas for their safe release, their captivity
continued for 25 days. The Sandinistas objected to various
conditions, including handing over the prisoners to an
independent third party. During that period, the Sandinista
army pursued the group closely, repeatedly opening fire. The
prisoners were released June 10 into the custody of a local
Moravian Church. In their statements to the press, the
released captives complained that they had to sleep on the
ground and walk long distances, and that their captors fired
rifles into the air or near them to keep them on the move.
— Sandinista authorities reported that the resistance
attacked a bus October 14, killing 2 civilians and wounding
32. Witnesses, including a journalist, reported that a
Sandinista soldier had opened fire on a resistance combatant
who had stopped the bus looking for Sandinista military,
setting off a panicked barrage of return fire by the unit.
— On October 20, a vehicle reportedly struck a mine in
northern Nicaragua that the Government claimed was placed by
the resistance. Five or six civilians were said to have been
killed. There is no independent information to confirm the
Government's allegation.
— On November 11, a resistance unit attacked a militia
command post at El Nispero, in southern Nicaragua. The
Government blamed the resistance for the death of seven
civilians and the wounding of six, portraying the action as a
brutal attack on civilians. A report by a foreign journalist
indicated that all but one of the deaths were inadvertent
casualties. The resistance unit denied the reporter's claim
that it had slit the throat of a 1-year-old child. In a
detailed account of the engagement, they stated that the child
and its mother had been killed by blind fire while they hid in
a small hut attached to the command post. The mother was the
sister of one of the resistance combatants.
— On November 20, the Government reported that "contras"
had attacked a "caravan of civilian vehicles" from the Ministry
of Construction, killing three civilians and kidnapping seven,
including a Swedish aid worker. Subsec[uent inquiries from the
foreign press revealed that three Ministry of Interior
soldiers had been killed in the ambush, no kidnapings had
occurred, and no foreign aid workers were involved. The
Ministry of Defense attributed the original report to
"confusion. "
— Government authorities alleged that the "contras" had
ambushed a civilian vehicle November 13, killing five
civilians, including the vice president of the Sandinista
Cattlemen's Union (UNAG) . The group reportedly was traveling
in a military vehicle; victims included both civilians and
soldiers, and all passengers were armed with assault rifles
and pistols .
In many cases, civilian casualties are sustained in the course
of combat. In every instance, the Government declares such
casualties a result of resistance fire. The likelihood of
unnecessary civilian deaths is significantly increased by the
Government's deliberate policy of transporting civilians, in
military convoys, which are key targets for resistance units,
and of arming persons in civilian occupations and tasking them
with military responsibilities. The Government announced, for
example, that half of the 10,000 coffee pickers in Military
Region VI had been armed and had received military training.
Armed harvesters included members of the Sandinista Youth
described as occupying the "second defensive echelon. .. after
the irregular warfare troops... the permanent territorial
troops, and the territorial militia." Newspapers also have
printed photographs of uniformed and partially uniformed
members of "harvest brigades" who are virtually
indistinguishable from regular array troops. On January 11,
Daniel Ortega distributed land titles and rifles to communal
farmers. The Manuel Escobar Shock Brigade, which will be sent
to build bridges and roads in northern Zelaya, consists of
youths described as members of the Army reserve, militarily
experienced, and "ready to work with a rifle at their
shoulder." Brigade members shown in a photo accompanying the
press announcement of its formation were uniformed, and the 61
members were said to be prepared to act as "soldiers" if
The same ambiguity characterizes the agricultural cooperatives
frequently targeted by the resistance. Although the
Sandinistas internationally publicize these settlements as
strictly civilian enterprises, the claim is demonstrably
false. The agricultural cooperatives in combat regions were
conceived and developed as "links in the system of territorial
defense." The units are guarded by militia or regular
military personnel. The civilian workers also carry out
military functions and receive routine military training by
the Army. The system was publicly announced as a strategy for
replacing individual farmers in combat areas — many of whom
were proresistance — with armed pro-Sandinista cooperatives in
order to deny a base of popular support to the resistance.
Such cooperatives generally have both civilian and military
functions .
Other deaths charged to the resistance by the Government are
allegedly caused by mines. Although Sandinista Defense
Minister Humberto Ortega publicly stated that the Government
has placed thousands of mines in border areas, the Government
has consistently attributed deaths of civilians caused by
mines to the resistance.
b. Disappearance
As in previous years, many disappearances reported in
Nicaragua are a result of the Government's policy of holding
prisoners in jails distant from their homes, concealing or
denying their arrests, and failing to notify family members of
arrest. Other persons disappear and are not seen alive
again. CPDH reported 22 cases of unresolved disappearances
attributed to the Government by the end of October 1986.
The Government in 1986 charged the resistance with several
hundred kidnapings, not including the 11,000 Indians said by
the Sandinistas to have been "kidnaped" in March 1986 by a few
hundred Indian resistance fighters. This raises the total of
such "kidnapings" attributed to the resistance since 1979 to
688. While it is certain that the resistance has taken
civilian prisoners, the exact number is not known. The main
armed resistance group, the FDN, has published a list of
approximately 70 prisoners. FDN leaders have sought to
release prisoners to the International Cotranittee of the Red
Cross (ICRC), but no agreement has been reached on a prisoner
release. The Government press routinely publicizes cases of
"mass amnesties" of persons who publicly claim to have been
with the resistance under force and to have escaped or to have
been "liberated" by the Sandinista military.
Resistance commanders claim to have instituted a system of
choice for persons taken prisoner, under which they may remain
as a prisoner, fight with the resistance, or return to their
homes. According to unit leaders, most opt to return home.
In order to prevent false charges of execution of prisoners,
resistance units try to release their prisoners only to third
parties who are able to provide transportation out of combat
areas for those who are freed. In practice, this appears to
mean stopping passing motorists to request their assistance.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Reports of the beating of political prisoners and intense
"psychological torture" by government authorities are common,
and conditions in prisons not open to public inspection are
consistently reported to be dehumanizing. The Government
appears to have a deliberate policy of degrading political
prisoners and undermining their will to resist. Reports by
former political prisoners and three letters smuggled out of
prisons during 1986 commonly include references to such
violations as mock executions; death threats against
themselves and their families; false reports by interrogators
of the torture and death of prisoners' families; deprivation
of food, water, and sleep; immersion in barrels of cold water
for days at a time; other forms of sometimes severe physical
abuse; and sexual molestation. At the DGSE prison in Esteli,
prisoners are reportedly hung by their thumbs and beaten.
In at least the Zona Franca prison, inmates are reported to be
punished by being placed in the "sucker," an old truck body
sealed and exposed to the sun. Prisoners thus confined for
more than a few hours suffer extreme dehydration. There are
also recurring reports of underground prison cells for
isolation of prisoners. Both defectors and ex-prisoners have
also reported the use of dogs for terror ization of prisoners
during interrogation. Canine teams reportedly were brought
originally from Cuba to Nicaragua; dogs are now bred there and
trained for use by the Ministry of Interior.
Prisons are said by former inmates to be severely overcrowded
and filthy. In DGSE prisons, allegedly the worst in
Nicaragua's prison system, as many as 20 people may be kept in
a cell designed for 4. A single bucket or a hole in the
ground generally is the only sanitary facility. Bathing is
rarely permitted, and even drinking water is severely
rationed. In some cases, prisoners are prohibited from
speaking with their cellmates on threat of punishment. Cells
are ventilated only by a tiny shaft, and prisoners are
disoriented by the manipulation of light. Food is limited to
inadequate quantities of rice and beans, often contaminated by
dirt and insects. Prisoners and detainees are interrogated
while hooded or while seated on the floor with their heads
between their legs. Recalcitrant prisoners are beaten by
guards or, sometimes, by other fellow prisoners employed for
that purpose. Prisoners also have reported beatings, denial
of food or visits, removal to DGSE prisons, and exposure to
homosexual rape as so-called disciplinary measures.
Prisoners' families are also abused by the system. Visits are
brief and infrequent — generally no more than once every
3 months — and denial of prisoners' visitation rights is a
commonly used punishment in the penitentiary system. Prison
authorities have also been reported to demand sexual favors
from family members in exchange for visiting privileges.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Nicaraguan Government continues to arrest and detain
thousands of citizens on vague charges of counterrevolutionary
involvement. With the denial of the right to habeas corpus to
those charged with "political" crimes., mass arrests of
suspected resistance supporters or sympathizers have become
increasingly common. Suspects are often held for several
months without charge and without access to counsel .
Arbitrary short-term arrest and interrogation is a key element
in the Government's harassment of the civilian opposition.
As of September 1986, the Government had announced the
detention of over 3,000 people on suspicion of involvement in
"counterrevolution." It is unknown how many of those detained
remain in Sandinista custody. Another 2,300 people were
detained and then released and granted amnesty for similar
crimes. In early 1986, over 200 Catholic "Delegates of the
Word" were arrested in the Nueva Guinea area. Almost 100
members of the Autonomous Nicaraguan Workers Confederation
(CTN-A) were arrested at the same time. In the largest single
operation announced by the Government, 1,500 persons were
reported arrested during a 2-week period in March in the Rio
Coco de Matagalpa area. The Government press reported 518
people arrested in February, 250 arrested in the Rama-Nueva
Guinea area in March, and another 328 detained in May. On at
least one occasion, in March in El Jicote, the entire male
population of a village was detained on suspicion of
counterrevolutionary involvement .
Even though accused of being "couriers" or "collaborators"
with the resistance, few of those detained are officially
charged. For example, of the 49 CTN-A labor activists still
imprisoned, only 1 has been formally charged. Based on
reports from persons released from Sandinista prisons,
detainees often are held for 3 or 4 months for interrogation,
and then are either released, granted amnesty, or remanded to
the TPA's for trial as a counterrevolutionary. At any given
time, between 1,500 and 3,000 persons are being held in this
fashion without charge or trial.
Harassing detentions of shorter duration are also common.
These detentions, invariably of persons active in or known to
be sympathetic to the opposition, may last from a few hours to
a few weeks. The common view of those subjected to this
treatment is that the aim is to create generalized fear of the
Government's powers of retribution and its ability to discover
details of both private and public activity. Among opposition
members detained were; Ricardo Martinez of the Nicaraguan
Workers Confederation (CTN); PSC Revolutionary Youth leader
Fanor Avendano; Humberto Urbina of the PSC; and Bayardo
Guzman, Vice President of the Liberal Independent Party (PLI).
The total prison population (prisoners and detainees) in
Nicaragua has been estimated by ex-prisoners and former prison
officials to be as high as 20,000. A more common estimate,
however, is around 15,000. This figure includes common
criminals and political prisoners, including former National
Guardsmen. Government figures show an increase of 50 percent
in the prison population in the last 2 years, and there has
been a fourfold expansion in prison space since the
Sandinistas came to power. It is estimated that there are
from 8,000 to 10,000 political prisoners and detainees.
Formal exile has not been commonly used by the Sandinista
Government, although members of the business community have
reported death threats against themselves and their families,
which they believe are indirect attempts to force them into
"voluntary" exile. In 1986, however, the Government exiled
two leading opponents. On June 28, Father Bismarck Carballo,
a Catholic priest and spokesman for the Nicaraguan Church, was
prevented from returning to Nicaragua. Carballo was a
frequent target of Sandinista media attacks and other forms of
abuse. The Government justified the exile as retaliation for
Carballo's alleged "lobbying" in Washington for U.S. support
for the armed opposition.
By contrast, DGSE agents forcibly removed the Bishop of
Juigalpa, Pablo Antonio Vega, from his residence, flying him
to the Honduran border where he was released to Honduran
authorities. Vega's exile capped several weeks of tension
brought on by his criticism of the Sandinistas' domestic
policies. The Nicaraguan Government announced that Vega was
exiled for his support of the "contras.
Prohibitions on the use of compulsory or forced labor are
among the rights and guarantees of Nicaraguan citizens.
Although there were recurring rumors during 1986 of the use of
involuntary prisoner labor, none of those charges has been
confirmed. The Government does, however, exert pressures on
students and government employees to "volunteer" labor for
such tasks as coffee harvesting. There have been numerous
credible reports that failure to participate in such
ostensibly voluntary labor results in expulsion from schools
and other forms of reprisal.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Nicaragua has three court systems: the civil and criminal
courts of the Ministry of Justice; the Sandinista Police
Courts of the Ministry of Interior; and the TPA's. While
Sandinista adherents dominate each of these systems, the TPA
is the most clearly politicized. The TPA is reserved for
trial of political and armed opponents of the regime and lacks
basic elements of due process. Defense lawyers are seriously
.restricted in access to their clients and are largely blocked
by procedural impediments from presenting a meaningful
defense. Trials as a rule are conducted in secret, and the
admissibility of evidence is heavily weighted in favor of the
prosecution. Reportedly, most convictions are based on
"confessions" obtained in secret interrogations, during which
torture and psychological abuse are commonly used. The
decision of the TPA can be appealed only in its own appellate
court — the Nicaraguan Supreme Court cannot intervene. The
combined judge and jury generally consists of two Sandinista
militants, generally without legal expertise, and a third
member who usually is a former judge or a former employee of
the Ministry of Justice. As of July 1986, 376 prisoners had
been convicted by the TPA's. Government figures and estimates
from human rights organizations show that at least 1,371
persons have been tried by the TPA's since their inception.
Only 90 defendants have been found innocent, for a conviction
rate of over 90 percent.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Sandinista Government does not recognize the right to
privacy and the inviolability of the home and correspondence,
the suspension of which was reaffirmed in the October 1985
declaration of a state of emergency. The telephones of most
opposition activists or those who maintain contact with the
diplomatic community are tapped, and correspondence,
especially from abroad, is examined. Surveillance of
Government opponents at all levels is routine. The DGSE has
established networks of informers in every town and
neighborhood, using agents from Sandinista mass organizations
and, when possible, former detainees who provide it
information under duress. "Revolutionary vigilance," the
special task of the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS's),
involves monitoring the population for indications of
anti-Sandinista sentiment; they report the activities,
statements, and visitors of persons identified by DGSE as
opponents .
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and of the press are severely restricted in
Nicaragua. Government or pro-Sandinista ownership of most of
the mass media and strict censorship of the few remaining
private radio stations ensure that unauthorized opinions do
not reach Nicaraguans through these media. A few independent
publications of limited distribution still exist, such as the
monthly reports of the CPDH and the newsletters of some
opposition parties and business organizations. Efforts to
publish more have been met with threats to confiscate printing
presses. The political point of view of any form of mass
communication continues to be the criterion by which the
Government judges its permissibility.
In 1986 there were three major cases of the violation of
freedom of speech and press. They were the closure of Radio
Catolica on January 2 allegedly for failure to broadcast the
first half of President Ortega's New Year's Day speech; the
banning of the opposition daily. La Prensa, in June; and the
conviction of seven journalists for writing "counter-
revolutionary articles" for Honduran newspapers. The 7 were
convicted by the TPA's and sentenced to 10 years each in
prison, a sentence upheld by the TPA appellate division in
Both La Prensa and Radio Catolica had been subjected to severe
and arbitrary censorship prior to their closure. The
democratic opposition and the Catholic Church now have no
means of mass communication.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Sandinistas limit the freedom of assembly and association
to FSLN or government-approved organizations. Groups not
affiliated in some way with the State or the ruling party
usually find efforts to carry out meetings of any size
routinely frustrated. Smaller meetings are more often
tolerated. All groups and organizations must register and
receive government recognition in order to function as a legal
entity. All outdoor public assemblies must receive prior
authorization from the police. In what was later dismissed as
an error by the FSLN, a meeting of the officially recognized
faction of the Conservative Party to discuss the draft
constitution was broken up by the police in January.
The freedom not to associate is also being violated. The
Sandinistas have created various FSLN-af filiated mass
organizations, membership in which, while ostensibly
voluntary, is frequently a prerequisite for access to basic
goods and services. Everyone is expected to belong to a CDS,
which exercises control over access to subsidized food stores,
often the only source of affordable staples for the average
Nicaraguan. The CDS also issues letters of recommendation for
those seeking government jobs, without which such employment
is often difficult to obtain, and controls access to medical
care, housing, and education. Those refusing to participate
in CDS functions are often denied these scarce commodities or
services. Membership in Sandinista unions and student
organizations is also more obligatory than voluntary. Failure
to join such organizations often results in some form of
retribution such as expulsion from school, loss of employment,
and, on occasion, harassment and detention.
The three independent labor confederations continued to face
strong pressure from the Sandinistas in 1986. Many members
have been harassed and others arrested or threatened with
death because of their membership. There have also been
reports of DGSE intimidation aimed at obtaining members'
cooperation as informants. Members of independent
agricultural unions in Ocotal in April reported receiving
threats from Sandinista authorities to evict them from their
land because of their refusal to leave the Confederation of
Labor Unity (CUS), an organization affiliated with the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Over 200 members of the CUS, the Nicaraguan Workers
Confederation (affiliated with the Latin American Labor
Central, CLAT), and the CTN-A were arrested in 1986. Some of
those arrested were released within a few days, others after
several months, and some remain imprisoned. Most were
arrested on charges of counterrevolutionary activity, although
one group of 14 was arrested on charges of theft. In many
cases, no charges have been made known, either to the public
or to the detainees. The Chichigalpa headquarters of the CUS
were seized in April by members of the Sandinista Youth
Organization, led by Ministry of Interior officers. The
house, badly vandalized, was returned several months later as
a result of strong international pressure. In March the DGSE
also carried out a raid on CUS offices at the San Antonio
sugar mill. CUS members who had formed their own agricultural
cooperative were denied supplies and materials from the state
agricultural store, ostensibly open to all, and had their
crops destroyed when Sandinista officials drove tractors over
planted fields.
Under the state of emergency, Nicaraguan workers enjoy neither
the right to strike nor the right to organize. All activities
of independent labor organizations thus can be treated as
illegal by the authorities, who can move against them
virtually at will. Members of independent unions risk loss of
employment and denial of access to scarce goods and services,
as well as face harsher forms of punishment. Nevertheless,
labor recruitment by the independent trade unions has been
aided by the declining economic situation, the failure of the
Government to pay state workers a living wage, and the
ineffectiveness of government-controlled unions to represent
worker interests. Even among official labor organizations,
however, there have been demonstrations of discontent with
government policies. Several wildcat strikes by members of
government unions at government-owned plants in 1986 were
suppressed and strikers fired and jailed. One such incident
occurred at a state-owned clothing factory, another at the
state-owned brewery, and a third in the state airline,
Aeronica .
Private and professional organizations still exist in
Nicaragua, but they are increasingly demoralized as a result
of continuing harassment and pressure from the authorities.
They have further suffered from the flight of professionals
and businessmen from the country. The Confederation of
Professional Associations of Nicaragua, a private professional
organization umbrella group, has opted to abandon political
confrontation as membership has fallen, and restrictions on
activities have increased. The Superior Council for Private
Enterprise, the umbrella business organization, has also
experienced organizational and morale problems.
Among the most intensely targeted of the private sector
organizations in 1986 have been the private cattlemen's
groups. This sector of the business community reported
throughout 1986 fairly consistent pressure from the
Government, including surveillance of members and officers,
threats to life, threatened and actual confiscation of
property, and imprisonment. One member of the Managua
Cattlemen's Association abruptly departed Nicaragua because of
the intensity of the threats against him and his family.
Another cattlemen's association in August reported that 150
members had been arrested since November 1985, none of whom
had been released.
Along with repression of opposition activities, the
Sandinistas have established state-controlled organizations
paralleling those in the private sector. Sandinista-
affiliated entities enjoy significant advantages over their
private counterparts, including ready access to scarce
resources, to the media, to officially funded travel abroad
for representational purposes, and to visiting groups
sponsored by proregime solidarity organizations. The
expanding circle of FSLN fronts includes labor, religious,
cultural, and even "private enterprise" associations.
c. Freedom of Religion
Eighty-five percent of the Nicaraguan people are Roman
Catholics. The remainder belong to various Protestant
denominations, including Moravians, Anglicans, Baptists, and
Evangelicals. There were no reports received in 1986 of the
disruption of church services, although broadcasts by
religious radio stations were subject to prior censorship. In
general, government retribution against the religious faithful
is reserved for those who are vocal opponents of government
policies. Catholic Charismatics and Protestant Evangelicals
appear to be at particular risk.
The Catholic Church, as the most influential defender of the
rights of Nicaraguans, sustained a steady assault on its
institutions during the first half of 1986, although attacks
on religious believers were less severe than in November and
December 1985 when numerous reports were received of
interrogation, short-term detention, and longer-term
imprisonment of Catholic lay workers. One Catholic activist,
Juan Tor rente, was arrested in Nueva Guinea in late December
1985 and died in February of complications from beatings he
received while in detention. Catholic priests were also
victims of Government harassment: dozens were summoned for
interrogation where they were photographed and fingerprinted.
Several of the priests also reported physical abuse.
Throughout the year the Catholic Church was on warning that
foreign priests working in Nicaragua would be deported if they
continued to engage in activities perceived by the Government
to be "political." The threat was sharpened on January 14
when Minister of Interior Tomas Borge announced in an
interview in Mexico's El Dia that no new foreign priests would
be permitted entry into Nicaragua to fill vacancies created by
expulsions of priests already in the country. Even those
tangentially affiliated with the Church were subject to
The DGSE arrested an administrator of the social services
agency, along with a director of a Church Parochial Board, in
November 1985. The same month, the religion editor of La
Prensa, Norman Talavera, was arrested and held 5 days for
interrogation concerning his involvement with the Catholic
Church and his relations with Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo.
The Cardinal was twice denied permission by the Government to
celebrate mass, once at a local health clinic and once for
Managua's market women on Mothers Day. In January the
Catholic Church radio facilities were permanently closed in an
armed raid by the DGSE; in April all copies of a church
bulletin were ordered turned over to the DGSE. The same month
the Ministry of Justice issued a decree declaring the Managua
Archdiocesan Commission for Social Promotion (COPROSA) an
illicit organization.
These substantive attacks on the Church were accompanied by a
harsh campaign against the Church hierarchy in the government-
controlled and pro-Sandinista media. Father Carballo and
Bishop Vega were denied the right to reside in Nicaragua. In
September an American priest with 12 years' pastoral work in
Nicaragua was denied reentry to the country after a visit to
the United States. His residence permit was confiscated.
After interventions from various Church authorities, the
priest was allowed to return to Nicaragua. In December a
Salvadoran priest and longtime resident of Nicaragua, Father
Gregorio Landaverde Flores, was denied reentry after returning
from studies in Colombia.
Attacks on Evangelicals and other Protestant denominations
continued during 1986. In August an Assembly of God church
under construction in Managua was stormed by a mob led by FSLN
and CDS officials and completely destroyed. The mob had been
recruited from another neighborhood and arrived wielding axes,
shovels, and crowbars. During the destruction, a 16-year old
boy was struck in the head with a rock, leaving him in
critical condition. Despite initial promises from the FSLN
that the damage would be paid for and the guilty parties
punished, church officials were later summoned to the DGSE and
warned that they were prohibited indefinitely from conducting
religious services.
In August Moravian Church ministers in Puerto Cabezas reported
that they had been placed under town arrest by Sandinista
authorities, and that a meeting of church ministers, scheduled
for late August on Corn Island, was canceled on government
orders. It has not been possible to confirm these allegations
because of the Government's strict control of travel to the
Atlantic Coast. Several hundred Evangelicals were reported in
the government press to have been detained in May in the
Matagalpa region of Nicaragua, and another 100 were detained
in the Zelaya region in February. All were rounded up in the
Government's counter insurgency campaign.
Neither Nicaraguan law nor the r-v Constitution provide for
exemption from military conscription on the ground of
conscientious objection. There has been no further
conscription of seminarians since 1985, and Catholic priests
have never been conscripted, reportedly due to a concordat
with the Vatican. However, in a November speech. President
Ortega stated that seminarians "have to do their military
service." He singled out only bishops as specifically exempt
from military service, leaving in question the status of
ordinary priests. The Government has not exempted clergy of
other faiths from conscription, and the conscription law is
applied to conscientious objectors.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Freedom of movement is restricted. Travel out of Nicaragua
now requires a passport and exit visa. The Government limits
some opposition leaders to single-exit visas only. Both
passports and visas are now frequently denied to draft-age
males, professionals whose skills the Government wishes to
retain, and political opponents whose travels are considered
inimical to government interests. The Government has
announced several times that the CDS would be charged with
preventing people from moving into Managua from other areas,
and there have been several incidents where a local CDS has
destroyed partially constructed houses before owners could
establish residence.
Forced resettlement is a key element in the Government's
counterinsurgency strategy, as suggested in a government
publication which refers to resettlement camps as "part of a
defensive chain that contributes to the strategic defeat of
the FDN." The purpose of the camps is to deny the resistance
a base of popular support in rural Nicaragua and to protect
those loyal to the FSLN. The Government admits to having
relocated 204,057 people, but the number of resettled persons
may be as high as 300,000. There have been reports of
brutality used against persons who have refused to leave their
homes, and crops reportedly have been destroyed as the
population is moved out. Relocated Nicaraguans are placed in
cooperatives where their economic activity comes under
government control.
There were no reports of refugees forcibly repatriated from
Nicaragua in 1986. According to the United Nations High
Commissioner on Refugees, 800 Salvadorans were repatriated
during the year. Many chose to leave because of deteriorating
conditions in the country, but in general the treatment of
refugees in Nicaragua has been good.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Governnient
Thirteen political parties coexist with the FSLN in Nicaragua,
most of which are opposed to the Government. Nevertheless,
the FSLN dominates Nicaraguan political life and has moved
rapidly to expand and consolidate its control of the country's
political structure. The FSLN openly describes itself as
Nicaragua's "vanguard," committed to the "socialist
transformation" of the country's socioeconomic foundation.
The FSLN permeates the Government: it has total control over
official resources from the national level down to the
village, and it has moved increasingly to expand party-state
control over privately owned resources as well. Political
power in Nicaragua is concentrated in the nine-man FSLN
National Directorate. As in other Marxist-Leninist parties,
power flows from this small group downward to lower party
structures: the Sandinista Party Assembly, the various FSLN
organizational departments, and the regional party cadres.
The FSLN essentially formulates national policy, which is
implemented by the Government. Membership in the party and
nomination to key government positions is determined by the
degree of demonstrated loyalty to Sandinista ideology and
goals, and increasingly there is a pattern of interlocking
FSLN-Government authority. Although the government
bureaucracy in general continues to be staffed by persons who
are not members of the FSLN, real power is closely held by the
Sandinista militants. The various mass organizations
affiliated with the FSLN function chiefly as instruments for
public control and indoctrination.
Opposition groups in Nicaragua that have refused to come to an
accommodation with the FSLN are the focus of a continuing
campaign of repression aimed at limiting their membership,
weakening their internal cohesion, and isolating them from
external support. Members of the opposition are routinely
threatened, denied access to goods and services, interrogated,
detained, arrested, and harassed by other means. The
government strategy of identifying the civil opposition from
all sectors as internal fronts for the armed resistance is a
constant theme of the government-controlled press and media.
Opposition leaders also report taunts from the DGSE that their
names are on a list of those to be imprisoned or killed at
some unspecified point in the future. The Government uses the
armed opposition as a rationale for further actions to
suppress domestic dissent, thereby accelerating a process the
opposition considers inevitable.
All genuine political opposition activity is a target for
repression, but those organizations engaged in activities
focused on mobilization of grass-roots support are the chief
victims. The Social Christian Party and the Independent
Liberal Party (PLI) have suffered the most from the punitive
measures of State Security. The PSC has come in for the most
violent abuse: three of its members were killed by Sandinista
authorities in 1986. Thirty-five PLI activists were arrested
in May on charges of conspiracy in an "internal front," and in
September, Party Vice President Bayardo Guzman was arrested
and held incommunicado for 2 weeks.
A member of the National Assembly, Conservative Felix Pedro
Espinosa, was punished for his outspoken opposition to the
Government from the Assembly floor and in his public
statements. He was charged by the Government with arson for
the burning of his own property. Although the arrest warrant
for the alleged arsonists was dated the day prior to the
crime, and the Conservatives charged that a confession was
obtained by torture. Assembly President Carlos Nunez dismissed
the objections, stripped Espinosa of his legislative immunity,
and ordered him to stand trial. In mid-July Espinosa took
refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy, where he remains.
One of the most common tactics used by the Government in
undermining opposition strength is its use of agents to
infiltrate organizations for the purpose of reporting internal
developments and stimulating frictions and factionalism. DGSE
approaches to various opposition members for this purpose,
using threats or inducements, have been reported in virtually
every opposition organization.
A somewhat different approach was taken with the Social
Democrats. The FSLN not only infiltrated the party — one
high-ranking PSD leader confessed his role to party leaders in
1986 — but sought to discredit the PSD leadership. For
instance, a DGSE agent delivered to party headquarters
"secret" documents, "found on a bus," indicating that Luis
Rivas Leiva, party president, was a Sandinista agent; Rivas
Leiva was abroad at the time. A few days later, several
uniformed DGSE officials called to demand the return of the
documents, saying that they had been misdelivered .
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government of Nicaragua has allowed a number of
international human rights organizations to visit the country
and has responded to inquiries from the United Nations Human
Rights Commission and the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights. It has not, however, allowed the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights to visit. That organization, in
its most recent report, cited the "lack of cooperation" of the
Government of Nicaragua and expressed its "deep frustration."
In general the Government approaches human rights
investigations as potential instruments of propaganda. Its
treatment of independent investigations depends largely on how
useful they are perceived to be. Some independent groups have
worked closely with the Government, accepting government
assistance and reportedly deliberately ignoring information on
government human rights abuses. Others have adopted largely
uncritical attitudes toward government-disseminated reporting,
despite firsthand information from key government defectors on
the Sandinistas' routine use of falsification and deception to
deflect human rights inquiries from international
organizations. The CPDH, the only independent human rights
group in Nicaragua, suffers from continuous harassment and is
protected from closure and arrest of its personnel only by
international interest. The Government has attempted to
censor CPDH monthly reports and refuses to answer CPDH
inquiries into alleged government abuses. The ICRC visits
some prisons in Nicaragua, but along with all other human
rights organizations or investigative bodies, it is denied
access to any DGSE prison.
Until October 1985, the Archdiocese of Managua had its own
organization for monitoring human rights affairs as well as
for providing certain social welfare services. COPROSA was
closed at that time, and all its functions declared illegal in
April 1986. The Nicaraguan branch of the Catholic Church's
human rights organization. Peace and Justice, which shared the
COPROSA premises, was never reestablished after the October
The International League for Human Rights, in its July 1986
report, "Human Rights Defenders in Nicaragua", roundly
criticized the Government of Nicaragua for its harsh
restrictions on and outright closing of nongovernment human
rights organizations.
Until July, when it was disbanded, the United Nicaraguan
Opposition's Human Rights Commission (UNO/CDH) was tasked with
investigations into charges against the resistance. Impeded
by its inability to gain access to sites of alleged abuses, to
evidence, and to witnesses, UNO/CDH was unsuccessful in
establishing an objective basis for confirmation or rebuttal
of the charges disseminated by the Nicaraguan Government. In
most cases, the organization was able only to interrogate
persons who had participated in combat in which violations
were said to have occurred. UNO/CDH generally was able to
carry out satisfactory investigations only of incidents
relating to abuses committed within the resistance itself.
Persons found guilty were punished with imprisonment and/or
expulsion from the forces.
In November a new human rights monitoring organization
commenced operation. This organization, the Nicaraguan
Association for Human Rights (NAHR) , is independent of
UNO/CDH, although funded by the U.S. Government. The basic
objectives of the NAHR are the prevention and investigation of
human rights violations by the Nicaraguan armed resistance.
It will also interview Nicaraguan refugees to gain information
on Sandinista abuses.
NAHR is responsible for a comprehensive human rights
instruction program for resistance combatants. NAHR staff
have visited prisoners of the FDN and are actively seeking an
international organization to assist in returning them to
Nicaragua or to other nations willing to accept them. The
NAHR will investigate complaints of abuses and report on their
findings. The NAHR has reported that the armed resistance has
been cooperative and receptive to NAHR's inquiries and
programs .
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Nicaragua's minorities, mostly Indians and blacks, are
concentrated on the country's Atlantic Coast. The largest of
the Indian tribes, the Miskito, and others such as the Sumo
and Rama, have suffered from violent attempts by the
Sandinistas to force the indigenous population into conformity
with the ideals of the State. The official policy of
repression and violence against the Indians, which became
apparent in early 1981, has led to the exodus of more than
one-third of the Indian population of Nicaragua. The
officially registered Indian refugee population in the
Honduran Mosquitia alone was approximately 20,000 by the end
of the year. Despite the Government's current effort to
project a conciliatory image, the use of force against Miskito
civilians continued during 1986. The most conspicuous
violation of Indian rights occurred in March when elements of
the EPS opened fire on villages along the Rio Coco, panicking
11,000 to 12,000 Indians into flight to the Honduran
Mosquitia. Several thousand of the Indian refugees in
Honduras, however, reportedly have since returned to their
homes .
Women are not subject to any special restrictive measures by
the Government and are to be found participating actively in
most levels of government and of society. However, the
revolution has not succeeded in significantly changing the
cultural constraints faced by women in Nicaraguan society.
Children under the age of 14 are not legally permitted to
work. However, Ministry of Labor officials adroit that, due to
problems of enforcement, the prohibition on child labor is
often disregarded in the countryside. The AFL-CIO in November
reported that child labor is "widespread" in the country. In
that same report, the AFL-CIO also criticized the inadequate
health and safety measures in place in Nicaragua for the
protection of workers.
Under the National Organizational System for Work and Salaries
(SNOTS), minimum and maximum salaries have been established
for all of Nicaragua's salaried employees working in the
public and private sectors. Agricultural workers have not
been incorporated into SNOTS, and most are paid on a piecework
basis (e.g., the amount of coffee or cotton picked). For
those who labor in the fields daily, however, a minimum wage
per task plus a daily food allowance have been established.
Although those rates were raised in 1986, the increases did
not offset the country's serious inflation, and the standard
of living for the average Nicaraguan worker continued its
decline .
Independent labor unions have protested the Government's
amendment of Article 22 of the Labor Code which eliminates
labor-management collective bargaining and replaces it with
the SNOTS system. The unions' major complaints are the
imposition of government criteria for wages and salaries, the
discontinuation of medical benefits, and the reduction of
Christmas bonuses.