Freedom for Irving Larios, illegally detained in Nicaragua
Freedom for Irving Larios, illegally detained in Nicaragua on 20 September.
On 20 September my friend and long-term collaborator, Irving Larios, became yet another political prisoner who has been illegally detained and incarcerated by the Nicaraguan dictatorship led by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Irving has been to Scotland twice, in 2018 and 2019, hosted by Scottish Solidarity with Nicaragua and the University of Edinburgh, where he has spoken about the political situation in Nicaragua as well the work of his NGO, INGES, on disaster risk reduction. In July this year, the Scottish government issued a statement on Nicaragua in which it condemned “the violence against peaceful protesters, arbitrary detentions, media restrictions, and the use of live ammunition” and called on the Nicaraguan government to “release all political prisoners immediately and without conditions.”
I first met Irving in the late 1990s through a mutual friend, Sadie Rivas, when the Sandinista Front for National Liberation, who was then in opposition had signed a pact with the ruling liberals which enabled them to divide up quotas of power. It was a time when many revolutionaries, Irving and Sadie included, who had fought against the Somoza dictatorship had become highly critical of the once revolutionary party for their verticalism, the lack of internal democracy, and the fact that the party leadership had access to benefits denied to the poor majority who were exhausted by the war, military conscription, the US-imposed trade embargo, and shortages of basic goods. We met for the second time at Sadie’s wake. Sadie had been tragically killed in a car accident in 1999, and Irving and I united in our grief at the loss of our beautiful and inspirational friend have been firm comrades ever since. My research and his rural development projects converged and over the years we have collaborated in Northern León, San Francisco Libre, and the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, as well as in Costa Rica where we worked on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) referendum. His commitment to social justice and in particular to trying to find innovative and less welfarist ways to get Nicaraguans out of rural poverty have never wavered. Over the past two decades, he has supported my research as well as that of my graduate students in ways that I can never repay, with transport, accommodation, food, introductions, and ideas.
Irving gained his political education in the Sandinista revolution. In 1977, when he was just 19 years old, his university education was cut short when he joined the ranks of the FSLN and was forced into clandestinity to evade capture by brutal Somoza dictatorship. After the triumph of the revolution, he worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs. He is one of the many prominent Sandinista revolutionaries, along with Sergio Ramírez, Dora María Téllez, Victor Hugo Tinoco, Mónica Baltodano, and Gioconda Belli, who became highly critical of the FSLN. Dora María and Victor Hugo are also currently in jail and the others are in exile. On 7 September, the government ordered the arrest of Sergio Ramírez, former vice-president in the early years of the Revolution and one of Nicaragua’s best-known writers. Sergio is currently away from Nicaragua but his home in Managua has been raided and his new novel, Tongale no sabe bailar, has been taken out of circulation in Nicaragua .
The FSLN returned to power in 2006 after 16 years in opposition and began to rule through a mixture of authoritarianism, alliances with big business, restrictions on press freedom, electoral fraud, and clientelist anti-poverty programmes, driven by an anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous politics. The repression enacted against critics of the regime escalated dramatically after a popular rebellion in April 2018, when more than 300 protestors were killed by government agents and nearly 700 became political prisoners. Thousands more went into exile fearing for their lives and have fought to rebuild Nicaraguan democracy from there. But Irving didn’t leave and has continued to denounce the human rights violations and work with various groups and networks including Reconstruimos Nicaragua and the Articulación de Movimientos Sociales to try and find a way out of the current impasse. In recent months, three years after the April 2018 rebellion and just before the presidential elections scheduled for 7 November, the repression has begun to escalate once again and has reached absurd proportions. In the past few months, the regime has arrested many of the critics of the government, on the right and the left, including all of the potential opposition presidential candidates who were hoping to run against Ortega in the coming elections. One of those arrested in June was Tamara Dávila, Sadie’s daughter, who was dragged away by police in front of her 5-year-old daughter and who is still in jail. As a new report by Human Rights Watch has clearly documented, the regime has engaged in practices of arbitrary detention on spurious grounds and fabricated charges without evidence, and political prisoners have been subject to horrendous conditions including prolonged solitary confinement, insufficient food, interrogation without legal counsel, and have denied visits from family members. Like many of the other political prisoners, Irving is detained on the basis of Law 1055, the “Law of Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”, passed last year as a means to go after opponents. According to yesterday’s press release from the National Police, Irving is being investigated for carrying out acts that undermine Nicaragua’s independence, sovereignty, and self-determination, for requesting military intervention, for the use of foreign funds to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization, for the promotion of trade sanctions, and for damaging the supreme interests of the nation.
Last month, INGES, the NGO that Irving created in the 1990s, was one of 15 NGOs stripped of their legal status. This entailed handing over all of their accounts and assets, including their vehicles and their premises where their offices were located, a house purchased for them many years ago by an Irish donation.
Irving has been strong and defiant for the past three years but after this attack and the forced dismantling of INGES and decades of work and commitment, he started to sound a little broken, as he tried to liquidate the organization in the short space of time demanded by the regime, lay off all his colleagues who are now unemployed, close ongoing projects that were bringing tangible benefits to rural communities and survivors of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, and deal with the constant intimidation. Everybody in Scottish Solidarity with Nicaragua demands his immediate release and that of all of Nicaragua’s political prisoners.
In November, Ortega, who has been president of Nicaragua for 26 of the last 42 years, will run unopposed, electoral participation will be low, and he will once again claim victory. Nicaragua deserves better.
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