REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN NICARAGUA
of the “on-site” observation in
Republic of Nicaragua
October 3 – 12, 1978)
Background Information on the On-Site Observation Carried Out by the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE IACHR IN RECENT YEARS
In light of a large body of complaints, communications and other data
alleging grave and repeated violations of human rights in Nicaragua, the
Commission decided during its 44th session, held in June, 1978, to
prepare a report on the situation of human rights in that country. One of the
most serious complaints received by the Commission concerned 338 peasants
captured by the National Guard between 1975 and 1977. Credible sources declared
that out of this group of campesinos, seventeen were finally released
after having been imprisoned without trial for 18 months; the remaining 321 were
never seen again and are presumed dead. These sources also declared that the
farms of these persons presumed dead were appropriated by members of the
National Guard, that the wives of many peasants were raped by members of the
Guard, and that the Guard committed many other serious crimes against the
campesino population of the surrounding rural area.
THE ASSASSINATION OF DR. PEDRO JOAQUÍN CHAMORRO AND THE EVENTS OF
Subsequent to the denunciation of these actions against the campesinos,
there occurred on January 10, 1978, the assassination of the well-known
journalist and political figure, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, under circumstances
that have yet to be clarified, an event that catalyzed a series of grave acts.
A crowd of approximately 50,000 persons escorted the body of Dr. Chamorro
from the Hospital Oriental to his residence; the next day serious disturbances
occurred, and numerous demonstrators threw rocks and set fires to several
business belonging to people linked to the Government. National Guard troops
opened fire on the demonstrators, leaving several wounded, and shot tear gas
into the offices of the La Prensa newspaper, where the body of Dr.
Chamorro, the former Managing Editor, was lying in state.
In support of the demand for a complete and impartial investigation of
the assassination, the Unión Democrática de Liberación (UDEL)1
and a vast sector of private enterprise and workers' organizations called for a
general strike which started on January 23 and paralyzed all business and
transportation activities in the principal cities of the country until de second
week of February. During this period there were daily demonstrations against the
Government, which were harshly suppressed by members of the National Guard.
There are no accurate statistics about the casualties resulting from
these events; however, according to reports from witnesses, there were many
wounded, and it is known that during the demonstrations of the 30th
and 31st in the city of Matagalpa there were seven deaths and dozens
During the strike there were new calls to investigate the disappearance
of peasants and for the public appearance of political prisoners. Relatives of
these people took over the Office of Program Development of the United Nations,
and on January 30, a peaceful demonstration by women there was dispersed with
tear gas. Several of these women were seriously wounded. The National Guard also
dispersed another demonstration on behalf of prisoners and missing persons by
throwing tear gas from helicopters among university students who had organized
this demonstration. Some of these students were seriously injured when tear gas
canisters landed on their heads.
On January 28, the Government convened the National Committee for
Emergencies in order to implement the Emergency Act. According to
information received by the Commission, this Act was used to control the
dissemination of news and to justify arbitrary searches of private homes.
THE COMMISSION EXPRESSES ITS CONCERN AND REQUESTS INFORMATION ABOUT THESE
In view of this situation, and complaints received about alleged
violations of human rights in Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights, meeting in its 43rd session in Caracas, decided to request
prompt information from the Government with regard to the present status of
human rights in Nicaragua.
The Chairman of the Commission sent the following cablegram, dated
February 3, 1978, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua:
As Your Excellency knows, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
has received the mandate from the member countries of the Organization of
American States to promote respect for and keep vigilance over the observance of
the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
(Charter of the OAS, Art. 150, and Statute of the IACHR, Art. 1).
In the exercise of its powers, the Commission has received various
complaints of alleged violations of these rights in Nicaragua. They are being
processed as special cases, and at the proper time the ensuing resolutions will
The Commission is now meeting in plenary in its 43rd regular
session, and has been advised, through reports disseminated by the media, of the
special circumstances prevailing in your country.
Since such circumstances could have serious consequences for the
enforcement of human rights, the Commission has decided to avail itself of the
authorization conferred on it by Article 9, paragraph d) of its Statute, to
request that your Government provide us, as soon as possible, with a report on
the present status of human rights in Nicaragua.
I take this opportunity to express to Your Excellency my highest and most
Andrés Aguilar M.
By cablegram dated February 11, 1978, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of
Nicaragua, Dr. Julio C. Quintana, replied in the following terms:
Honorable Andrés Aguilar
By means of a note from the Director of the Office of the General
Secretariat of the OAS in Managua, Nicaragua, Dr. Mario Carmona Rivera,
delivered by the Minister of Defense, General Heriberto Sánchez, on the 4th
inst., I received a message addressed to my distinguished predecessor, Dr.
Alejandro Montiel Argüello, that advised me of the mandate of the IACHR to
promote respect for and keep vigilance over the observance of the rights set
forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Furthermore, at its 43rd session held in Caracas, the
Commission became aware through media reports of the special circumstances
prevailing in this country, stating that these circumstances could result in
serious consequences for the enforcement of human rights. Therefore, the
Commission decided to avail itself of the authorization conferred on it by Art.
9, paragraph d) of its Statute, to request that the Government of Nicaragua
provide, as soon as possible, a report on the present status of the
aforementioned human rights in our country.
Upon receipt of your message, I replied both to Caracas, from whence it
originated, as well as to the headquarters of the Commission in Washington,
D.C., offering to submit the requested information.
In compliance with this offer, I am pleased to state to you that the
Nicaraguan people enjoy full freedom and the exercise of the rights guaranteed
by our Constitution and other law of the Republic, which incorporate and enforce
human rights as part of our juridical tradition, in accordance with the
Nicaraguan political reality based on a representative democracy. These
guarantees and rights have not been suspended, in spite of violent events and
subversive actions of extremist groups which threaten the peace of the Republic.
In exercising these rights, last Sunday the citizenry freely cast their votes to
elect municipal authorities throughout the Republic with the participation of
the Nationalist Liberal Party and the Conservative Party of Nicaragua, through
which the powers of the state are organized constitutionally, the latter party
being the second political party of the nation.
The Government of Nicaragua has always replied to the communications sent
to it by the Commission regarding complaints about alleged violations of human
rights, and has received no new complains as of this date. According to your
message, these are being processed as special cases, and we await information
about them in order to proceed opportunely with a careful consideration of their
The present situation which exists in my country, and which has been
distorted by foreign forces for political purposes and disseminated abroad in
order to damage the reputation of the country and the legally constituted
government, could never bring about serious consequences for the enforcement of
human rights which my government respects and promotes.
The zeal of the Inter-American Commission is praiseworthy, both in
keeping vigilance over and promoting the full enforcement of human rights, and I
agree with such a healthy attitude, yet taking the liberty of calling your
impartial attention to the existence of an organized propaganda campaign of
extremist inspiration to discredit the constitutional government of Nicaragua,
attempting to create a false situation contrary to the socio-political reality
of the country, I feel that it is advisable to state to the Commission that
subversive elements in infamous alliance with minority parties and a small
number of business groups of great economic power, are involved in an
incomprehensible alliance and propaganda campaign which in an incomprehensible
alliance and propaganda campaign which wishes to overthrow the government and
damage state institutions.
In spite of the terrorism and violence of those who try to alter the
established constitutional order and which are not unknown in most other
countries of the world, freedom, security and the democratic constitutional
order reign in Nicaragua by the will of the people and the consensus of the
citizens who have repudiated the acts of vandalism which have occurred recently.
I take advantage of this opportunity to reiterate the firmness of the
juridical principles upon which the Government of Nicaragua is based, and its
determination to comply with the rights set forth in the American Declaration of
the Rights and Duties of Man, which are observed not only as part of an
international instrument, but as natural, humane and civilized principles which
sustain my government.
I take this opportunity to renew my highest esteem for you.
Julio C. Quintana
Minister of Foreign Affairs
THE COMMISSION DECIDES TO DRAFT A REPORT ON THE STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN
Although the general strike had ended in early February, the climate of
tension was still apparent between the Government and most of the citizenry. The
period between February and June was characterized by several confrontations
between the National Guard and civilian groups, which resulted in numerous
At the end of February, anti-government demonstrations in Diriamba, León,
Boaco and Chinandega resulted in several deaths and casualties as well as
numerous arrests and detentions. In the Subtiava district of León, alone, there
were 20 deaths and 30 people wounded. The city of Masaya, which had risen en
masse on February 27, surrendered after a week of fighting, leaving one
hundred people dead and numerous wounded and missing persons. Seventeen persons
died in several incidents occurring in the districts of Monimbó and Santa Rosa.
There were similar events, on a smaller scale—demonstrations, arrests and
casualties—in all of the principal cities of the country, creating a climate
of hardship and uncertainty among the majority of the population.
During this period, the Commission began to receive numerous new
complaints of alleged violations of human rights occurring in Nicaragua and
documented information of a serious nature.
Considering the magnitude of these occurrences, the IACHR, at its 44th
session in June, in Washington, decided to draft a report reflecting the status
of the observance of human rights in Nicaragua.
THE GOVERNMENT OF NICARAGUA DECIDES TO INVITE THE IACHR TO CARRY AN
The decision to write this report was communicated by the Chairman of the
IACHR to the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the
Organization of American States, Dr. Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa, who was also
informed that the purpose of the report was to depict faithfully the actual
conditions of human rights in Nicaragua and that the Commission was confident
that the Nicaraguan Government would invite it to carry out an on-site
observation in that country, according to the Regulations of the IACHR for
conducting such visits.
In a note dated June 20, 1978, Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa, in the name of
his government, invited the Commission to conduct an on-site observation in
Nicaragua. The communication of the Nicaraguan Ambassador, addressed to the
Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, reads as follows:
June 20, 1978
I have the honor of informing you that my Government, upon being advised
that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is to draft a report on the
status of human rights in Nicaragua, is pleased to invite it to visit our
country, in order to effect an on-site observation in Nicaragua, which would
prove very useful for your report. This invitation is an act of courtesy which
attests to the respect that my Government holds for the Commission over which
you preside as well as for its distinguished members.
The Commission shall be well received. The arrival date in Nicaragua
shall de determined by common agreement.
I take this opportunity to renew my highest and most distinguished
consideration for you.
Ambassador of Nicaragua
At its 44th session, the
IACHR, in order to carry out this on-site observation, appointed a Special
Commission composed of its Chairman, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, its Vice Chairman, Dr.
Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, and members Drs. Carlos García Bauer, Tom J.
Farer, Fernando Volio and Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra.
At a later date, Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa and the Executive Secretary of
the IACHR, Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, duly instructed by the Commission,
agreed, in principle, on the month of November as the best date in which to
conduct the on-site observation in Nicaragua.
THE SITUATION WORSENS
Violence continued during the month of July due to demonstrations related
to the situation of political prisoners, the closing of a radio station
belonging to the opposition, and the arrival in Nicaragua of the “Group of
At least 18 civilians died when demonstrations were dissolved in Jinotepe,
Masaya and San Marcos. A general strike set for July 19 as a protest against
repressive measures resulted in the closing of 75 percent of the business
establishments and initiated a confrontation between the National Guard and
citizens who supported the strike. Guerrilla activity increased with sporadic,
but intensive, confrontations near the Costa Rican border, and on July 20, a
rocket attack was launched from the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua against
adjacent military installations.
Relative peace prevailed during the first half of August, but the
violence was renewed on August 22 when guerrilla forces of the Frente
Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Liberation Front) (FSLN)3
captured the National Palace, taking as hostages, members of Congress, important
government officials and hundreds of persons who happened to be there. The
hostages were exchanged for a number of political prisoners, money, and the
necessary facilities so that the guerrilla fighters could abandon the country.
On August 25, the Frente Amplio de Oposición (Opposition Front)
organized a strike seeking the resignation of President Somoza. This gave rise
to a new wave of violence during the last week of August and the first part of
September; the cities of Jinotepe, Managua, Estelí, Diriamba and Matagalpa were
most affected. In this last city there was a general uprising against the
Government, which was suppressed after several days of fighting with the aid of
attack airplanes and which resulted in a high cost of human lives. During the
early days of September, the Government also arrested hundreds of members of the
opposition as a result of these incidents.
THE COMMISSION ADVANCES THE DATE OF ITS VISIT TO NICARAGUA
In view of the serious events occurring in Nicaragua, and in answer to
the request made to the IACHR by groups representative of the Nicaraguan
community interested in the full enforcement of human rights in their country,
the Commission decided to advance its visit to October 5, which was accepted by
the Government of Nicaragua.
THE ASSAULTS OF SEPTEMBER
The violence reached its peak on September 9, when the Frente Sandinista
de Liberación Nacional attacked the National Guard detachment in the principal
cities of the country in a coordinated and synchronized fashion. The FSLN was
joined by many civilians, especially young people who dug ditches and set up
barricades in the streets; the rebel forces fought with units of the National
Guard in Managua, León, Chinandega, Estelí, Matagalpa, Masaya, Diriamba,
Jinotepe and Rivas, and dominated the situation for a while in some of these
The Government suspended all constitutional guarantees, imposed martial
law, and started to retake the cities, one by one. In those where resistance was
heaviest, the population was bombarded and machine-gunned with heavy artillery,
airplanes and helicopters, without distinction between combatants and the
civilian population. In particular there was intense and indiscriminate
bombardment of León, Masaya, Chinandega, and Estelí.
The Government succeeded in suppressing the insurrection after eleven
days of fighting, Estelí being the last city in the hands of the insurgents to
return to government control. Casualties were high among the civilians;
according to early estimates by the Red Cross, at least 500 persons died in León
and Estelí alone. Once the Government had reestablished control, numerous
reports were received of atrocities committed by the National Guard, including
mass murders of minors, and summary executions of civilians during the
house-to-house searches carried out by the National Guard.
THE XVII MEETING OF CONSULTATION OF MINISTERS OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
As a consequence of the events occurring in Nicaragua, the Government of
Venezuela, on September 2, proposed the convening of a Meeting of Consultation
of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in order to consider the internal situation of
that country and its international implications. This proposal acquired greater
urgency when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica informed the
Permanent Council of the OAS on September 15, of events occurring at the border
of his country with Nicaragua, which, in his view, constituted a violation of
Costa Rican sovereignty and territory.
In view of the request made by the Government of Venezuela, and observing
with profound concern the occurrences in Central America, “whose seriousness
affects peace in the region and creates a situation of urgent nature, and of
common interest to the member States”, the Permanent Council, by resolution
dated September 18, with 23 affirmative votes, convened the XVII Meeting of
Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, in accordance with part one of
Article 59 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, to begin on
September 21, in order to consider the “serious events in the Central American
The XVII Meeting of Consultation adopted, on September 23, a resolution
containing various introductory and operative paragraphs with regard to
Nicaragua and the events occurring in Central America. With regard to the IACHR,
paragraph 4 of said resolution reads as follows:
To take note that, having accepted the invitation of the Government of
Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will visit that
country, and to express the hope that the Commission may, in agreement with the
government concerned, expedite its visit to Nicaragua, if possible.
THE COMMISSION DECIDES TO START ITS VISIT ON OCTOBER 3
The Commission, as expressed earlier, had decided to advance the date of
its trip to October 5, but in view of the recommendations of the XVII Meeting of
Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the date of October 3 was
established as the first day of its visit, which was accepted by the Government
On September 28, personnel of the Secretariat of the IACHR traveled to
Managua in order to make preparations for the on-site observation, which, by
invitation of the Government and in consideration of the resolution of the
Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Commission had
decided to carry out in Nicaragua.
Activities carried out by the Special Commission in Nicaragua
THE VISIT BEGINS
On October 3, 1978, the Special Commission of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights initiated its activities in Nicaragua, with the
presence of its Chairman, Dr. Andrés Aguilar M., and its members Drs. Carlos
García Bauer, Tom Farer, Fernando Volio Jiménez and Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra.
Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, Vice Chairman of the Commission, arrived in
Managua on the 6th, as previously agreed, and at once participated in
the work of the Commission. Dr. Gabino Fraga was unable to take part in the
visit for reasons of health.
Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, Executive Secretary of the Commission, acted
as Secretary, assisted by Drs. Charles Moyer, Assistant Executive Secretary,
Roberto Alvarez and Jorge Suárez Marill, and by staff members Hilda Wicker,
Elia Dodd and Marcela Chávez. During the visit, the offices of the Commission
were located in the Hotel Camino Real in Managua.
The same day of the 3rd, the Commission met in order to adopt
its work schedule. It also approved a press release and took the necessary
measures to assure that it would be disseminated as widely as possible.
RECEPTION OF COMPLAINTS
Beginning the first day that the Special Commission set up its offices in
the Hotel Camino Real of Managua, a constant parade of persons of all economic
and social positions presented testimonies or complaints. The Commission
maintained a full-time office at the hotel, with specialized personnel of the
Secretariat assisting all people in the processing of complaints, explaining
what the Commission could do for victims of violations of human rights, and
filing out the necessary forms, since many persons could not read or write.
The Commission also received complaints of acts attributed to members of
the FSLN. In view of the fact that such complaints, in light of the Statute and
Regulations of the Commission, fall outside its competence, the Commission has
not been able to give them the pertinent processing.
The office of the Commission was open ten hours daily until October 17,
and everyone who visited it was attended to.
From the very first day in which the Special Commission was installed,
leaders of institutions representing the Nicaraguan community requested to be
The Special Commission first received members of the Permanent Commission
of Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH) who described the dangers that they were
facing because of their membership in the Commission, and stated, as an example,
that only four days before, one of their members had been murdered and several
others had been imprisoned. After an exchange of views on the general situation
of human rights in Nicaragua, the Special Commission thanked the members of the
Permanent Commission for their collaboration, which, together with information
such as that from government sources and opposition sectors, would prove useful
for the fulfillment of its mission. Finally, the Chairman told them that the
Government of Nicaragua was obligated to respect the people and institutions who
supplied information or presented testimonies to the Special Commission during
On Wednesday, October 4, the Commission received Mr. Adolfo Calero
Portocarrero, who stated that he had been imprisoned in the Cuartel Central of
Managua from September 4 to 27, without ever being informed of the reason for
his arrest or brought to trial. Mr. Calero, the National Coordinator for the
Authentic Conservative Party, also gave an account of what had occurred in the
country during the present year.
The Commission also received Messrs. Alvaro and Eduardo Chamorro, Vice
President and Secretary General, respectively, of the Conservative Party of
Nicaragua. Both expressed their opinions on the status of human rights in
Nicaragua and in particular on those aspects concerning political rights.
INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
At 11:00 a,m. on October 4, the Special Commission went to the Casino
Militar, where the President of the Republic, General Anastasio Somoza Debayle,
presented them to the members of his Cabinet, the Supreme Court of Justice, the
Military Staff (Estado Mayor del Ejército), and other officials.
Immediately thereafter, the President read a speech in which, among other
things, he expressed his gratitude for having accepted his invitation to visit
Nicaragua adding that as President “I deem it to be my duty to faithfully obey
the commitments of my Government within the regional Inter-American system
hoping that you, in representation of the Organization which you so well
represent, will find within the scope of national sovereignty our observance of
human rights, thus fulfilling the resolutions which have the noble objective of
assuring dignity and freedom to the people throughout the national territory.”
In another part of his speech, President Somoza recalled the crisis that
his country had experienced in September, which, in his opinion, consisted of an
attempt to overthrow the constitutional government of the Republic by means of
violence and terrorism carried out through communist raids on military and
police installations and defenseless cities, with the shedding of blood,
pillaging, looting, arson and damage to private property. He concluded that the
presence of the Commission “would not only bring peace to the men of the
government, but also to those who oppose us.”
At the end of his speech, the President invited the members of the
Commission to his private office, where they mainly conversed about the manner
in which the Commission would conduct its observation in Nicaragua. General
Somoza also reaffirmed the offer of his government to facilitate in any way
possible the work of the Commission, and reiterated his commitment that no
reprisals would be taken against those persons and institutions who cooperated
with it during its stay in Nicaragua.
INTERVIEWS WITH THE POLITICAL COMMISSION OF FAO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF
MANAGUA AND THE RED CROSS
In the afternoon of October 4, the Political Commission of the Frente
Amplio Opositor (FAO) represented by Messrs. Rafael Córdoba Rivas, Sergio Ramírez
Mercado and Alfonso Robelo Callejas, met with the Special Commission. In
addition to presenting a general outline of the situation in Nicaragua, the
members of the Political Commission of FAO suggested that the Special Commission
might have difficulties in fulfilling its mission because most people were
unaware of its presence in Nicaragua due to the restrictions on freedom of
expression and dissemination of ideas.
The Special Commission then visited the Archbishop of Managua, Msgr.
Miguel Obando y Bravo, who was accompanied by the Vicar General, Msgr. Bosco
Vivas and other priests of the Archbishop's curia. Archbishop Obando discussed
what he called the “complicated situation” existing in the country, which
had been aggravated in January of this year by the assassination of Pedro Joaquín
Chamorro. Vicar Vives then pointed out several cases of persecution against the
Church and Catholic priests by the authorities.
Finally, that same day, the Special Commission received in its office a
delegation of the Red Cross, composed of Mr. Ismael Reyes, President of the Red
Cross of Nicaragua, Dr. Leopoldo Navarro, Secretary General, Lic. Jaime Morales
Carazo and Mr. Raymond Chevalley, Regional Delegate of the International
Committee of the Red Cross. They immediately made the point that there were no
guarantees for the staff of the Red Cross nor respect for its emblem. As an
example, they pointed to the case of the two corpsmen who were killed in a
convoy taking medicines and food to the city of Chinandega. They also discussed
the humanitarian aspects of their work during the conflicts, as well as the
assistance they had provided the victims. In view of the curfew and the late
hour, it was agreed to meet again at a later date.
Political movement of the opposition, of which Dr. Chamorro was a
leader. It is comprised of the following political parties and trade union
confederations: Partido Liberal Independiente, Movimiento Liberal
Constitucionalista, Acción Nacional Conservadora, Partido
Socialista Nicaragüense, Partido Social Cristiano Nicaragüense,
Confederación General del Trabajo Independiente and Central de
Trabajadores de Nicaragua. Its current President is Dr. Rafael Córdoba
Known by this name because it is made up of twelve well-known
intellectual, professional and religious personalities who oppose the
Revolutionary organizations fighting for the overthrow of the present
government. Its name is derived from Gen. Augusto César Sandino, who in the
30's fought the North American intervention. At present, the FSLN is divided
into three main factions: the Tercerista which is the most numerous,
and which carried out the assault on the National Palace, the Proletaria,
and the Guerra Popular Prolongada.
Group of political parties and movements of the opposition. Besides
UDEL, the parties and trade unions, it also includes the Conservative Party
of Nicaragua (Partido Conservador de Nicaragua), the Authentic Conservative
Party (Partido Conservador Auténtico), the Group of 12 (Grupo de los Doce),
the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (Movimiento Democrático Nicaragüense),
and the National Unification Confederation (Confederación de Unificación