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“Violence and repression of a kind not witnessed since the dictatorship”

26.07.2018 - Interview

Minister of State Niels Annen in an interview with ZEIT online.

Mr Annen, you are one of only a handful of German politicians to have talked about the crisis in Nicaragua so far. You voiced your concern on Twitter in the early weeks of the crisis. What is your assessment of the current situation?

We are following the situation in the country with great concern at the Federal Foreign Office. In recent weeks, we have received daily reports about violence and repression of a kind that we have not witnessed since the end of the country’s decades of dictatorship. For me personally, this is also more than just another of the far too many crises out there. I have a special affinity to the country. In my youth, I was among those who associated Nicaragua with the hope for a more just model of society. Since that time, my native city of Hamburg has enjoyed a close and active partnership with Nicaragua’s second largest city, Léon. I know some of those involved in the crisis, which is why this situation touches me on a personal level.

The Federal Government has held back in its criticism of the Government to date. Instead of “repression”, it has only talked about violence in the country. Why is it that are you speaking up about this now?

It is necessary to do this following the deaths of over 300 demonstrators. Moreover, we have also learned that members of the Catholic Church have been attacked on repeated occasions, people who were intended to mediate within the framework of the national dialogue between the Government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. I was also shocked by these reports. The Government must ensure the safety of the population and must not undermine the mediating role played by the Church.

A peaceful country has turned into a place of terror within the space of just three months. Do you think that statements such as yours can have an impact on the ground?

It goes without saying that we have to be realistic in our assessment of the influence we can bring to bear. However, the Government in Managua is certainly taking note of the response from the international community and, in particular, what a country like Germany, which shares a similar history, has to say. Incidentally, the Organization of American States strongly condemned the violence and human rights violations in the country in its most recent resolution on Nicaragua. This goes to show that the other countries in the region also expect the Government in Nicaragua to protect its citizens and to take the national dialogue seriously.

Many people initially had high hopes for talks, instigated by the Catholic Church, aiming to bring about a national dialogue. This national dialogue has failed for the time being. What steps do you believe should be taken now?

It’s important for all of the parties involved to continue the national dialogue with all due resolve for the good of the Nicaraguan people. It goes without saying that all sides must be open to constructive talks. The opposition will also need to accept that the ruling Sandinistas are part of this process.

US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnunchin mentioned imposing sanctions on Nicaragua last weekend. Which role can the Federal Government play in helping to resolve the conflict? 

In view of its implication in Nicaraguan affairs in the past, the US would be well advised to stay on the fence here. Germany will continue to support the dialogue process and the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigating the injustices committed. We are doing this in close consultation with the EU and other partners. It is also important to demonstrate in the region that those who are committed to a peaceful solution will be met with an impressive wave of solidarity – and especially from German civil society.

This interview was conducted by Laura Cwiertnia.

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