Nicaraguan high court judge resigns in protest
A Nicaraguan Supreme Court justice who was President Daniel Ortega’s closest legal adviser before he resigned last week accused the president and his wife of running a brutal government that tramples civil rights and is driving the nation to the brink of civil war.
Justice Rafael Solis was interviewed with The New York Times after his resignation Thursday, which marked the highest-profile defection yet in the country’s nine-month political crisis. Government critics said it signaled a possible weakening of the political apparatus that has helped keep Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, in power long after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets demanding their ouster.
Solis was unsparing in his criticism of Ortega.
“The separation of powers in Nicaragua is over,” he said. “The concentration of power is in them, those two people.”
Solis said he now regretted one of his own most consequential rulings, a 2009 Supreme Court decision that ended term limits and allowed Ortega to remain in power.
Critics of the government saw Solis’ defection as an important show of opposition that could lead to others, but he said he had few illusions that his resignation alone would have a big impact on the judiciary or the government where Ortega and Murillo now make all the decisions that matter.
“I wasn’t being very useful: We practically didn’t have any job functions,” Solis said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location outside Nicaragua. “It was a very limited judiciary.”
Nicaragua, with a population of 6.2 million people, is one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere. It has been rocked by politi- cal turmoil since April, when students and older people who picketed against proposed reductions in social security benefits were attacked by pro-government mobs.
The protests quickly spiraled out of control, and several dozen people were killed. The unrest spread to cities around the nation. At least 325 people have been killed and hundreds more imprisoned as public dissent was outlawed.
Solis had been a loyal member of Ortega’s Sandinista Front party since helping Ortega fight a guerrilla war against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. He was the only witness at Ortega’s wedding.
A former member of the legislature and leader in the armed forces, he had been on the Supreme Court for 19 years. During that time, he was an unstinting Ortega loyalist as exemplified by the term-limits ruling that, in effect, let Ortega run for re-election indefinitely. In the past, presidents were limited to two nonconsecutive terms.
He said the idea of a second term did not bother him so much and is allowed in many places. Ortega is now in his third consecutive five-year term.
“It was the third time that was worrisome,” Solis said. “I did not think it would bring the nation to this. I never imagined it.”
He said Nicaragua should bring back term limits – and should even prohibit two terms.
In the wake of the unrest, the government has maintained that protesters were agents of “right wing” political parties, the Catholic Church and groups outside the country that plotted a coup to unseat democratically elected leaders.
Solis wrote a scathing three-page resignation letter, with a copy of his ID attached, saying there was never any attempted coup or outside intervention, “but rather an irrational use of force.”