Nicaraguan high court judge re­signs in protest

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - News - BY FRANCES ROBLES

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.”

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