Nicaraguan investigative journalist accuses Army of political spying

By Larissa Manescu

Ismael López, a Nicaraguan journalist with news site Confidencial and its sister TV show Esta Semana, has accused the Nicaraguan Army of spying on him, according to the independent English-language online newspaper The Nicaragua Dispatch.

López said that two men who claimed to be a captain and a major with the Nicaraguan Army called his family members in August to ask about his personal life, following his coverage of rearmed contra groups in the north of the country. The two men scheduled a meeting with López at a restaurant in October to question him about his feelings toward President Daniel Ortega and have been randomly appearing in plain view outside of López’s work and home ever since then.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the director of Esta Semana and Confidencial, wrote a letter to the head of the Army, asking for the intimidation to stop and for the National Assembly to conduct an independent investigation into the tactics.

In the letter, Chamorro accused officials from the Defense Investigation Administration (DID) of the Army and mentioned that Article 96 of the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits political espionage.

The head of the Army, General Julio César Avilés,  has not yet responded to the letter to confirm or deny the spying allegations.

However, in an Oct. 30 interview with CNN about the situation, sandinista Evertz Cárcamo said that spying is a common practice, according to the website Confidencial. “It’s possible. All governments spy on everyone, you can be spied on, we can all be spied on and the government is spied on by another government.”

Filiberto Rodríguez, a Sandinista and the chairman of the Governance Committee of the National Assembly, rejected taking responsibility to investigate into the alleged accusations and questioned the validity of the accusations. “I am unaware if it is a montage, if it is a good theater, if it is a skit. I don’t know really; it is up to investigative institutions to clear up this issue,” Rodríguez said.

According to the Nicaraguan Dispatch, the nation’s opposition party – the Nicaraguan Democratic Bloc (BDN) - announced their support of López and called for an end to any state spying shortly after Chamorro publicly announced the accusations on TV on Oct. 28.

A statement released by the Nicaraguan chapter of nonprofit PEN International said that it supports any initiative taken by the affected journalist and media to collaborate with international organizations such as the Organization of American States and the UN to investigate the claims.

Ever since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007, Esta Semana has been one of the few TV programs that engages in critical investigative work in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is one of the worst nations when it comes to freedom of expression and monitoring at the regional level, according to Claudio Paolillo, president of the Inter American Press Association's freedom of expression commission.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.