Why I fled Nicaraguan justice

Roberto Bendaña gets checked by Nicaraguan Police
courtesy Roberto Bendaña

Roberto Bendaña gets checked by Nicaraguan Police

In Nicaragua, the concept of “liberty and justice for all” is a privilege extended only to the militants of the FSLN and those who’d rather look the other way and “mind their own business.” The inconvenient fact remains that Nicaragua faces rampant unemployment and endemic poverty. Naturally, this has led to an erosion of fundamental freedoms and rule of law. The situation is unsustainable and Nicaragua is on the precipice of a constitutional crisis.

The following article describes my decision to rebel against Ortega’s authoritative regime and flee my country. The president, with the apparent collaboration of people I trusted, is using the judicial power and his political leverage to silence or imprison me.

The party-state regime under Ortega, along with the complacency of Nicaragua’s opposition, has been able to satisfy the profit-minded business sector (a small portion of the private sector) with modest economic growth over the past few years. But the regime is already causing others to cry out out loud and rebel against tyranny and oppression due to political persecution that has thrown thousands of public workers into unemployment and enacted fraudulent reforms to the constitution and the military code.

On Sunday Aug. 18, 2013, on my usual drive to a rural area of Nicaragua to visit people who are suffering unemployment due to political persecution from Ortega’s regime, I received a telephone call from a news reporter asking me if it was true that there was an order for my arrest as one of the owners of International Investment and Financial Services Inc. (IIFS), an offshore Panamanian company that allegedly defrauded a religious order, according to an online bulletin citing judicial sources.

I found the call odd. Indeed, I had been part of the company’s board of directors in the initial two months of its creation, but never acted as an executive. The sole owner of IIFS is Inversiones Almori S.A., a company that belongs to Alvaro Montealegre Rivas, Eduardo’s younger brother. Alvaro also happens to be my brother-in-law, the husband of my sister Lily. I owned 30% of the shares in Café Don Paco S.A. (CDP), which was owned and controlled its majority by Alvaro. As I said, it was an odd call, but it would become the opening salvo in a battle of wills against the Ortega regime.

My response to the reporter was that “the saddest thing of those demands is that they don’t even come from the FSLN, but from people of my own party (PLI)”. I continued saying, “I am not capable of harming anyone, much less a religious order (…), and I will face justice.” And finally, “I am not afraid because I am an ethical man and I would never do something against my principles.” (La Prensa, Aug. 19, 2013, page 9).

I’m providing this background because if you do not live in Nicaragua, and understand how the system operates, it is easy to lose focus and forget for a while who implements justice in Nicaragua. It is the same person, or couple, who decided what the election results have been since 2008. I was giving the benefit of the doubt to the justice system. I was falling in the same mistake as Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes when he was asked about the demand the “Hermanas Teresianas” religious order had against IIFS, for more than half a million dollars they had invested in that company, that he responded the money should be returned and the case “is in the hands of justice”. It is the same Party-State that the Conferencia Episcopal de Nicaragua (CEN), the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, has been denouncing for violation of the Constitution, violations of human rights, and responsible of the fraudulent elections.

I was used to receiving criticism and insults from militants of my own party because I was questioning our political culture that resulted in the party-state system, and challenging the opposition party leaders to hold primaries to elect democratic candidates who can win elections against Ortega’s party. But little did I know that those in my party who I trusted were going to side with Ortega’s justice system to eliminate me from the political equation by scapegoating me in a $5 million scandal.

Two days after I heard the news and four years after I had been replaced on the board of directors, the legal complaint filed by the Compañía de Santa Teresa de Jesus “Hermanas Teresianas” was officially introduced before the judicial authorities. Unfortunately, the nuns were advised by their lawyer Ramon Rojas (the man who defended Ortega against his stepdaughter’s allegations of sexual abuse) to look away and not consider the deed I had presented the day before, which proved I had been replaced on the board of directors and was neither the manager nor owner when the alleged scandal occurred.

A couple of days later, I was called to give my initial declaration to the Prosecutor on Aug. 22. I naively attended the meeting because I had with me a notarized copy of the deed that proved I had no participation in the company. Later that month, August 2013, the conspiracy against unfolded when I was sued for $2.2 million — money that I supposedly owed for the sale of CDP shares. I was all a smokescreen to distract people from the original scandal.

The State Prosecutor, meanwhile, was hiding legal documents to make the judge believe I was participating as the chairman of the board and owner of IIFS, a title I had for only two months during its initial phases of legalization and organization of the company in 2009. Documented proof of a loan for $400,000 that IIFS legally gave to CDP, and which CDP legally paid back to IIFS, was also hidden from the judge to make him believe that I used that money to capitalize my company.

If the Justice System were really interested in investigating this scandal, the judge would have answered my petition to request IIFS Bank Account in one the Nicaraguan banks that has branches in Panama, where all deposits from the investors were made and where all transfers went. That bank account will tell us who is responsible for the money transfers, and were the money went. The refusal to simply follow the paper trail is more proof of the conspiracy to hide the money, scapegoat me and without the funds from those who had their life savings stolen.

On Sept. 10 the State Prosecutor asked for my house arrest, froze all my bank accounts, embargoed all my properties, and clipped my passport. I appealed all illegalities of undue process, but the judge and higher instances were following orders from Ortega and not impartially conducting justice.

Another crucial fact the State Prosecutor is hiding is that none of the complaints against me describe the alleged participation I had in the alleged aggravated fraud. They just say I am the owner of the Panamanian company because that’s what they were told or they saw on TV. But there is another group of alleged victims who didn’t include me in their criminal complaint because their lawyers are ethical and know I never had any participation in the Panamanian company in question.

It was four months of mental and emotional torture where one learns to appreciate the famous phrases such as, “It is better that 10 guilty men go free, than one innocent man be convicted,” and “Suffering is not due to the violence of the bad, but the silence of the good.” The indifference of the good people, and the betrayal of a family member could kill anyone who does not have faith in God.

It is faith, hope, and love of God that helped me take the decision to denounce Ortega’s unfair judicial system. To make use of my universal right to rebel against tyranny and oppression. I had no master plan to escape from house arrest; it was God that gave me the opportunity and showed me the gate was open. I was guarded by two young police officers who also dream of freedom and a better future, but who have to resign to a job under precarious conditions where they are underpaid and poorly fed, and not up to the automatic AK-47 they were assigned.

I was left with three choices: unfair imprisonment, negotiate my “freedom” and continue to be a hostage of Ortega’s party-state, or prove my innocence abroad and rebel against an authoritarian regime in the name of those that have no voice but hope one day truth will prevail.

God was waiting for me with the biblical verse of Dec. 29: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous justice”… (Isaiah 41:10)

During my two months with the company in question, I never took one dollar as a stipend for my participation. My hands and conscious are totally clean. I would not get my hands dirty to pay money for blackmail and contribute to corruption, neither was I going to go to jail as a result of an unjust system that did not conduct the due process. My only option was to rebel against Ortega’s tyranny and oppressive government and set a precedent for other Nicaraguans — we have the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws and the right to rebel against totalitarian regimes.

I am now breathing winds of liberty and justice for all in the United States. Even though I have to start from zero, and have not been able to provide for my children for more than six months, I believe this is the land of opportunities. Nicaraguans living abroad will be able to come together and make a positive difference in Nicaragua’s political culture to improve the quality of life for the people in Nicaragua, starting with our example of most basic right of freedom and independence for all.

About Roberto Bendaña
Roberto Bendaña

Roberto Bendaña has a Masters in Business Administration and has specialized in Rural Development and International Trade. Currently he is the National Coordinator for Unidad Si Nicaragua Primero an advocacy group promoting primary elections.

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