In a dramatic break with the administration of President Daniel Ortega, the ambassador of Nicaragua to the Organization of the American States (OAS), Arturo McFields, resigned last week, denouncing his government as a “dictatorship.”
"I have to speak out even though I'm afraid," McFields said. "I have to speak out, even though my future, and that of my family, is uncertain,"
McFields also condemned Ortega's decision to silence his political opponents, and imprison six presidential rivals.
McFields said during an online meeting of the OAS that he was speaking on behalf of “more than 177 political prisoners and more than 350 people that have lost their lives in my country since 2018.”
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OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, who's also been a frequent critic of Ortega, tweeted that he valued McFields' courage, adding, “This is the ethically correct position.”
McFields is the first Afro Nicaraguan to represent his country before the OAS, and is a former journalist who had worked at Nicaragua's Embassy and its OAS mission in Washington.
Nicaragua withdrew from the OAS in November, complaining of the organization's “repeated acts of meddling” in the country.
Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in the Nov. 7, 2021, elections that were broadly criticized as a farce.
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The OAS General Assembly voted to condemn the elections, saying they “were not free, fair or transparent, and lack democratic legitimacy."
McFields spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about his decision from Washington.
Marco Werman: How difficult a decision was this for you, both personally and professionally?
Arturo McFields: It was maybe the hardest decision ever because it's a decision that involves my safety and the safety of my loved ones.
You have served in Nicaragua's diplomatic corps since 2011, and President Daniel Ortega has shown authoritarian tendencies during a lot of that time. Why did you choose this moment to resign?
Well, when he started in office, he said it was going to be a government of reconciliation and national unity. But let's be clear. In 2018, when people took to the streets to protest and they showed their highest civic values, the government showed repression, killing more than 350 individuals.
Why did you agree to sign on to serve with Daniel Ortega's government to begin with?
Five months ago, when I took the position of ambassador, I came to that position with a vision to help [release from] jail 20 individuals, to do something, because I learned that diplomacy is more necessary when the situations are complex, when the democracies are weak and when the institutional system is weak also. But I said, "Let's see if I can do something, if I can build some bridges, if I can promote dialogue. But during the last five months that I've been ambassador, I realized that there's no political will to treat people in jail with humane conditions. And when I said something on an internal level, they said to me that if I continue to have that position, I will be removed from my position as an ambassador. But, you know, I am not the only one. There are thousands of public workers in the military sector, in the civil sector, you name it, that are tired, that are exhausted. They want a change in my country; especially what people can't stand is the the cruel and inhumane treatmeant of the people that are in jail. They don't have the right to visit their families, their relatives. Even the COVID-19 situation, they are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner, or they are not receiving them at all.
Why are those people not resigning in protest over President Ortega's regime?
They do, but they go quietly, because they don't want to lose privileges. They don't want to risk their lives.
Are you worried about what your decision, your resignation, what it will mean for your family members who are still in Nicaragua?
Yes, I am. It's not an easy decision, it's not. But I feel like I have to do something, and I feel that I have to speak truth to power because I have a daughter. And if I don't do anything in the future, she's going to look at me and she's going to say, "Why did you never say a word, why did you never do something, at least?"
In recent months, was there a moment for you where you said enough is enough? What was that moment?
The turning point was the case of the feminist and the civil rights activist [named] Tamara Dávila. She has a 5-year-old daughter, and over the last nine months, she has not been able to see her, to hug her. And I said, "What ideology, what narrative can support that?" And I couldn't find it. And like I said, I'm not the only one. There's the hope in my country and there's a change in my country that is coming from within.
Right. You're doing something, you're speaking truth to power, but you're doing it from outside of the country. Is that the way one has to do it if you're an official from Nicaragua right now?
When there's a will, there's a way. And there are many people that are helping. Even the police officers and the people that work in the prisons. So, the people that work in the prisons, they help the people that are in jail in some way. Some people are passing information to journalists or saying something. And I don't care the way that people do things, as long as they can do something for the country. And I started something. But let me tell you this, I'm not the last. I'm the first, but I'm not the last.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. The Associated Press contributed to this report.