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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  September 16, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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the headlines: four us gymnasts, including simone biles, have testified before a senate committee hearing. they gave evidence about the fbi's failures in its sex abuse investigation of theirformer team doctor, larry nassar. the director of the bureau has apologised for not examining the allegations promptly. beijing has condemned a new defence and security deal between the us, britain, and australia, saying it was part of a cold war mentality. the leaders of the three countries said the agreement would promote stability in the indo—pacific region, where china has expanded its military presence. the first space mission crewed entirely by civilians has taken off from cape canaveral in florida. four amateur astronauts were launched into orbit on a spacex rocket. it's hoped the flight will open up access for paying customers. the trip has been paid for by a billionaire businessman.
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now on bbc news — hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. more than four decades ago, nicaraguan president daniel ortega led a revolution that toppled a corrupt dictatorship. he can hardly be unaware of the irony of his current situation, imposing evermore repressive measures to silence dissent in the run—up to an election unlikely to be free or fair. in another ironic twist, my guest, carlos fernando chamorro, was a leading sandinista propagandist. now, he's an influential journalistic critic in exile. why has nicaragua slumped back into authoritarianism?
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carlos fernando chamorro in costa rica, welcome to hardtalk. thank you, stephen. mr chamorro, you have lived through very difficult times in nicaragua, but earlier this year, you decided to flee. and you're speaking to me from an undisclosed location in costa rica. why did you take that decision? well, my newsroom was raided by the police for the second time on may 20th, and it was an imminent risk for me to stay in nicaragua, because i would be captured and trialled by the government, just by being a journalist.
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my house was also raided. by that time, my wife and i have decided to leave and to come to costa rica to continue being a journalist. otherwise, i will be silenced, along with other... ..more than 30 people who are now in prison in nicaragua, in the prison of el chipote. we'll get to the numerous people in prison — indeed, some of your own family members — injust a moment, but to stick with your situation, since you chose to flee to costa rica, you've been charged with money laundering, property and asset laundering, misappropriation of funds. do you have any intention of going back to face the justice system in nicaragua?
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there's no justice system, as such, in nicaragua. the courts are simply an extension of the power of the ortega family. the trials, the district attorney, the police, they're all under total control by ortega. and this is not something that started last week or a few months ago. it's a system that has consolidated in more than a decade and became a machinery of fabrication, of criminal accusations and imprisonment of citizens, mostly since 2018, after the protests that demanded free elections in nicaragua and the resignation of daniel ortega. why do you think that the degree of repression in nicaragua seemed to intensify in may, june of this year?
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because, as you've already told me, 30 and more people, very prominent people, have been arrested and now face very serious charges. why now? well, for many people, this was unexpected, because ortega already had the full control of the state to decide the result of the coming november 7 election. but he decided to eliminate any possibility of political competition, so he has imprisoned seven aspiring presidential candidates. and not only them, but also civilian leaders, businessmen, journalists, peasant leaders, student leaders, anyone that could challenge his power and that would attempt to mobilise the people in the incoming election.
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so, in november7, we're going to have some people going there to vote for ortega, but the majority of the people will stay at home because they don't have any candidates. and this is not a real election. this is like a one—party ritual to re—elect ortega. people who do not know nicaragua will probably be surprised at the extent to which, to the outside world, this looks, in some ways, like a battle between the ortega family and another very prominent dynasty in the country. that is your own, the chamorro family. because not only do you now face these charges and you have gone into exile, but your sister, cristiana, who was tipped to be a presidential candidate, she is under house arrest. your brother, pedrojoaquin, who is also a very prominent journalist in nicaragua, he is under arrest and facing charges. i'm not sure if he's actually in prison right now.
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yes, he is. and your cousin, juan sebastian, who i've spoken to on hardtalk three years ago, he also is in prison, and his condition is reported by his own family to be not good. how come your own family seems to have so many prominent members who are now in direct conflict with ortega? well, i am in exile for being a journalist, for reporting violation of human rights and for investigating corruption, not for my last name. and i don't think other members of my family are in prison because they're named chamorro, but simply because they are defying ortega. and i would say this is some kind of a simplification. there are many other people in prison. there are many other people that have been killed in the past, and they have just other names — the montenegro family, debayle family and many others. there is indiscriminate repression in nicaragua.
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members of my family are suffering unjust imprisonment simply because they decided to defy ortega, going into politics. but they are just some of them. there are more than 30 other people in the same condition. one of yourfamily members, that is the sister of your cousin, juan sebastian, she reports that she has been allowed contact with him. they interrogate juan sebastian daily. she says they're conducting forms of psychological torture. they say that they tell him that his wife is going to be in prison, that his property is going to be confiscated. they keep a light burning in his cell to disorient him and to deprive him of sleep. that, to the outside world, would sound like torture. do you believe that the ortega government is sanctioning, from the very top, this sort of abuse?
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it is torture, and i have to say that in previous years, torture included sexual violations, physical torture and repression. now there is torture in the sense of isolating prisoners, the 36 prisoners who are staying at the prison of el chipote. and some of them have been there more than 100 days, including my brother, pedro, juan sebastian and others, have only seen their relatives for 30 minutes once, and they have been isolated. some of them are in separate cells. they are not allowed to receive food from their families, only water, and they have lost between 12 to 26 pounds. and you have people who are 70 years old there. also, you have young leaders like lesther aleman, who now is in a very risky health condition, and many others. i think this is an act of vengeance. this is an act of cruelty and of cowardice of the leadership of daniel ortega. there are...several other women prisoners, like dora maria tellez,
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a national hero who was a guerrilla commander against the somoza dictatorship that was overthrown a0 years ago, as you just mentioned. so, here is one of the deep ironies of nicaraguan politics, and you're at the very heart of it. you were daniel ortega's colleague, and indeed chief propagandist, through much of the 1980s. you were a fully paid—up sandinista revolutionary and a self—declared apologist for ortega and his regime. how do you feel about that now? well, i think the revolution inspired hope for transformation in nicaragua, but also the revolution radicalised its own process, and we are all responsible for the results.
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and the results have to do with a civil war, a foreign aggression war, which was part of the cold war us policy against nicaragua. but i assume my responsibility, and i don't think... i think the kind ofjournalism that we did in the �*80s had much to do with propaganda and counterpropaganda than realjournalism. yeah, i mean, you were the head of the agitation and propaganda department. but more than that, if i may say so, mr chamorro, it's also a moral question, because i've looked up some of the old sort of things that you said at that time. and you basically said, "to me..." and this is a quote that's been attributed to you. "to me," you said, "it was justifiable to suppress "freedom in order to preserve the state, a state "that was making other liberties possible." i dare say that is precisely the justification that daniel ortega himself
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would use today. there is a big difference. there was a state of war in the �*80s. i'm notjustifying censorship. i'm notjustifying the state of emergency. but there was a real war. these days in nicaragua, there is no war. there's no civil war. there is just the state repressing the citizens. in the �*80s, there was the contra war, and there was the reagan finance of the contra war. ok, those were the justifications that i supported at those times. i think there were many errors during the �*80s revolution, including censorship, and, well, i myself went through a process of self—criticism about... ..assuming our responsibilities, about what happened in the �*80s. and there was a transition, a democratic transition process, starting in 1990 in nicaragua, that lasted 17 years. and unfortunately, it failed.
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and i assumed my role as an independentjournalist during this transition process, and i ended up being expelled from barricada and from the fsln. yes, no, i know all of that and right now, of course, even in exile, you're still running your news website and your tv shows on youtube and you're still getting your message into nicaragua. given that you've told me you think ortega and the people at the very top of nicaragua are responsible for creating a system which tolerates and indeed uses torture techniques, do you fear for your own safety, even though you're now in a neighbouring country? well, costa rica has a policy of accepting nicaraguan refugees. we are more than 100,000 nicaraguans staying in costa rica under that condition. but nobody�*s completely safe. i mean, the long arm
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of revenge and persecution of the ortega regime, it could do any harm to anyone either here in nicaragua or in any other place. let me ask you about the context that ortega and the sandinista regime put around you and your family. they say there is clear evidence going back many years that you have received monies for your work from the united states. they point to the state usaid programme. they also point to american ngos like the national endowment for democracy. and in essence, they try to tell the nicaraguan people that you, in yourjournalism, have become some sort of tool for the united states of america. what's your response? well, that's a ridiculous accusation. it's a way of criminalising journalism. the way i do journalism, it's by selling advertising,
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when that was possible. also, we receive grants from different organisations, but that's not criminal. that's not money—laundering. that's money that comes from different foundations and from different sources, to support independent investigative journalism. that's not the crime. the crime for ortega is that we are investigating corruption, it's that we are investigating human rights violations and they're trying to create some kind of an excuse to criminalise journalism. is there any way, in your opinion, ofjudging the mood of the nicaraguan people right now? i mean, what we saw in 2018 were many thousands of nicaraguans taking to the streets in protest at particular social and economic policies of the ortega government. there was real repression. there was violence on the streets. it has to be said, violence coming from both sides
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which left more than 300 dead. but since then, the popular protests have stopped. i wonder what your reading is of where nicaraguan public opinion is today. i think the majority of nicaraguans, the majority of public opinions reject the ortega police state, but they cannot say it. we are under a state of fear, where everybody is a hostage of the police state of control. there is no freedom of reunion, freedom of mobilisation, freedom of the press, freedom of expression. you can be taken to prison. so, what we need, number one, is the liberation of all political prisoners and the restoration of political freedom, and then ask the nicaraguan people what they want. they want free elections. they want political reform, to change the dictatorship for a democracy. you see, sometimes when you describe the situation,
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you make me feel as though you see daniel ortega as absolutely no better than somoza, the dictator of nicaragua through to 1979, who you personally were determined to fight against, who ran a criminal enterprise, who abused human rights on a massive scale. and of course, you then supported ortega and the revolution to bring him down. are you now saying that you believe ortega is as bad as somoza? well, people came out to the streets in 2018 saying ortega and somoza are the same thing. there are some similarities and some differences. one close similarity is that both are family dictatorships. nicaragua is run by ortega and his wife, rosario murillo, not by any political party or any kind of political institution. in terms of cruelty,
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in terms of repression, they are quite similar. i guess ortega was beyond somoza in terms of totalitarianism. he is really trying to control everything, including freedom of conscience. he is persecuting a novelist, like sergio ramirez, our most important nicaraguan and central american writer, because he wrote a novel that now is subversive. but i have to bring it back to the personal because, even as you talk, i have it in my mind that throughout the 1980s and indeed through to the early �*90s, you were extremely loyal to daniel ortega and you personally knew him very well. were you such a terrible judge of character that you just got him completely wrong? my support for the sandinista revolution was beyond any kind of concept of loyalty to daniel ortega.
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it was just an aspiration of social justice, it was an aspiration of democracy for nicaragua, mobilisation of the people to attain their own rights. but let me be blunt with you, mr chamorro, because when you... one of your criticisms of ortega right now is that he's running the country as some sort of corrupt family business, and you refer to the power of his wife, who, of course, is vice president. isn't the danger that you, as one of the chief critical voices, are a part of a family, the chamorros, whom, as we've already discussed, dominate the opposition media, the opposition political scene in pretty much the same dynastic way that ortega wants to dominate power? doesn't nicaragua need to move beyond this sort of family—style politics? and maybe the chamorros need to make way for a new generation of opposition leaders who are not called chamorro. well, there are seven political leaders who are competing
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to become the single opposition candidate against ortega. not all of them were chamorros. and there were several others, and the leaders of the april rebellion were not the chamorro family. i think this is a simplification. are you disappointed by the international reaction to this latest wave of arrests, which, as you've said, involves more than 30 senior figures being arrested sincejune? the united states�* reaction has been, if one is honest, fairly tame. there are some limited, targeted sanctions against members of the ortega inner circle, but they're not really very widespread, and the organization of american states has issued a statement of condemnation, but a couple of key countries, argentina and mexico, refused to join that statement. are you disappointed? well, i have expectations
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about what are they going to do onjanuary 10th, when ortega assumes power again. are they going to recognise an illegitimate government? if they accept that these elections are already a fraud, because there is no political competition because competitors are in prison, will they give legitimacy to the new ortega government? that's the key question at this point. i think the international community has recognised the fact that there is a human rights crisis in nicaragua. there is a political crisis. now, they have to go from denouncing human rights violations to taking action to the ortega government. but then the question is, how far do you go? because there are some us legislators who are calling for a review of nicaragua's involvement in the central america free trade agreement. but economists reckon if nicaragua is blocked from membership, it could cost hundreds of thousands ofjobs inside your country.
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so, here you are, you're accused by the government of being a tool of the americans. it's very difficult, isn't it, for you to call for economic sanctions which the americans might take and which could cost many of your fellow countrymen theirjobs and their livelihoods? but i'm not calling for economic sanctions like the ones you are describing. i'm talking about something different. i'm talking about demanding transparency in nicaragua, during the covid—19 pandemic. the government is hiding, the government is lying to the nicaraguan people about the number of deaths that we are having. and the imf and the central american integration bank are giving funds to the nicaraguan government which are not subject to any kind of accountability. i think there's a different thing about financing a dictatorship and promoting sanctions that will affect the economy.
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right. even if you get the imf to withdraw funding from the government, that ultimately is going to hurt the people of your country and they're already suffering a major economic downturn. there is real poverty in nicaragua not seen for many years. do you really want to see funds withdrawn in that way? i would like to see strict limitations in the access of internationalfunds by the nicaraguan dictatorship. and, yes, i don't expect the international community to get rid of ortega. i think this is a question that depends on us, the nicaraguan community. therefore, the most important demand in which i would hope everybody will coincide and agree is the liberation of political prisoners, and promoting political reforms in nicaragua so that we will have free elections. a final thought for you, mr chamorro. back in 1979, you were an avowed revolutionary.
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you supported toppling the somoza regime by whatever force was necessary. are you a revolutionary in your mind today? do you believe that it is justifiable to think about bringing the ortega government down by whatever force is necessary? no. i have never supported armed struggle against the ortega regime, like many other nicaraguans didn't. i think this is a civilian struggle and i am more pro—reforms that could last and will have the roots for changing nicaragua. revolutions... the revolution did not... ..lead us to change, to real change. i think we need reforms, we need accountability and we need opportunities for the nicaraguan people in order to promote change. carlos fernando chamorro, i thank you very much indeed
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forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you. thanks to you. hello. autumn is now gently, slowly but surely, creeping in across the northern hemisphere. our days are getting shorter, but there is still some warmth in the september sunshine. and certainly, it was a good—looking day across a large swathe of the uk on wednesday, although scotland and northern ireland did get lumbered with more in the way of cloud and some outbreaks of rain. we should see more sunshine here, though, in the next few days. another sign, though, that autumn is upon us is the presence of some early
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morning mist and fog. the reason it'll be drier for scotland on thursday is high pressure starting to extend up here. it's also the reason, though, that i think we will see some early mist and fog under the ridge where we've had light winds overnight. the sun, however, should burn that back pretty quickly, and then a lot of fine weather and sunshine to come through on thursday. we lose any early showers in the northeast of scotland, temperatures 21—22 celsius. through the afternoon, though, more cloud starting to show its hand into northern ireland — that's the forerunner of this weather front that will push into the west of the uk for friday daytime. we move through thursday evening into the small hours of friday, and we get the rain into northern ireland. it's quite patchy across western scotland, it stays dry across england and wales. a mild enough night, temperatures in double figures — up to 15 degrees in belfast, where we get quite a strong southerly wind as this weather front pushes in. it will move its way into the west of the uk, but then it kind of grinds to a halt, actually,
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for friday. so, because it does that, that means the rain willjust keep on coming for the likes of northern ireland, possibly for the southwest of scotland. later on in the day, some downpours for the southwest of england and for wales. but it's northern ireland stuck under the cloud and with the rain on friday. quite breezy here, as well, quite gusty winds at times. big contrast between east and west — just mid—teens, the temperatures in the west under the rain. we could still see maybe 22—23 celsius in the sunshine further east. our front will gradually make its way eastwards across the uk through the weekend. for scotland and northern ireland, i think it'll bring some patchy cloud. but for england and wales, it does bring the threat of perhaps some quite punchy showers, longer, more persistent outbreaks of rain at times. certainly, saturday looks like it could be quite wet across england and wales. the showers should thin out somewhat for sunday.
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this is bbc news, with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm sally bundock. china condemns a new defence and security deal between the us, britain and australia — aimed at boosting their influence in the indo—pacific. borisjohnson prepares to reshuffle britain's middle—ranking ministers — after completing a a sweeping reshuffle of his senior cabinet. the current director of the fbi apologises after four us gymnasts — including simone biles — testify about the failure to investigate decades of abuse by their former team doctor. to be clear, i blame larry nassar, and i also blame... entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.


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