Nicaraguan supreme court justice resigns in protest

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega arrives to the Supreme Court for the inauguration ceremony of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Maduro will be sworn in to a second term amid international calls for him to step down and a devastating economic crisis, but with some long-time friends in attendance both from abroad and at home. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Nicaraguan media say a Supreme Court justice has resigned with a scathing open letter to President Daniel Ortega, who faced down anti-government protests last year by unleashing security forces and allied groups against demonstrators

MEXICO CITY — Nicaraguan media reported Thursday that a Supreme Court justice has resigned with a scathing open letter to President Daniel Ortega, who faced down anti-government protests last year by unleashing security forces and allied groups against demonstrators.

The letter circulating widely on social media was accompanied by a photograph of judge Rafael Solis Cerda's government-issued ID. The letter's authenticity could not be independently confirmed. A message to Solis was not immediately answered.

The government did not immediately comment.

Solis is a long-time member of Ortega's Sandinista Front party, but his letter said Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, are dragging Nicaragua toward a civil war.

"I fought against a dictatorship and I never believed that history would repeat itself on account of those who also fought against that same dictatorship," the letter said.

Solis noted the at least 325 people estimated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to have died in the violent repression of street protests that began April 18, 2018, initially over since canceled social security cuts. Since the protests were banned and the government regained control of the streets, leaders and even participants of the public opposition have been arrested and jailed.

Ortega and Murillo have maintained that the government was responding as necessary to a failed coup attempt. They said foreign interests banded together with Nicaragua's opposition to bring down the government.

But Solis' letter said there was never a coup attempt and the government responded to dissent with "an irrational use of force."

Last month, the government shut down several human rights groups and independent media outlets. It also expelled teams from two branches of the Organization of American States that were investigating allegations of human rights violations.

Solis' letter said he considered resigning last year, but had hoped Ortega and Murillo would enter a genuine dialogue with their opponents. He said suggestions that he offered Ortega on negotiating an end to the political crisis were disregarded.

The judge's resignation marks the highest level defection from Ortega's government since the crisis began. Still, Solis will likely still face harsh criticism from the opposition, because until his resignation he and the other justices have been seen as staunch backers of Ortega's government, including allowing him to run for re-election.

In his letter, Solis said the judiciary's compliance with Ortega owed to the "state of terror" created and the knowledge that any resistance would simply result in judges being removed from their positions.

The Organization of American States planned to discuss the situation in Nicaragua on Friday in Washington.

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