José Adán Aguerri was considered in his time the third most powerful person in Nicaragua, only behind Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. He is now a political prisoner in the most famous torture center of the Sandinista dictatorship
Fabián Medina Sánchezfrom Managua, Nicaragua
Carlos Pellas (left), one of the largest businessmen in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and José Adán Aguerri, in one of the meetings between businessmen and the Nicaraguan regime. (Photo Strategy and Business)
Last Wednesday noon, police officers took the business leader José Adán Aguerri, from his home to the El Chipote prison, in a surprise move and without an official explanation until now.
Aguerri was captured by the Nicaraguan regime and detained in El Chipote prison after a raid against opponents remembered as “the night of long knives”, on June 8, 2021, and sentenced to 13 years in prison in March of this year for the alleged crime of “treason against the homeland”.
More than two months ago, on August 18, however, he was sent home under the “house by jail” regime, like other political prisoners who showed serious health problems.
This would be the first case in which the Daniel Ortega regime returns to jail a political prisoner whom it has confined to “household” .
José Adán Aguerri, 61, was president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise(Cosep) for 11 consecutive periods (2007-2020) in a unique case in the history of the most important business chamber of its kind in Nicaragua.
Hand in hand with Aguerri, the Cosep became a “super-ministry” in Nicaragua and its president was considered the third most powerful figure in the country, just below Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
“Cosep dispatched with ministers, had a hotline with Rosario Murillo, resolved everything from visas to exports, placed 43 of its members on state boards and had a decisive influence on 124 of the 326 laws approved by the National Assembly between 2008 and 2018. ″, defines the investigative platform Expediente Público in a series of four articles that it published on the relationship between big Nicaraguan capital and the Daniel Ortega regime.
Aguerri joined Cosep in 2005 as a member of the Chamber of Commerce and nine months later he was its president. A year later, in September 2007, he would be elected president of Cosep. He was reelected 10 times, thus becoming the person who has held that position the longest.
Michael Healy, successor to José Adán Aguerri in the Cosep presidency, was also arrested shortly after attending an appointment with the Prosecutor's Office, on October 21, 2021. (AFP Photo)
Aguerri's rise coincided with the return to power of Daniel Ortega, in 2007, who sought a rapprochement with big capital. Sandinismo had had a thorny relationship with businessmen since the 1980s, during the Sandinista revolution, which expressed itself through confiscations, imprisonment, and even executions. Aguerri emerged as the great interlocutor between big business and the Ortega regime in an alliance that was officially baptized “Dialogue and Consensus Model”.
Cosep dispatched with ministers from Ortega's cabinet, with the Police, promoted laws in parliament with the support of the majority of Sandinista deputies, and even went as far as, in 2013, to request an office in the National Assembly
Both the businessmen and the regime were pleased with the mutual benefit alliance. The businessmen, because they could do big business with the support of the State, mainly in trade with Venezuela and mining, and Ortega because he was advancing in the consolidation of an authoritarian regime that would soon be showing its teeth to its own allies.
“Definitely the alliance with Cosep helped Daniel Ortega to strengthen the government system he had in mind, because he used businessmen to substitute the natural political dialogue with the rest of the political parties, which he practically wiped off the map” , says a source close to Cosep who requests anonymity for security reasons.
The key character for this alliance was José Adán Aguerri who centralized, through himself and a team he formed to support him, the entire relationship with the regime. In such a way that if the president of one of his chambers needed to do something before the government, he necessarily had to go through Aguerri's hands, describes the source.
An example of how Ortega ceded positions to businessmen, while strengthening his authoritarian regime, were the constitutional reforms of February 10, 2014, when the Political Constitution included “a model of alliance between the Government and the small business sector, medium and large and workers under permanent dialogue in the search for consensus”, but he also took advantage of these reforms to eliminate both the prohibition that prevented re-election and the ballot that represented a permanent danger to his claims.
“The reforms to the law were poisoned candy because at the same time that Ortega granted businessmen constitutional privileges, he also made them accomplices in a great leap forward in his authoritarian model,” says Expediente Public.
“Here we are a single government, workers, businessmen and the State, giving its place and giving its space to private companies, from the largest to the smallest,” Ortega boasted of the alliance with capital, on April 25, 2017. “The Government negotiates the laws with the private sector and Cosep representatives, and then the consensus agreements are sent to the National Assembly for approval.”
The businessmen were also satisfied. “To me it seems extremely revolutionary and at the same time extremely positive for the future of this country, to seek how to institutionalize this model because it is bearing extraordinary fruits,” said Carlos Pellas, one of the largest businessmen in Nicaragua, on September 4, 2013. , during a meeting with Ortega.
Nicaraguan businessmen even exhibited the “Dialogue and Consensus Model” as a system that business chambers from other countries could imitate.
“Indeed, it was being sold at that time, especially by the Cosep leadership, as a kind of panacea, something that could be replicated throughout Central America because it achieved that, despite having a regime with a certain proclivity for authoritarianism in Nicaragua, the productive relationship was somehow kept intact and that meant that Nicaraguan economic development was not at risk,” says Federico Hernández, former executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of El Salvador
“I remember that we had very strong discussions with the people of Cosep, at least in the case of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of El Salvador, because we said that, although it may last for a while, it is impossible to maintain it in the long term,” he adds. . “We told them no, that from the Salvadoran business unions, our attitude was not to go to bed with the regime.”
César Zamora (in a white shirt) took over the Cosep presidency when the Ortega regime imprisoned its top executives. In the graphic he greets Laureano Ortega Murillo, son of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. (Photo 19 Digital)
The happy relationship ended after the 2018 rebellion. In reality, the alliance had already been limping since 2016, says the Cosep source, when the commercial relationship with Venezuela began to fall, which left such good profits for many businessmen.
Cosep opposed the social security reforms that the regime tried to impose in April 2018, and that would be the trigger for thousands of Nicaraguans to take to the streets to protest. The protests were violently repressed and, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 355 people were killed. Other organizations reported some 1,500 detainees for political reasons and more than one hundred thousand Nicaraguans who went into exile to protect their lives or liberty.
The businessmen definitely distanced themselves from the Ortega regime. They resigned en masse from all the state commissions in which they participated, they appeared supporting the citizen marches and even called one of them. The largest businessmen in the country signed a request to advance elections and José Adán Aguerri himself and other Cosep executives participated as a counterpart to the government in the so-called National Dialogues.
Now they were in the opposition and, from the regime, this was assumed as a betrayal.
On June 8, 2021, José Adán Aguerri was arrested in a raid that included three other opposition leaders, and on October 21 of that same year, Aguerri's successor in the Cosep Presidency, Michael Healy was arrested. >, and the then vice president, Álvaro Vargas. These arrests were interpreted as the punishment Ortega inflicted on his former allies who abandoned him.
With Cosep headless due to the regime's arrests, César Zamora Hinojos assumes the presidency< /b>, an energy businessman close to José Adán Aguerri, for a time they were in-laws, and considered “a token” of Ortega. Under Zamora's leadership, Cosep has suppressed criticism of the regime and at times has been complacent with the economic policies it pursues.
Until now there is no official explanation for the return from Aguerri to El Chipote, a prison considered by human rights organizations as a torture center.
“I have no doubt that Ortega is looking for something with that move ”, says the business source consulted. “Things are still not very clear. It has been said that it is a reprisal for a cell phone that was found in a search of his house, also that it is a reaction to the sanctions that the United States imposed on the gold trade, and another, that it is pressure on Cosep to return to the alliance that he had before. I highly doubt the latter, because César Zamora does not need pressure, he gladly returns to the alliance”.