This speech was delivered at the Online conference: “Do no harm – but do something: Advance international LGBTI project work!” held by the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation on 3+4 November 2022 by José Ignacio López, Coordinator, Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua
Thank you for the invitation to this important conversation. We have been working together with LSVD and the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung (HES-Foundation) for already 12 years, and each year we see that new challenges are being posed which lead us to explore new paths. My sincere gratitude goes to Klaus Jetz and the whole LSVD and HES team for taking an interest in us. There is this new challenge posed to us due to a continuous concern that is most probably shared by most of the participants of this talk. It is the question of how can we keep up our efforts and move our initiatives and projects forward?
How can we continue our work in a critical situation?
As you know, in Nicaragua we are currently going through a critical situation of human rights violations against the population in general. The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship’s actions have reached a level in the view of which Joseph Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, recently declared that they “will lead to a major international isolation” of Nicaragua. However, Borrell also said: “The European Union reaffirms its continued commitment to the Nicaraguan people and to the defence of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”
These statements clearly reflect the current international context which also brings us together today, with the aim to share our experiences and perspectives on the question of how can we continue our work of promoting and defending human rights under such adverse and challenging circumstances? In our case, it is about protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and promoting sustainable development.
Our legal status was cancelled on 6 June, along with that of 2,475 other organisations as of 18 October 2022. But the fact is that no matter how hard we would try to provide all the information requested by the governmental authorities, it was already clear since June 2020 that it could never be enough. Faced with this situation we had to rethink our strategies quickly. Our wish was and still is to continue our work from within the country.
We need to keep our community and organisational structure alive
For those of us who are resisting inside the country, it became clear that even in the most difficult scenario it will be important to protect the LGBTIQ+ community leadership. They are mostly young people and from the interior of the country. And we would also need to keep up the good connections within our community and to provide spaces to meet up and exchange experiences; in other words: to keep our community and organisational structure alive. This is a key condition to resistance, recognising that we have the capacity to help each other in the face of the discrimination that society has historically imposed on us. We also understood that we would have to appoint someone within each team who dedicates at least a good part of their time to monitoring the security risks and conditions of each leader we work with, and to ensure that security measures are in place during our face-to-face and virtual meetings.
Risk monitoring and Collaboration agreements with other organisations
When they finally started to prevent us from receiving direct financial resources, we were already prepared. By that time, we had established collaboration agreements with other LGBTIQ+ organisations in the region and encountered a lot of solidarity. Some of these organisations became financial benefactors which allowed us to continue operating with the transparency required when receiving donor funding. Complying with the main conditions for the implementation and reporting of funds such as ensuring tax payments, tools to meet all requirements, etc., has been possible thanks to a timely, clear and precise communication. To establish such a communication is extremely important and of course it also provides a response to the challenge for donors who need to strengthen their monitoring and follow-up capacities.
Each action we have taken is in line with the others, so that they complement each other. This is what we call a “process vision”. We are aware that the more complex our working conditions are, the more necessary and relevant it is to have a vision that takes the whole process into account. This means to be aware that all actions contribute to a strategic objective, which in our case is to be part of the process of a peaceful political transition and to ensure that our historical demands for social and legal recognition are not forgotten in the course of this political transition that will take place in my country. And even if we are unable to say when it will happen and at times it may seem unattainable, we are sure that the transition will happen.
Leaders face risk of imprisonment
When the protests started in April 2018, LGBTIQ+ people spontaneously came out in support of the protesters all over the country. In many places they acquired leadership positions which in some cases led to their imprisonment. Among the political prisoners there have been about 30 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. At the moment, 10 of them are still in jail. Despite the fact that Nicaraguan society has historically discriminated against us, LGBTIQ+ people came out in massive numbers to support their demands, motivated by solidarity and outrage at the abusive use of force with which the authorities and government supporters oppressed the population. We were able to identify these abuses because we also undertook to record them and make the damage we suffered visible. We realised that no one speaks for LGBTIQ+ people and we learned that the production of information at the source is very important. Since then, we have continuously adjusted our conceptual, methodological and technological tools. By providing primary information at the source we have also been able to expose the reality and the dimension of discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ+ people in Nicaragua. This will also provide us with new arguments to strengthen our advocacy work.
“Multiplying voices” is what we call the process of reaching out to other stakeholders in the Nicaraguan society through dialogue and collaborative work. Don’t think it has been an easy task, because in all sectors of the opposition we face hate speech, homophobia, discrimination, rejection and intolerance. But wherever it has been possible we have managed to become part of these spaces of dialogue. In some cases, we have succeeded in having our demands included in the proposals that these groups present to society in general.
Multilevel crisis: climate change
In addition to the socio-political crisis, we have the crisis caused by climate change. Every year we have more LGBTIQ+ people directly affected by the passage of tropical storms and hurricanes such as hurricanes IOTA and ETA in 2020, and the recent storm Julia in October 2022. The health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also showed us that among LGBTIQ+ people we have more vulnerable people such as older people, people with HIV or transgender sex workers. According to our latest 2021–2022 survey, 91.8% of LGBTIQ+ people surveyed do not manage to cover the monthly basic food basket, i.e. they do not have access to the 54 basic commodities. And this is still without taking into account the effects of the economic and energy crisis resulting from Russia’s abusive war against Ukraine, because the survey was closed before the start of the conflict.
In the face of this difficult reality, we have not stood idly by, as I have already explained. Some donors have abandoned Nicaragua, such as the Arcus Foundation, which this year no longer considers us an eligible country, or the Interamerican Foundation, which was one of those that have been very hesitant to maintain their support. But I can mention many more who know that success is possible, that the work on the ground can be done and that you can have trust. But above all, they recognise that it is very important to maintain the support with a view to strengthen resilience in the face of all the hardship. Of course, this requires a partnership relationship, in order to find a common path by building strategies collaboratively and communicating in a timely, clear, accurate and respectful manner.
The countries of the Central American region share some similarities in terms of the general context, such as the rise of neo-conservatism, high levels of corruption, high vulnerability to climate change, mass exodus and poverty. However, there are considerable differences from country to country as to how these conditions affect people’s lives. In all the countries of the region we have seen strong efforts of LGBTIQ+ people speaking out. In Nicaragua, the National LGBTIQ+ Coalition has 16 member groups from all over the country, including the two autonomous regions of the Caribbean Coast. This allows us to raise our voice at the regional level and make an impact on the Central American integration process and to be the voice of the countries where freedom of expression does not exist.
And with this I want to point out that no matter how bad the conditions are, there is always something that can be done. Those of us who work in these contexts do it every day and we hope that we can continue to do so with your help, because help can be provided … without causing more harm.
Thank you very much.
José Ignacio López
Coordinator, Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua
Technical Secretary, National LGBTIQ+ Coalition
Founder, Museum of Inclusion
An event by Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation as part of the project: “Do no harm – how to minimize risks for LGBTIQ in international human rights work”. All Articles and documentation in our blog tagged DNH-2022.
Conference documentation here