Nicaraguan parliament dissolves local Red Cross
Nicaragua's parliament on Wednesday dissolved the local branch of the Red Cross, accusing it of taking sides in 2018 anti-government protests.
The resolution was unanimously passed by a National Assembly loyal to President Daniel Ortega's ruling party, making the Red Cross the latest entity to be shuttered after falling foul of the government.
Ortega's government, under UN sanctions for a raft of actions criticized as authoritarian, has recently clashed with the Catholic Church, the EU and other bodies that have raised alarm over alleged rights violations.
These include the detention of hundreds of critics, among them several would-be challengers to Ortega who were jailed ahead of presidential elections in 2021.
More than 2,000 associations, NGOs and employer unions have been barred from operating since 2020.
Wednesday's resolution repealed a 1958 decree which legally created the Nicaraguan Red Cross and authorized the creation of a new "decentralized, autonomous entity" attached to the Ministry of Health in its place.
The resolution authorized all assets of the Nicaraguan Red Cross to be seized and handed over to be administered by the replacement body.
The resolution is final and requires no further approval.
Nicaraguan lawmakers accused the Red Cross of violating the political neutrality required from humanitarian organizations following anti-government protests in 2018 that rights bodies say unleashed a campaign of violent oppression.
A clampdown, observers say, left more than 350 dead, hundreds imprisoned and more than 100,000 in exile, and prompted a UN Human Rights Council probe.
Ortega's government described the protests as part of a coup plot he said was orchestrated by the opposition with Washington's support.
- 'Developing situation' -
The International Committee of the Red Cross was established in 1863 to help people affected by conflict and armed violence.
It employs over 21,000 people in more than 100 countries, according to the ICRC website, which describes it as an "independent, neutral organization."
In Nicaragua, it has been active for decades, and today counts some 2,000 volunteers and 63 ambulances.
But the Nicaraguan government, in a document sent to parliament, claimed branches of the Red Cross had "acted against these principles" of neutrality and "the association itself transgressed the laws of the country."
In a message to AFP, the ICRC delegation for Mexico and Central America said it was aware of the decision.
"As it is a developing situation that is being studied, for the moment, we cannot comment," it added.
A firebrand Marxist in his youth, Ortega was a guerrilla in the Sandinista movement that overthrew the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship.
He ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, then returned to power in 2007.
Now 77, Ortega has won reelection three times -- winning his last race in 2021 with all his credible challengers in jail.
Ortega has engaged in increasingly authoritarian practices, quashing presidential term limits and seizing control of all branches of the state.