Sandinistas block Internet in National Assembly

Lawmakers from the ruling party argue Internet is a distraction from the serious business of approving legislation

Opposition lawmakers in Nicaragua are lambasting an unannounced and unilateral decision by the ruling Sandinista Front to cut Internet service to all congressmen inside the legislative chamber of the National Assembly.

On Tuesday, lawmakers showed up to work to find that their computers in the legislative chamber no longer have Internet access. The restrictive measure, according to veteran Sandinista congressman José Figueroa, was implemented to prevent lawmakers from wasting time on Facebook or Cartoonnetwork.com.

“This is a measure to get all the lawmakers to focus only on their legislative work. All the social networks, personal emails and personal information can be looked at in their offices, because each lawmaker has his or her office,” veteran Sandinista congressman José Figueroa told El Nuevo Diario.

Figueroa said lawmakers in the legislative chamber will be limited to accessing the National Assembly’s webpage and their daily work agenda, which will be facilitated by a closed-circuit intranet system. Predictably, other Sandinista lawmakers have closed ranks and applauded the administrative decision.

But opposition lawmakers argue the move is an “absurd” and “authoritarian” attempt by Sandinistas to control access to information, limit lawmakers from interacting with constituents and deterring informed debate in the National Assembly.

“This is a form of censorship, similar to what you see from the governments of Cuba, Iran and China,” Liberal Party lawmaker Carlos Langrand told The Nicaragua Dispatch this morning. “Information is power; it helps inform debates in the National Assembly and allows lawmakers to connect with voters through social media, as well as remain up-to-date on what is happening in the world.”

Langrand thinks the Sandinistas’ decision to take the legislative chamber offline demonstrates the ruling party’s “fear of information flow” and is an attempt by the Nicaragua’s establishment to “suppress the freedom of expression by cutting off communication with the outside world.”

In a country with less than 10% Internet connectivity, restricting Internet use in the National Assembly doesn’t seem to be consistent with national efforts to close the digital divide or modernize government, says Sandinista dissident lawmaker Victor Hugo Tinoco, of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

“This is an absurd decision. The Internet is an important tool that we use to inform debate. When we are discussing economic matters, we often use Internet to refer to statistics published on the Central Bank’s webpage,” Tinoco told The Nicaragua Dispatch this morning.

Tinoco noted that the international community has gone to great efforts to help Nicaragua’s National Assembly modernize with technology, computers and Internet access. To now limit those advances makes no sense, he said.

“What’s next?” Tinoco demanded. “Removing Internet from schools and universities because it’s a distraction from learning?”

Congressman Langrand admits that there are some uninterested and disengaged lawmakers who waste their time fooling around online. But he claims those are mostly low-ranking Sandinista lawmakers whose job it is to vote piously and unquestioningly for their party’s position, which is handed down from the presidency and not subject for debate.

“Those are the lawmakers who spend all day on Facebook or playing online solitaire, because there is no room for dissention or debate in the ranks of the Sandinista Front. But the opposition is more interested in debating legislation,” he says.

Both Langrand and Tinoco say their opposition legislative blocs are scheduled to meet today to file an official appeal or protest of the Internet ban.   

  • Devry Armitage

    Slippery Slope, Thin Edge of the Wedge…call it what you will, not good!

  • Jorge

    I agree with this move for the sole fact that the disengaged will now have to be engaged. According to Mr. Langrand, of the Liberal Party, most of the disengaged are low ranking Sandinista members. Having no access to social media, which is a waste of time, lawmakers will have to face the music and contribute to the legislative process, instead of just doodling around. Furthermore, some websites, for the most part social media, should be restricted and other websites that serves as a source of information should not.

  • Luis

    Any limitation to access of internet is an act of censorship. It has proven deadly to dictatorships and undemocratic governments. To justify this as a way to engage lawmakers is absurd. There is more to social media than just doodling, the immediate release of news for instance or an instant poll to see how the public thinks about something. Governments in general and oppressive ones in particular seems fearful of using the internet to amplify the democratic process.

    • Kelvin

      I think Luis needs to re read this. He is off on a tangent thinking the goverment has just banned the internet in a Cuban like decision.

      Luis, its more like your boss telling you to work, not play while he is paying you.

      • daddy-yo

        Maybe too many were watching hard core porn instead of reviewing arguments on pending legislation?

  • Ken

    Since it’s hard to imagine that this policy is intended to or will restrict information–the lawmakers can after all still Google anything they want during breaks or after work–and it’s silly to say it is to make them stop playing solitaire, since that doesn’t require an internet connection, the question is why the Sandinistas passed it in the first place.

    My inference is that the motive is to better manage their PR. By prohibiting internet connections, the Sandinistas prevent leaks during the sessions. This gives them a little more time to spin the stories the way they want to and prevents them from being blindsided by an opposition leak that catches fire during the day.

    I wouldn’t therefore call this information suppression but rather media management. Is this authoritarian? Probably. But then again it’s just another small tweak that doesn’t necessarily disadvantage the opposition (since the Sandinistas presumably won’t have internet access either).

    Once again, the challenge to the opposition is to be as sophisticated as the Sandinistas. They have to systematically manage their PR too, which requires a degree of organization than unfortunately is not in much evidence among them.

  • jim miller

    Good move for Nicaragua. First of all all of you keep saying this phrase “limiting access to internet”; all these congressmen have complete and undenied access to internet, they can only not use it while they are in the most important part of their work. Nica legislators are notorious for not showing up at work or for votes, in the past some have missed up to 2/3 of the yearly legislative sesions. Although I believe those authoritarian sandinistas made some new rules several years ago making them show up to work and getting fined.

  • Car

    Pathetic. They all have smartphones and can still surf if they want to on the halfway decent 3G network. This is only the beginning…

  • Neflyte49

    Good measure, and for the general knowledge in the national assembly are implemented a net computers that boot in network, dont use windows and that the cause that the legislators use online solitaire.