Friday, June 13, 2014

HRW ’14: A Quiet Inquisition

Is it too late to repeal the Boland Amendment? Surely, this is not what famous Sandinista supporters like Jackson Browne and Bill de Blasio had in mind. They might have been happy to see their old political heart throb Daniel Ortega regain the Nicaraguan presidency, but it came at a price. Ortega agreed to support legislation making abortion completely 100% illegal in the country and he delivered. Alessandra Zeka & Holen Sabrina Kahn follow a Sandinista-loyalist OBGYN as she deals with the consequences of the new policy throughout A Quiet Inquisition, which screens during the 2014 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York.

There was a time when the word church would have Ortega reaching for his gun. Then the voters heaved him out of power. Low and behold, Ortega saw the light in 2006, converting to Catholicism and reinventing himself as a Christian Liberation Socialist. Apparently, he agreed to follow the local diocese’s domestic policies, in exchange for their fairly overt support. As a result, Dr. Carla Cerrato and her colleagues can do absolutely nothing to “interfere” with a technically living baby/fetus, no matter what the health risks for the mother. While nobody directly addresses the enforcement, it is clearly severe enough that neither Dr. Cerrato nor her colleagues ever even try to bend the rules.

The irony of Sandinista Nicaragua becoming a socialist Handmaid’s Tale is so massively obvious, Inquisition and its subject simply cannot ignore it, but Zeka & Kahn resist exploring it as much as possible. One would think any muckraker worth their salt would try to approach Hizzoner for his assessment of women’s rights under Ortega. Instead, they concentrate on horror stories (one suspects to minimize the Sandinista particulars and maximize its general abortion-rights messaging). However, as sad as each case study is, they quickly become repetitive.

Frankly, Inquisition completely misses the bigger picture. This law is not changing anytime soon, because Ortega is not leaving office again without a full scale revolution. Having recently repealed presidential term limits, he is clearly following the Chavez-Morales playbook, turning relatively legitimate electoral victories into a lifetime dictatorships by undermining democratic safeguards with rigged constituent assemblies and the like.

Incidentally, from what we glean from Inquisition, the new-old regime has done nothing to improve the average Nicaraguan’s standard of living, either. Still, it is always refreshing to see a leftist regime take heat from the port-side, but the obvious potential avenues for follow-up are conspicuously absent. Recommended only for the most ardent international women’s rights activists, A Quiet Inquisition screens this Sunday (6/15) at the Walter Reade Theater and next Friday (6/20) at the IFC Center, as part of this year’s HRW Film Festival in New York.