When the Sandinista Revolution triumphed in Nicaragua in July 1979, Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez, now “denationalized,” was one of the five members of the Government Junta that triumphantly entered the Plaza de la Revolucion in Managua.
Ramirez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize, was riding on top of a fire truck, along with four other members of the Government Junta, including the one who would become the coordinator and later president, the current ruler, Daniel Ortega. They were all celebrating the fall of the of the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
Ramirez, who went into exile in Spain in October 2021 after an arrest warrant issued against him by his former partner, has gone from being a protagonist of the Revolution and Vice President of Nicaragua (1985-1990), to being the heads and tails of the Sandinista coin and “a traitor” for Ortega, who now, almost 44 years after that iconic photo in the Plaza de la Revolucion, has “denationalized” him for being on the opposite side of the street.
“The traitor Sergio Ramirez is already making his analysis and says that we did wrong, that we should have taken them out in small numbers, in exchange for…he speaks of a negotiation (…) like a mercenary,” launched Ortega when on February 9 he announced the release and deportation of 222 opponents to the United States, who were later deprived of their nationality.
Six days after that speech, a Court of Appeals in Managua withdrew the nationality of Ramirez and 93 other Nicaragua for alleged “treason to the homeland.”
The list included Moises Hassan, another of the five members of the original Government Junta. And also, Luis Carrion, one of the nine Commanders of the Revolution that fought against the Somoza dictatorship.
Previously, they had taken it away from the legendary guerrilla fighter Dora Maria Tellez, one of Ortega’s prisoners and who in 1978 risked her life in the assault on the National Palace to free 60 political prisoners, among them Tomas Borge, Doris Tijerino, Rene Nunez, and other Sandinista leaders.
And he also took it away from renowned combatant Victor Hugo Tinoco, who was Deputy Foreign Minister of the Sandinistas in the 1980s.
“Pinochet 1973 – Ortega 2023”
“Augusto Pinochet 1973 – Daniel Ortega 2023,” tweeted researcher Juan Pappier, acting deputy director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), when comparing the Chilean Constitutional reform of 1973 that empowered taking away the nationality of a native of Chile, with an expedited law promoted and approved by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua last week.
The issue of denationalization is still in the memory of Chileans, and Ortega’s latest measures remind many of what Pinochet did half a century ago.
Heraldo Munoz, former Chilean minister of foreign affairs, when referring to the measures adopted in Nicaragua, asserted that Ortega is following “the lesson of the dictator Pinochet who deprived Orlando Letelier of his nationality. A disgrace in the 21st century.”
Letelier, who was Salvador Allende’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense (1970-1973) and a militant of the Socialist Party, suffered that affront by the civil-military Pinochet dictatorship, before a terrorist attack took his life in Washington D.C.
Through a decree signed by 15 ministers on September 10, 1976, Letelier was stripped of his Chilean nationality, fifteen days after he published in the United States his emblematic essay: “The Chicago Boys in Chile: the terrible price of economic freedom.”
Letelier, a prestigious Chilean politician, already in exile, began to work from the intellectual field both in the United States and in the Netherlands, which made him an international renowned figure with the capacity to assemble an opposition pole to the Pinochet regime, which brought him to the attention of the Military Junta.
Letelier’s case, a model for Nicaragua
Letelier’s case “occurs in a context of dictatorship and persecution of opponents by the government headed by Augusto Pinochet, becoming, therefore, an unavoidable model to assess what is happening today in Nicaragua,” Edgardo Riveros Marin, professor of International and Constitutional Law at the Universidad Central of Chile, told EFE news agency.
“It is a case that has a special symbolism—even though it is not the only one in which this measure was applied by the dictatorship in Chile—since he was deprived of the Chilean nationality a few days before the terrorist attack in Washington that took his life,” explained Riveros Marin, deputy foreign minister of Chile between 2014 and 2018. Orlando Letelier, Chilean opponent was declared “stateless” by the tyrant Augusto Pinochet.
Another of the Chileans rendered stateless by Pinochet’s decision was Jose Manuel Zambrano, a now deceased EFE journalist, who went into exiled in London and returned to Chile when democracy was restored in 1990 and was the press chief of the Senate.
Observing what is currently happening in Nicaragua, the Latin American Association for Human Rights, has noted that it “emulates the worst repressive practices used at the time by the dictatorships of Videla in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile.”
Brazil’s “banned from the national territory”
In Brazil there was a similar case. In 1969 the military junta decreed that fifteen opponents involved in the kidnapping of the then United States ambassador, Charles Elbrick, were “banned from national territory.”
The decree, however, did not clarify whether their nationality was withdrawn or whether they were only prevented from entering Brazil. In practice it did not allow them to obtain a passport and placed them in a situation equivalent to statelessness.
Among those affected was Jose Dirceu, who later became a minister in the first government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and ended up in jail for corruption.
In 1978 this decree was abolished, one year before the amnesty decree of 1979.
The case of Mario Vargas Llosa
In Peru there is a case that did not materialize but had a great impact: that of the writer Mario Vargas Llosa.
Between 1992 and 1993, there were rumors about the possibility that the government of Alberto Fujimori (who had defeated Vargas Llosa at the polls) would take away his nationality.
Faced with that possibility and after Fujimori’s self-coup, Spain granted him nationality for fear that the writer could become stateless. Finally, Fujimori did not dare to strip him of his Peruvian nationality.
In the case of Cuba, an allied government with Daniel Ortega, certain people—mostly opponents, activists and journalists are extrajudicially punished with measures related to their passports, without having their nationality withdrawn.
In the other Latin American countries, included paradoxically Nicaragua, the Constitution expressly forbids the withdrawal of nationality of a native by birth.
Even so, Ramirez (Masatepe, Nicaragua, 1942), once Ortega’s number two, has been denationalized, but the writer maintains that “the more Nicaragua they take away from me, the more Nicaragua I have.”