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Implications of Humberto Ortega’s House Arrest

The former Army chief, brother of Daniel Ortega, publicly questioned the "dynastic succession" of an "authoritarian dictatorial power"

Mónica Baltodano

23 de mayo 2024


Humberto Ortega’s recent statements in an interview published by the Argentine website Infobae and the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, have unleashed a sea of comments and speculations. We can’t overlook that Humberto was a Comandante of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, and the first head of the Army that was created after the collapse of Somoza’s National Guard in 1979. He was also one of the chief strategists of the Sandinista faction known as Tercerista, which insisted on the urgency of establishing alliances and of promoting insurrections in the cities.

It’s true that one sector of Nicaraguan society rejects him for having served as head of an army that quickly acted to confront the counterrevolution. They frequently ignore the fact that the war waged in the 80’s was a ferocious struggle against a quasi-regular army, built with support from the government of Ronald Reagan, who had taken upon himself the job of putting an early end to the Revolution. It’s not my aim here to enter into the polemics of that topic, but rather to try and read what lies behind Humberto Ortega’s current positions, given that he’s also the dictator’s younger brother.

[Humberto] Ortega went through a period of very poor health. He now feels much better, but he knows his health is delicate. Doubtless, he’s worried about how history will judge him. He doesn’t want to remain silent, and thinks he can still do something for Nicaragua, to avoid having us “end up killing each other.” In that sense, he’s aligned with the opinion of the great majority of the Nicaraguan opposition: no one wants new wars or fratricidal confrontations. The new generations have placed their bets on the peaceful and civic path.

Certainly, his position – although in my view, it suffers from holes and errors – has the merit of being direct and frank. Its viability is another story. Still, it clearly indicates that the old power bloc is weakening, and we must continue insisting that Ortega and Murillo will only prolong Nicaragua’s woes.

Humberto makes an assertion that must have fallen like a bombshell on the presidential residence in El Carmen: neither Rosario [Murillo] nor their children, nor anyone from the current group in power, can provide a solution. If Daniel dies, Humberto states, they’re all lost, and only uncertainty and the dangers of chaos will be left. To an obsessive psychopath (Murillo) who’s been working tirelessly for the past seventeen years to assure she’ll be the successor to Daniel Ortega; who has gone on to control Nicaragua’s Supreme Court and the Police, and has been moving to project her son Laureano into the dynastic line-up for succession, such a proposal is deathly. The implacable response of putting Humberto Ortega under de facto house arrest, striving to maintain him incommunicado, and silencing him, is proof of that. At the same time, an increase in Murillo’s controls over the repressive organs goes without saying.

There’s no doubt that Humberto is making progress in his critical stance against his brother’s regime. In the interview that preceded his arrest, he declared that he now has more natural, fluid, communications with Daniel. “We’re talking,” he said. We have to conclude that his brother is aware of what Humberto is now doing. This wasn’t so a while ago. He’s managed to slip through Rosario’s fence. And, obviously, she’s not happy about that.

Humberto Ortega assures that due to these critical positions, they could order him killed… but says that he’s not afraid of them. What he’s trying to do is issue a call of alarm. He’s convinced that without a political settlement, Nicaragua will fall into chaos, with no force able to prevent it. Hence, he warns of the risks of the dictatorship’s geopolitical alignments and his fears that, in the face of impending chaos, the gringos could opt for a “surgical operation.” I think that’s a very strong form of warning.


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It’s important to note that Humberto Ortega calls out by name the corrupt and parasitical government that has been installed in Nicaragua. He affirms that it’s sustained by “a backbone of dogmatic power.”  We’re heading towards disaster, he concludes, even as things appear on the surface to be fine. He also classifies the regime as “an authoritarian, dictatorial power,” that doesn’t allow the exercise of democracy. From his position, it would be difficult to be any clearer or more direct. It should be recognized that it’s a valiant posture.

He classifies as “very grave” the fact that the Army hasn’t disarmed the paramilitary, even though – thanks to their intelligence organs – they’re in full possession of all the information on the theme. He notes that the Army lent their intelligence and complicity to the 2018 crisis, instead of assuming their assigned State role. That’s a serious confirmation of something that we’ve known and have been denouncing since 2018, but such an affirmation from a former chief and founder of the Army has great significance. He also questions the upper leadership of the Army and the Police, who have joined forces with this authoritarian government. There will certainly be ears within the Armed Forces that are listening.

Humberto Ortega suggests a reencounter of all the forces that are currently polarized and full of hate. That, obviously, won’t be easy or viable for now; but it’s a proposal with which many political leaders concur, along with most sensible citizens. Nicaragua should belong to all the Nicaraguans, and the differences and proposals for the country should be resolved through democratic channels.

Before making these declarations, Humberto Ortega had published an article entitled: Que Hacer [What should be done], with very accurate reflections on the geopolitical situation and the risks that humanity faces from the dangers of a nuclear conflagration. However, in the section referring to Nicaragua, his essay contained some arrogant affirmations, such as the “defeat of the Counterrevolution” when actually the disarmament of this group came as the result of peace negotiations – the Esquipulas accord and the dialogues in Sapoa – in which the Presidents of Central America played an important role.

Naturally, I don’t share all of Humberto Ortega’s affirmations, but we should recognize that everything that helps weaken the dictatorship’s foundation and supports, and deepens the contradictions within the nucleus of power; everything that serves to highlight the despotic and closed nature of the regime; is a contribution to the complex struggle we Nicaraguans are locked in, and to the reestablishment of our Republic.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Mónica Baltodano

Mónica Baltodano

Guerrillera, revolucionaria y política nicaragüense. Participó en la insurrección contra la dictadura somocista. Exdiputada de la Asamblea Nacional. Fundó el disidente Movimiento por el Rescate del Sandinismo. Tiene una licenciatura en Ciencias Sociales y una maestría en Derecho Municipal de la Universidad de Barcelona, España. Es autora de la serie "Memorias de la Lucha Sandinista".