One year after the release of the 222 political prisoners who were exiled to the United States and stripped of their nationality, the family dictatorship in Nicaragua has continued to fall deeper into its own crisis in power, by imposing an increasingly totalitarian regime. The “innovation” of the Ortega-Murillo sultanate has been to create a system of persecution of dissent, which punishes equally those who demand free elections and democracy, as well as the nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or the promoters of a beauty queen, winner of Miss Universe.
Their method is a patronage system of social control, personality cult, political espionage, and economic extortion, which is causing a mass migration of Nicaraguans to the United States, Costa Rica, and other countries, in search of freedom, security, and opportunities.
If any clueless international analyst predicted that after re-election in November 2021, without competition after imprisoning all potential opposition presidential candidates, Ortega would facilitate a political opening, what happened was just the opposite. In 2022, he swept away civil society, eliminated virtually all unions and associations, and intensified persecution against the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church.
Similarly, after the release of 222 political prisoners in February 2023, Ortega did not dare to convene a dialogue to restore national stability. The regime’s leap forward was to try to circumvent Nicaragua’s commitments to international conventions on human rights, torture prevention, and statelessness, among others, sheltering itself as a pawn of Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, and North Korea, under the political protection of his international allies.
The suspension of torture in jail against the 222 was replaced by the hardening of the police state, using the revolving door to have new political prisoners (there are 105 in jails and more than 50 under police siege and de facto house arrest), with more religious persecution, more economic extortion against companies, more corruption, and more confiscations of private properties, including universities.
By condemning 94 other citizens as “stateless” and “traitors to the homeland”, most of them in exile, the regime extended confiscations against more than 316 citizens. They annulled legal security and generalized the application of a system of bribes and tax and customs extortion, which has placed Nicaragua among the most corrupt countries in the world, alongside Venezuela, Syria, and Somalia, in Transparency International’s ranking.
Therefore, almost two and a half years after the massive abstention during the electoral farce of 2021, people continue to vote with their feet. They leave Nicaragua because the regime offers them no future, neither to young people, workers, professionals, producers, entrepreneurs and not even to the public employees who work for the State. Meanwhile, Ortega and Murillo have turned the country into a refuge for corrupt Central American leaders and a platform for exporting irregular Cuban, Haitian, and extracontinental migrants to the United States.
The only exit the dictatorship offers is more of the same, or even something worse than the same, with the “dynastic succession” of Daniel Ortega to his wife Rosario Murillo. A succession that is already underway with the vice president placing her loyal and unconditional followers at the top of the State, amidst the astonishment prevailing among the supporters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
The expiration of the co-presidency model between the absent ruler, who today reaches 46 days out of public view, and the omnipresent vice president, is also generating anxiety among the generals of the Army and the Police, among ministers, deputies, magistrates, and frontmen of the family clan’s businesses. It’s a failed model, which could even worsen by leaving all political operators subject to the absolute and despotic power of one person.
In Nicaragua, among the high ranks of the Army and the Police, who ultimately sustain the dictatorship in power, it’s a well-known fact that while Ortega is admired and respected for his aura of “historic” leader, Murillo is only feared (and hated) for her prodigious vengeful memory. That’s why the project of “dynastic succession”, although in the short term it’s the only constitutional solution that can be invoked, in the definitive absence of Ortega, it does not represent a medium-term solution for those who manage the fiefdoms of dictatorial power. It would only mean more political violence and instability.
On the other hand, for the majority of the country’s citizens, the hope for democratic change remains intact as the only national way out to initiate the reconstruction of Nicaragua with justice, development, and prosperity.
Despite the uprooting and pain of exile, and what it implies to rebuild their lives and families in adverse conditions to overcome the aftermath of jail, torture, and exile, the plural leadership of the former political prisoners and exiled leaders, who organized in Costa Rica since 2021, represents a beacon of hope to get out of the dictatorship and initiate a democratic transition.
The dictatorship could never break the morale of the political prisoners in the jails of El Chipote, La Esperanza, La Modelo, and other penitentiary centers. It could never obtain a self-confession or implication for the alleged crimes attributed. On the contrary, it only achieved the reaffirmation that the struggle for freedom and democracy, with justice and without impunity, is non-negotiable.
One year after the release of the 222 political prisoners, that conviction remains the foundational pillar of a new Nicaragua, which is being built step by step, in a climate of tolerance and democratic maturity, with new leadership, without warlords or messianism, away from extremes, although still without deep roots in the depths of Nicaragua, due to the repression and the police state. On that leadership rests the protection they can provide to citizens, overcoming the obstacles to reactivate active resistance in Nicaragua.
But change is already being built, step by step, from Nicaragua in people’s consciences and in silent resistance, and it is amplified from exile in the independent press that continues to defeat official censorship, but it is still necessary to fully restore the right to freedom of expression, without repression.
Therefore, it’s imperative to continue demanding solidarity from Latin America, with the participation of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Central America, with the democratic left and the liberal right together with the greater international community, to isolate the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, with the support of the United States and the European Union. Nicaraguans are not demanding foreign intervention or violating the sovereignty of Nicaragua. What we demand is to isolate a totalitarian dictatorship until the police state is suspended, to clear the way for electoral reform, without Daniel Ortega or Rosario Murillo, to hold new free elections and initiate a democratic transition.
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.