On December 27, 1974, Hugo Torres took part in an assault on a home where the Ministers and inner circle of dictator Anastasio Somoza were gathered. That guerrilla action led to the liberation of a group of imprisoned militants from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
One of them was Daniel Ortega.
On June 13th, 46 years after that episode, now-president Ortega with over twenty years in power and every intention of getting himself reelected for a fifth term, ordered Torres to be arrested and jailed. Hugo Torres, now a retired brigadier general, is accused of “treason”.
Torres is vice president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, formerly known as the Sandinista Renewal Movement. This is a dissident political group that – without mincing words – calls the president a dictator.
That same day, in a continuation of his cannibal attack, the Nicaraguan strongman detained two other former comrades from the years of revolutionary struggle: Dora Maria Tellez and Victor Hugo Tinoco. Two other opposition leaders and a journalist were imprisoned along with them.
One week previously, Ortega’s security apparatus arrested four presidential candidates for the opposition. Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of assassinated journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was placed under house arrest, while the three male candidates were jailed.
Presidential elections have been scheduled for November 7th, but there’s only one chair on the stage. As a presidential candidate, Cristiana embodies a threatening symbol for Ortega. Her mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, defeated him in the 1990 electoral race.
In 2006, former guerrilla leader Ortega returned to power. Since that time, he never again shared it. As in the days of the Somozas in Nicaragua, one family rules, and their interests are placed above anyone else’s. Ortega does and undoes as he wishes. He decides who can conduct business in Nicaragua, and who can’t. The Army is the ultimate guarantee of the status quo, and they, too, operate like a wealthy corporation. The Nicaraguan army possesses lucrative investments that no one monitors.
In 2017, Nicaragua displayed the lowest homicide rate in Central America. Tourism thrived, in large part due to that sense of security. Central American and foreign investors considered Nicaragua an excellent place to invest. Daniel Ortega had reinvented himself as a Christian and a capitalist and was attempting to ingratiate himself with the United States. His alliance with COSEP, the zenith of Nicaraguan business magnates, strengthened him.
However, in April 2018, the mirror in which Nicaragua reflected itself was shattered into pieces. As often happens, it began with student protests. As the song about students says: “birds that aren’t afraid of animals or police.” First, they raised their voices against the government’s lackadaisical reaction to a fire in the Indio-Maiz biological reserve. Then, they protested the rise in obligatory contributions to Social Security that the regime had just announced.
The regime and its police turned their fury on them, and on the successive waves of citizens that went out to march in the following weeks. Peace was canceled, and the war against the people began. In less than two months, more than 120 people, most of them students, were assassinated. [The figure grew to over 320 a couple months later.] The number of the wounded rose to over a thousand. Hundreds were thrown into jail, where they were mistreated.
The assault hasn’t ended. International sanctions don’t intimidate the government, nor do the denunciations move them. Dissidents are accused of terrorism, inciting foreign interference, encouraging economic and commercial blockades, plotting against sovereignty and self-determination. It’s a war against the people, directed by a mafia who sees themselves facing an uprising that can only gather strength.
Understandably, the majority of Nicaraguans flee the raging flames. The struggle trickles down peaceful channels. Given the open nature of that movement and the imbalance in forces, Ortega has found it easy to neutralize the opposition. Two or three raids are enough to pick up and lock up the prominent figures.
On top of that, the opposition has never been able to organize a granite-solid front. The origins, interests and vibes of its members are a diverse hodge-podge. Everyone is in different corners. But the accumulation of abuses and arbitrary action can only lead to the popular will becoming stronger.
Nicaraguan history teaches us that a hateful and repressive government will sooner or later crumble. But not out of inertia. Ortega and Murillo will never leave power with good grace. The president is a consummate politician, an old fox. He still maintains a social base, and he’s willing to see more bloodshed.
This being so, the solution doesn’t lie in foreign intervention either. Other countries defend their own particular interests. “The way out lies within Nicaragua, not outside the country,” journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Cristiana’s brother, recently reaffirmed.
Pulling Ortega down from the limb he clings to will require a concerted popular effort and a hard shove. At this point, we don’t know what that shove will consist of, or how to talk about it. We only know that it has to happen.
*Roger Lindo is a writer and journalist.