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Nicaragua's deep impoverishment

The Ortega- Murillo dictatorship can’t be put on the same plane with “worn out but authentic revolutionary regimes.”

Illustration from “Otras Miradas”

They were students. The criminal is the president. Illustration from “Otras Miradas,” a Central American media alliance,

Hermann Bellinghausen

31 de marzo 2023


No country should expel its own people and cancel their nationality. Not even criminals. At times, those expelled may be some of the country’s best children, as occurred in Nazi Germany and in Spain under Franco. It smacks of meanness, abuse, a loss of State reason. We’re seeing this now in Nicaragua. If the retro-Sandinista regime weren’t so terrible and aberrant, the Daniel Ortega – Rosario Murillo duo would move us to laughter, with their banana-republic obsession for power vaguely painted over in leftist colors, thanks to the heroic and honorable history of Nicaragua’s revolution for liberation that the Comandante and his circle usurped many years ago.

In reality the Sandinista revolution enjoyed only a brief summer blossoming after 1979 – a decade or a little more. Later, sadly, it had to coexist with its opposition on the center and the right. As is customary, the blatant intervention of the United States to destabilize a “Communist” regime (in this case arming and organizing the Contra army) held some weight in all this, by unleashing a civil war. Over the longer run, the worst of those who had seemed the best took power for their own. The Cambodia syndrome.

The current Nicaraguan government’s supposed anti-imperialism allows them to continue being swallowed by leftist observers in Latin America and Europe. These observers turn the other way while the regime continues impoverishing the freedom and the cultural, political, and material life of the country.

Putting Ortega’s regime on the same plane with worn-out but authentic revolutionary regimes like those of Cuba or Venezuela, makes for an idle comparison. It’s also useless to see it as part of the progressive and democratic wave that – with all its ups and downs – characterizes the region today. A long time back, Nicaragua gave up all vestiges of popular revolution, badly disguised under a patronage-based populism. Even during its good years in the 80s, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), had the bad taste to imitate Mexican PRI-ism, a system that finally sank into a shameful piñata of corruption. With the passage of time, the government that Ortega usurped degenerated into a network of corrupt privileges that accentuate the very inequality that the Sandinista revolution promised to eliminate.

Trapped in the Ortega family dictatorship, the Central American nation is suffering through a painful dictatorial comedy; neither Bukele’s El Salvador, nor Giammattei’s Guatemala seem equally desolate, while the little-investigated links between the Ortega regime and international drug trafficking has made Nicaragua a sanctuary and a trampoline for the northward movement of drugs.

Ortega’s latest wanderings (and he’s had so many: from serial rapist to election thief, traitor to his ideals, persecutor of students, and perpetrator of ethnocide of the original peoples) merely confirm the disasters. Through the arbitrary and illegal imprisonment of his political opponents (including the very height of shamelessness – incarcerating other electoral contenders for his position), he erased the last vestiges of democracy, outlawed opposing political parties, dismantled the civil society organizations, and sponsored media and political lynching of those who questioned his regime.

Now he’s named Rosario Murillo, his consort and accomplice, as co-president, a parody of Lady Macbeth in a government transformed into a personal business. Such autocracy would seem to be some kind of historic curse in Nicaragua, and not only during the Somoza dynasty – the tradition goes back to the 19th century. There was even a gringo Filibusterer, a spiritual ancestor of the Bush family, who declared himself president, thus making Nicaragua the only country aside from the United States, that’s been governed by a US citizen.

The antithesis of human rights

Finally, last February 9, Ortega released 222 political prisoners, banished them to the United States and stripped them of their nationality with the rubber-stamp endorsement of his National Assembly. He later broadened the list of those denationalized to include 94 more.  Ortega’s decision has no precedent in the western hemisphere, given its volume and its scope, according to analysts and legal experts.

Peter J. Spiro, professor of International Law at Temple University, noted that taking away citizenship in this context is a failure to honor a 1961 United Nations treaty ratified by a number of countries, including Nicaragua. The treaty creates clear norms to avoid statelessness and establishes that governments can’t “deprive any person or group of people of their nationalities for racial, ethnic, religious or political motives.” To Spiro, “this is a banishment, and banishment is the antithesis of the modern concept of human rights.”

This measure wasn’t imposed by revolutionaries in Cuba, Venezuela nor in Nicaragua itself, in the face of the exodus of bourgeois elements (termed gusanos or “worms” in Cuba), and the enemies of their revolutions. Dictators such as Franco, Pinochet or Videla never tried to remove the designation of Spanish, Chilean or Argentinian from their exiles. Over the long run, Ortega and Murillo will be likewise unable to sustain it. How can you snatch from Nicaragua a Sergio Ramirez or Gioconda Belli, well-loved and admired writers in Hispanic circles, whose lives and works are inseparable from their native land? They continue to live now, and they’ll live on when Ortega and those around him have become nothing but the detritus of history.

The two Nicaraguan dictators are so morally exhausted that they dare to impoverish still more the culture and history of a country that is already suffering and unequal. A land of splendid poets whose words – to the envy of the very limited poet that Rosario Murillo once was – will continue being sung and remembered by her true children.

Recent analyses have argued that these expulsions (and the political atrocity of imprisoning and canceling the Nicaraguan citizenship of Bishop Rolando Alvarez, the most renowned stateless person in our current world, who not even the Vatican has been able to rescue) are symptoms of the Ortega regime’s international and internal weakness. That’s not necessarily true. The lukewarm reaction of the progressive Latin American governments to these events, as well as Washington’s apparent inaction, indicate that little pressure is being felt by the dictator.

Shortly before the regime’s declaration of statelessness for Ortega’s opponents, Monica Baltodano, an important spokesperson for the betrayed historic Sandinistas, wrote the following about the ethnocide of Nicaragua’s indigenous population: “Gathered on January 5 in Bilwi, capital of the North Caribbean Autonomous Region, fourteen representatives of the original Miskito and Mayangna peoples signed a proclamation denouncing the aggression to their native tongues, cultures, customs, traditions and legitimate lands at the hands of the governments of turn in power, with particular attention to what they’ve been suffering since 2007, with the rise to power of dictator Daniel Ortega.”

“The invasion of the indigenous lands began in the decade of the 90s, when land was granted to those discharged from the Army and the Resistance (Contra), who had confronted each other militarily during the revolutionary decade. However, the increase in land occupations and violence involving dozens of deaths began in 2012.”

Baltodano then recalled the massive protests of five years ago: “In 2018, the Ortega regime was accused of being responsible for crimes against humanity. In response, they expelled the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights from the country, outlawed the main organizations for the defense of human rights, and arrested hundreds of people in the cities of Western and Central Nicaragua.”

Dictators that appear scandalous and unpresentable in the eyes of the world, can last for a long time. The Ortega version has been around for a while. In the country’s interior, the grassroots that are loyal to the official Sandinista ideas are still able to fill plazas or beat up dissidents. Ortega also has the loyalty (or control) of the armed forces, and these two things would seem sufficient to maintain the regime for an indeterminate length of time, even with a country that’s bankrupt and maintains its jails full of the politically persecuted.

Finally, all of the dictatorial and coup perversions of the last half-century in Latin America have ended when the people themselves are the ones to say “enough”. Are conditions already right for Nicaraguans to free themselves of their old liberation comandante? And if not now, when?


This article forms part of Nicaragua: Sueños Robados,[“Nicaragua: Stolen Dreams”]  a collaborative and coordinated journalism project of the Otras Miradas media alliance, with the collaboration of the Mexican Disinformemonos ; the Nicaraguan sites Divergentes, Despacho 505, and Expediente Publico; Guatemala’s Agencia Ocote; and Publico from Spain.


This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Time


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Hermann Bellinghausen

Hermann Bellinghausen

Escritor, poeta, narrador, editor y médico mexicano. Analista afín a la izquierda política. Ha sido redactor para las revistas "Solidaridad" y "Mundo Médico", editor para la revista "Ojarasca" y colaborador de La Jornada como corresponsal en Chiapas. En 1995, ganó el Premio Nacional de Periodismo de México, pero declinó el galardón.