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No Room For Criticism: The Regime's Message Against Humberto Ortega

Rosario Murillo "uses her power over the Police," says Monica Baltodano. The "decision" was made by the dictatorial couple, says Juan Sebastián Chamorr

Redacción Confidencial

29 de mayo 2024

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According to Sandinista dissidents and opposition leaders, the Ortega-Murillo regime's imposition of "de facto house arrest" against retired General Humberto Ortega after he affirmed that his older brother has no successors, is meant to send the message that "nobody can criticize here." 

Consulted by the program Esta Noche and CONFIDENCIAL, the former political prisoners Juan Sebastián Chamorro and Dora María Téllez, and the Sandinista dissident Mónica Baltodano, agreed that Vice President Murillo was one of the main targets of the assertions made by the former head of the Army. However, they also think that the house arrest measure against the retired general was agreed upon between the dictator and his wife.


In an interview with the Argentine media outlet Infobae, the former military chief said that neither Murillo nor any of their children can succeed Daniel Ortega, since "when there is authoritarian, dictatorial power such as is the current situation [in Nicaragua] –which depends very much on the figure of a leader who controls the Presidency–, if he is absent, it would be very difficult for there to be continuity by the most immediate power group."

"Without Daniel there's no one, because despite everything, Daniel is the only leader, historically, who still retains the credits of that struggle. Without Daniel I see it being very difficult for two or three leaders to get together. And even less so for one in particular, and more difficult within the family, with children who have not had the accumulated experience of a political struggle," said Humberto Ortega.

For Dora María Téllez, the former Sandinista guerrilla and founder of the MRS-Unamos dissident party, "Rosario does not enjoy any support within the Sandinista Front, except from a small circle of people who are rewarded by her and who unconditionally owe her their positions."

"[Murillo] does not have a foothold, like Daniel Ortega does, within the Sandinista Front. In some institutions such as the Army, Rosario Murillo is quite questioned for her methods. We have already seen that she has led all the purges carried out in government institutions," said Téllez, who was stripped of her nationality after being released from prison and expelled from the country. 

Rosario Murillo's display of power

Former congresswoman Mónica Baltodano expressed that the imposition of "de facto house arrest" against Humberto Ortega is a sign that Rosario Murillo "has control of the Police" and that "she is advancing over the Judicial branch," such that she "is making use of that power." 

"She knows perfectly well that she has neither the political authority, nor the authority over the very base of that regime. That is to say, she has feet of clay and that is why she acts despotically, because she is terrified of losing that power," stressed the former guerrilla commander, whose Laguna Apoyo lake property was illegally occupied by the dictatorship after she published an opinion article about the case of the retired general in CONFIDENCIAL.

"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," wrote Baltodano. 

Téllez said that "what Rosario Murillo needs are new loyal and faithful people, who owe 'favor' only to her, to ensure that she has a quota of power with her people, to exercise it every day and, when necessary, later on."

Murillo and Daniel Ortega's decision

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, the former presidential pre-candidate and released political prisoner, says that the "de facto house in jail" measure was a joint decision by Murillo and Ortega. 

"I don't buy the argument that she is the bad one. I believe they make decisions together and that Daniel Ortega is the one who always has the last word," Chamorro said.

"I don't think this is simply a matter of the vice-dictator reacting viscerally, as we can often see in her [daily] speeches. I believe that [Humberto Ortega's] critical reaction hit her hard and that they are reacting accordingly, but I think both must be working on this in the same way," the economist continued. 

Téllez agreed with Chamorro and commented: "I don't believe this story that the commander doesn't know what's happening, he's perfectly aware. Daniel agrees, because what Humberto said affects him."

"Someone like Daniel Ortega doesn't like it when someone affirmatively states that he is basically in transit, on his way to leaving the stage to go to the back room. Daniel Ortega loves that people think he has total, absolute power. But it is very clear that he is not even involved in government business," explained the legendary ex-guerrilla.

Baltodano said that Murillo was the one who "put things in motion" and "gave the order" against her brother-in-law, but with the approval of Daniel Ortega.

"What Ortega does –as he has done on other occasions– is to maintain a passive attitude. That is to say, he lets her do things and doesn't argue with her. They are not in disagreement; he simply allows it because, really, to a great extent and for several years now, he has deposited all the power in her," said Baltodano. 

"Sandinistas should take some time to reflect"

Chamorro commented that "the reaction of the regime is quite clear. They are saying that no one is spared here. Even his own brother can't criticize the regime."

"This is very important," Chamorro continued, "for those who still support the Sandinista regime. They are looking at these statements by Humberto Ortega and need to take some time to reflect about the things that are happening."

Baltodano described the Ortega-Murillo response to the words of the former military chief as "brutal." But, she pointed out, "It's part of the whole repressive logic with which they have been acting since 2018. But it's even more impactful because it is about the dictator's brother, someone very close to him since he was a child." 

"[The response] expresses the levels of brutality and intolerance with which they [Ortega-Murillo] have been repressing the people of Nicaragua, simply for expressing an opinion critical of the regime. It's one more example of the dictatorship to which we are really subjected," Baltdano said.

Téllez mentioned that "it is clear that no one is safe," and detailed that "at first it was only opposition figures like us, so there wasn't much concern, but high officials began to fall prisoner, trustworthy ones, and then they began to be dismissed." 

"What this tells you," Téllez continued, "is that within the Sandinista Front, the Army and the Police, there is no guarantee for anyone in Nicaragua, as long as the Ortega-Murillo family is there."

"Humberto puts the lid on the jar, as we say, sealing the will of the Ortega-Murillo family, sweeping away everything. And we are all in that 'everything' – opposition figures and those who, until recently, have been quite loyal to this family," concluded the ex-guerrilla.

Humberto Ortega, a controversial figure

Born on January 10, 1947 in the municipality of La Libertad, Chontales in central Nicaragua, Humberto Ortega was one of the strategists of the revolution that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979.

After the triumph of the revolution, he was appointed Minister of Defense and head of the Army, a position he held from 1979 to 1995.

Under Ortega's leadership, the Sandinista Army was transformed into a modern military force. He also played a crucial role in the peace negotiations that led to the end of the Nicaraguan civil war in 1990, facilitating the transition to a more democratic Nicaragua.

After retiring as Minister of Defense and head of the Army in 1995, Humberto Ortega remained relatively distant from active political life.

He has spent time writing about the history and politics of Nicaragua. He is the author of several books in which he shares his experiences and views on the revolution and Nicaraguan politics.

In his college senior thesis, "From Below: Confusion-Survival-Silence, the Left in Nicaragua," journalist and businessman Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, one of the sons of the Nicaraguan presidential couple, argued in 2004 that his uncle, the retired general, wanted to take over the FSLN.

Juan Carlos' mother, Rosario Murillo, was the tutor for his thesis to get his degree in Social Communication. In his thesis, he identified the "capitalist sector" of Sandinismo, led by his uncle, as the greatest threat to the FSLN.Despite being brothers, Humberto and Daniel have had notable differences in their political approaches and vision for Nicaragua. While Daniel has maintained a strong political presence as president, Humberto has adopted a more critical and reflective stance since his retirement.

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

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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.

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