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Ortega and Murillo: A Threat to Regional Democracy

Ortega is a cancer in Central and Latin America, whose excesses should not be tolerated because they are setting a disastrous precedent

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega watch a police parade, on the evening of September 11, 2023. Photo: Taken from El 19 Digital

Gioconda Belli

21 de septiembre 2023

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What is the civilized world doing in the face of the authoritarian mess created by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo?

There is ample evidence of the excesses and outrages of their government, enough for the international community to act forcefully to demonstrate that tyrants of that ilk are not acceptable in the modern era.


My country is being subjected to terror and unmeasured repression by a couple who use the hackneyed argument of attacks by “imperialism” and an alleged attempted “coup d'état” to decree that any citizen who opposes them is an ally of foreign interests. Ever since the people defied them, rising up unarmed against them in 2018, Ortega and Murillo have decided to remain in power at any cost. In 2018 they armed paramilitaries, violated all laws and, without restraint, decided to go “all out” against the crowds of all social strata who marched through the streets of every Nicaraguan city demanding they step down. The reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Group of Experts, reported crimes against humanity that led to the death of 355 people, filled the prisons and forced hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans into exile; 10% of the population has been exiled since 2018.

But that was only the beginning of the reign of terror that currently grips the country. In 2021, when elections were due to be held, Ortega and Murillo beheaded the independent parties by stripping them of their legal status and imprisoned the seven people competing to become the sole opposition candidate. Without competition, Ortega and Murillo claimed to have won the elections and began a new mandate determined to eliminate any trace of opposition. More than 3,000 NGOs were shut down, arbitrary immigration measures were put in place, and a number of citizens were either prevented from leaving the country or denied the right to return to Nicaragua. On February 16, 2023, without trials or the right to a defense, 94 people were condemned as traitors, stripped of their nationality and sentenced to confiscation of their property. Two hundred and twenty-two political prisoners were shipped to the United States and also stripped of their nationality and had their property confiscated.

All these individuals were erased from the civil registers and deprived of their retirement pensions. Many of these people are elderly and a good number of them protagonists of the Sandinista revolution, and they suddenly found themselves abroad, without any means of survival.

Inside Nicaragua, individuals considered opponents by the regime are taken prisoner and condemned without the right to appeal. The Catholic Church is under siege. Monsignor Rolando Alvarez is incarcerated for refusing to leave the country and has been sentenced to 26 years in prison. He has only been able to have one visit by his family members. The bank accounts of the Catholic Church have been frozen. At the same time, 28 universities have been cancelled, among them the Central American University-UCA, run by Jesuits for 63 years. This university was confiscated in its entirety and its students were prevented from enrolling in another preferred university, the American University, of which the Nicaraguan Army is a partner.

Foundations such as the Luisa Mercado Foundation, created by writer Sergio Ramirez to promote culture in his hometown of Masatepe, were appropriated by the regime. The offices of the media outlets CONFIDENCIAL and Esta Semana, as well as the 100% Noticias television station owned by Miguel Mora, and the newspaper La Prensa, were taken over and turned into government offices. All independent media have been harassed and shut down. The offices and properties of other organizations such as the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the Institute for the Development of the Segovias, the feminist organization La Corriente and hundreds of others have been dismantled and expropriated.

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This week the regime has proceeded to seize the private homes of citizens declared stateless. Such is the case of my house, that of my son, Camilo de Castro, that of Moises Hassan, member of the first Government Junta of the Sandinista Revolution and that of Norman Caldera, former foreign minister of the government of President Enrique Bolaños, Ortega's predecessor, and others.

The Nicaraguan regime has used its platforms to insult the European Union, the Kingdom of Spain, and the governments of Chile and Colombia. It has withdrawn from the Organization of American States, has ignored the pleas of Pope Francis and even expelled the Vatican representative, Monsignor Waldemar Sommertag. It has refused to provide credentials to the ambassador chosen by the United States to replace Mr. Kevin Sullivan.

The regime’s international relations have been geared towards breaking relations with Taiwan to move closer to China, allying with Vladimir Putin's regime and opposing international condemnation for the invasion of Ukraine. Ortega has shored up relations with Iran and North Korea, as well as with Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro and Cuba's Díaz-Canel, all democracy-denying regimes.

Ortega’s and Murillo’s position of domestic intransigence and international insolence has emboldened governments such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to imitate their defiance of the rules of international coexistence in favor of open violations of human rights and the breaching of the democratic functioning of their own countries.

Ortega is a cancer in Central and Latin America, whose excesses should not be tolerated because they are setting a disastrous precedent. The democratic countries of Latin America must break relations with this government. Joe Biden's administration should expel Nicaragua from the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Multilateral financial institutions should suspend their relations with the Ortega-Murillo government. Tolerance of their government is a seed of authoritarianism that threatens the democracies of the region.

Europe and the democracies of the world, who have seen their calls for reason and mutual respect scorned and disrespected by the Nicaraguan government, must make it clear that the defense of democracy demands the isolation of those who decide to break the rules of coexistence. Power and recognition should not be granted to those who abuse their functions and their own people in this way. It is time to stop the lukewarm discourse and take a firm position against Ortega and Murillo. The future of democracy demands it.

*Article originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

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Gioconda Belli

Gioconda Belli

Poeta y novelista nicaragüense. Ha publicado quince libros de poemas, ocho novelas, dos libros de ensayos, una memoria, y cuatro cuentos para niños. Su primera novela “La mujer habitada” (1988) ha sido traducida a más de catorce idiomas. Ganadora del Premio La Otra Orilla, 2010; Biblioteca Breve, de Seix Barral (España, 2008); Premio Casa de las Américas, en Cuba; Premio Internacional de Poesía Generación del ‘27, en España y Premio Anna Seghers de la Academia de Artes, de Alemania; Premio de Bellas Artes de Francia, 2014. En 2023 obtuvo el premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana, el más prestigioso para la poesía en español. Por sus posiciones críticas al Gobierno de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo, fue despatriada y confiscada. Está exiliada en Madrid.

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