Ortega condemns La Prensa, justifies blow to press freedom

He accuses the newspaper of “money laundering” without evidence, attacks the “devil’s priests”

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo during the anniversary celebration of the Navy. Photo: Taken from the official El 19 Digital

17 de agosto 2021


On Friday night, August 13, President Daniel Ortega accused the newspaper La Prensa of “money laundering and hiding the evidence,” in the first statements he offered hours after the raid on the facilities of the oldest newspaper in Nicaragua, investigated for alleged money laundering and customs fraud.

Ortega started the media campaign on the official and family television stations that justify the assault against the newspaper founded in 1926 that stopped circulating last Thursday in its printed version after the blockade of the newsprint executed by Customs.

“The Prosecutor’s Office and the Police arrived there and found quantities of paper. When you lie in this way, when you slander the State, it is a crime,” said the president, supporting the media propaganda campaign, which questioned the newspaper’s complaint by showing paper in the warehouses. What he didn’t say is that it corresponds to another type of paper used in commercial printing, usually for publishing books and posters.

Ortega asked himself how much of the paper that had been introduced into the country tax-free in one year was actually dedicated to the newspaper and how much was used to do other types of business, as if he were a prosecutor. 

“They have other activities. It is pure business, and it is a crime,” he said, anticipating a court conviction, during his speech at the anniversary celebration of the Navy. He was accompanied by his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the Army Command and the Police leadership.

The raid on La Prensa

It was a long day for the newspaper La Prensa, which is still occupied by the Police. The administrative staff was held until Saturday morning and its general manager Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro was transferred to the El Chipote prison at four in the morning, supposedly to sign some documents, but was arrested and jailed.

The assault on the newspaper’s offices began at 12:20 pm on Friday, before the Police published a statement announcing an investigation into customs fraud and money laundering.

Since June 3, Ortega has kept the newspaper’s vice president, the presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, incommunicado under house arrest in the investigation process for alleged money laundering against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, which supported freedom of expression and which the Executive falsely accuses of conspiring against the stability of the country. Following the arrest of Chamorro and two former Foundation employees, 29 other political and civic leaders have been arrested, including seven potential opposition presidential candidates. 

Attack on businesspeople and the “devil’s priests”

Business owners and priests of the Catholic Church were also targeted by the ruler. Ortega called the religious, who supported the population during the repression of April 2018, the “devil’s priests”. “They are the children of the devil; they are not the children of God. Those priests are the children of the devil,” he said.

In his speech, he assured that his opponents whom the state is currently investigating are those who were in charge of financing, organizing, seeking support from the Yankees and who directed the “crimes in 2018,” which his government described as a “coup d’état.”

However, reports from international organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States, indicate that what actually happened in Nicaragua was an excessive use of force at the hands of the State, carried out by the Police and paramilitary groups, which left at least 328 murdered, more than 2,000 injured and caused more than 100,000 people go into exile. One of the bloodiest attacks of the regime occurred under the “Cleanup Operation,” when the authorities decided to violently clear the roads, before July 19, 2018. The population had erected barricades to protect themselves from the attacks by police groups.

Ortega called the protesters “murderers” who, according to him, refused to lift the “roadblocks” during the national dialogue that failed, among other reasons, due to the government’s failure to stop the repression. 

“That is recorded because it was broadcast live on television, because even they asked for it, when it was asked who were against lifting the roadblocks, then they raised their hand, those criminals, those murderers, that is why they are terrorists,” he accused. 

In a hateful speech, Ortega said: “because they have surnames of ancestral families, because they are from notable families and from rich families, because they have been working with bankers, bankers from rich families…they must be held accountable!” he added.

Ortega also vilified the big entrepreneurs, with whom he maintained a solid alliance between 2009 and 2018. He added that it was they who benefited from his model and then “buried the dagger in the homeland”.

“What savage capitalism wants is more money every day, more money at whatever the costs and they cared little at that time when the economic growth that benefitted them, because they wanted to swallow it all and they served as an instrument to the Yankee and did an alliance with the priests, sons of the devil, and began that work of terror,” he added, again mentioning the Catholic Church.

In recent days, the Archdiocese of Managua denounced that there are no conditions for voting in the country, in reference to those scheduled for next November 7, in which Ortega will seek a fourth term since he was installed in the Executive in 2007.

The Sandinista strongman described those who lend themselves “to the interests of imperialism” as “enemies of Nicaraguans who want to work in peace”. He said they “simply stopped being Nicaraguans” and in a sign of his radicalization, he assured that “there is no longer room for amnesties.” 

“Anyone who commits a crime has to be investigated and then has to be tried and punished according to the law. We are already in a stage where amnesties cannot continue to be approved, because it would also be like becoming terrorists and criminals. There is no space, everything has its time, it has its stage,” said the president.

What the international community has demanded is free elections and that Nicaragua respects its own human rights commitments, to which Ortega has responded by accusing the United States, Canada, and the European Union of aggression.

Since 2018, the governments of these countries have sanctioned officials of the presidential circle, including Murillo, for violations of the rights of Nicaraguan citizens. Just this Friday, before the police operation against La Prensa, Switzerland sanctioned the vice president and did the same with her son Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo and six other officials, for the reasons previously mentioned.

At the end of Daniel's speech, Murillo denounced what she called “factories of lies and crimes,” which she considered to be in tune with “servility to the Yankee,” and again she attacked the religious who “try to deceive us all.”

“What at the time, commander Daniel called an ultimatum—during the failed (May 2018) dialogue—, that the institutions had to be handed over to the criminals. That is what they asked us, and of course they lost their gamble in favor of crime,” she said.

The statements of the presidential couple occurred at the military event where Ortega mentioned the possibility of strengthening the Navy and Air Force, “for the defense of sovereignty.”

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

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Octavio Enríquez

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Comenzó su carrera en el año 2000, cuando todavía era estudiante. Por sus destacadas investigaciones periodísticas ha ganado el Premio Ortega y Gasset, el Premio Internacional de Periodismo Rey de España, el Premio a la Excelencia de la Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, y el Premio Latinoamericano de Periodismo de Investigación del Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS).