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Photo feature: 2021, a year marked by political repression and the electoral farce

The images below sum up this past year in Nicaragua, between the pandemic, the persecution of the opposition and elections

Redacción Confidencial

1 de enero 2022


The year 2021 in Nicaragua was marked by the ravages of a second wave of COVID and the resulting deaths. It was also marked by an escalation of the police siege, including the imprisonment of opposition leaders. Finally, it was noteworthy for illegal raids on independent media outlets, and an electoral farce through which Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo assigned themselves a new term in power.

Despite the fact that the independent media persisted with warnings to the public about the need for social distancing, the government insisted on maintaining in-person classes in the public schools. They also organized hundreds of crowd activities, despite the world alert for the Delta variant, which was three times more contagious than the original virus. Within months, infections and deaths due to COVID-19 skyrocketed.

Amid the public health crisis, Nicaragua’s Health Ministry (Minsa) inaugurated maternal care shelters, a diabetes center and a center for those addicted to alcohol and drugs. Not only did these put people into close contact, the buildings they were in had been illegally confiscated in 2018 from the independent news outlets Confidencial and Esta Semana, 100% Noticias, and from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh).

The siege of the independent press escalated as well. The National Police raided and confiscated the provisional site of Confidencial and its television news broadcast Esta Semana. They also raided and occupied the site of Nicaragua’s oldest newspaper, La Prensa. The same police summoned media directors and journalists to be interrogated at the Public Prosecutor’s office, as part of an investigation of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro foundation for unproven allegations of money laundering.

In this past election year, Ortega manipulated conditions to assure himself a fourth consecutive term in office. He utilized punitive laws, passed the previous year, to incarcerate the principal opposition candidates; and he later cancelled the legal status of the two political parties that could have served as electoral vehicles for the opposition.

Between May and the end of November of 2021, the regime added 67 new prisoners of conscience to their jail rosters, including seven presidential hopefuls. They joined at least 100 political prisoners who were already locked up in the regime’s prisons.

Among the aspiring presidential candidates detained were Cristiana Chamorro, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Arturo Cruz, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena and Noel Vidaurre. In addition, the regime locked up student leaders, journalists, political activists, business leaders and former diplomats.

With the uptick in repression and selective detentions, at least 35,000 Nicaraguans sought asylum since June in the neighboring country of Costa Rica, according to Ana Quiros, a human rights activist and advocate in that country.

Some 400 Nicaraguans were stranded for over 20 days on Panama’s northern border, due to Costa Rica’s transit restrictions. Nicaraguans who had been working in Panama were trying to return to Nicaragua after they were left jobless by the closure of various companies there, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Photo: Courtesy / Confidencial
Despite warnings from Nicaraguan medical associations regarding the danger of a second COVID-19 wave, the Ministry of Education inaugurated the 2021 school year insisting on in-person instruction. Some 1.8 million students enrolled in the public education system. The majority of the classrooms had 50 – 60 students on their rosters. Photo: A public school, during their February 1, 2021 welcome assembly to launch the new academic year.
Two and a half years after the military-style occupation of Confidencial; the independent news station 100% Noticias; the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights; the Institute for Development and Democracy; the Center for Health Information and Advisory Services; and the Popul Na Foundation, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, together with the Health Ministry, set up and inaugurated maternal care homes, a center for diabetes care and a drug addiction and alcoholism attention center in the buildings they had illegally confiscated from these media outlets and NGOs.  Photo: A Nicaraguan Special Forces agent guards and controls access to the building originally confiscated from news outlet Confidencial and its television news program Esta Semana. February 24, 2021.
The Ortega regime’s police raided for the second time the recording studios of the independent television news programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, directed by journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The studios had been provisionally installed in a small space in the Invercasa Corporate Center, following the original assault and confiscation of Confidencial’s newsroom in December 2018. Cameraman Leonel Gutierrez, a member of the team of Esta Semana and Confidencial, was illegally detained and interrogated for over seven hours.  Photo: Officials of the Ortega regime’s police haul out computers and recording studio equipment from the site of the independent online news programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche. May 20th
Dozens of journalists and media directors were summoned to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for an unsubstantiated investigation of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for alleged money laundering. Photo: Journalist Maria Lilly Delgado, correspondent for the Spanish language news program Univision, together with former employees of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, as they exit the Prosecutor’s office. May 24th.
Beginning at the end of May, the Ortega regime utilized a combo of punitive law to imprison his seven potential rivals for the presidency. Among those detained were presidential hopefuls Cristiana Chhamorro, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Arturo Cruz, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena and Noel Vidaurre.
With seven principle presidential contenders imprisoned, five of them members of the “Citizens for Liberty” Alliance (CxLA), the CxL party leadership formally registered an alternative formula as their candidates for President and Vice President: Former Contra leader Oscar Sobalvarro and the 2017 Miss Nicaragua, Berenice Quezada. The Public Prosecutor then accused Quezada of “fomenting and inciting hatred and violence” and the Electoral Tribunal stripped the CxL party of their legal status. With no party backing him, Sobalvarro resigned from the presidential race. Photo: Berenice Sobalvarro, together with Oscar Sobalvarro, during their inscription as candidates for the CxL Party. July 28.
On August 12, the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa issued its final print edition, because they lacked enough newsprint to continue circulating nationally. The scarcity of paper was due to the fact that the Customs Office was withholding their imported paper and other raw materials. Photo: A newsgirl offers the final print edition of the La Prensa newspaper at a Managua stoplight.
One day later, the National Police took over the installations of the La Prensa newspaper, supposedly due to an investigation of its editorial board for crimes of “customs fraud, money and asset laundering, incurring damage to the Nicaraguan state and society”. Simultaneously, they arrested Juan Lorenzo Holmann, the newspaper’s general manager. Photo: A group of police shut the main gates of “La Prensa” to prevent the independent media from entering to cover the takeover. August 13.
In March, the Ministry of Health began offering the first dose of the Covidshield vaccine to those over 50 and patients with chronic conditions. However, only a few health centers were equipped. The results of this effort were hours of waiting and much crowding. Photo: Older adults wait their turn to receive the vaccine at the “Francisco Buitrago” Health Center. March 22.
When vaccinations were finally offered for all those over 30, citizens lined up outside the hospitals beginning the day before. They had to wait for hours under the burning sun to get the shot. Photo: Lines stretched for kilometers outside the “Manolo Morales” Hospital in order to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. September 20.
The Honduran government began a vaccination campaign to apply a first dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to Nicaraguans living along the border regions. Thousands of citizens, most of them young, formed long lines, waiting for several hours in order to get the vaccine. Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health announced they’d be offering doses of the Russian Sputnik Light and the Cuban Soberana vaccines to the youth. Photo: Nicaraguans line up at the border town of “San Marcos de Colon” in Honduras to get their COVID shots.
Between August and September 2021, there was a documented increase in COVID-19 deaths and infections. According to doctors, this second wave was more lethal than the first, which occurred between May and July of 2020. Photo: A group of gravediggers in biohazard suits bury a COVID victim in the “Sierras de Paz” cemetery at the beginning of September.
On November 7th, Nicaragua held its general elections amid massive abstentions. Sandinista supporters were transported to deposit their ballots. Ortega’s third consecutive reelection took place against a background of police persecution, with the principal opposition candidates jailed and the main opposition party stripped of its legality.
Photo: A citizen exercises her right to vote at the polling place set up in the Esquipulas Autonomous School.
In an activity celebrating his fourth consecutive presidential mandate, Daniel Ortega dedicated a long, nationally broadcast speech to attacking the international community for condemning and refusing to recognize the voting process that had taken place on Sunday, November 7th. In addition, Ortega lashed out at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and called the political prisoners “sons of bitches of the imperialists”. Ortega sways to the tune “The Commandante Stays” following his virulent speech attacking the political prisoners. November 8.  Photo from the office of the presidency.
Brothers Laureano and Rafael Ortega Murillo, both sons of the ruling couple, met with representatives of the Popular Republic of China with the goal of reestablishing diplomatic relations. In Nicaragua, hours before, foreign minister Denis Moncada had announced that Nicaragua was severing its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the most generous of their bilateral donors. Laureano Ortega signs the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with China. December 10th. Photo from the office of the presidency
The General Assembly of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of American States approved a resolution declaring the November 7th voting process “without legitimacy”. The text was approved by 25 countries of a total of 34.
Photo: View of the OAS officials during the organization’s General Assembly. Washington, November 12th. Taken from the OAS website.This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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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.