Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli has concluded a visit to Stockholm, Sweden, where she was invited by the Swedish Federation of Authors, and Sweden’s chapter of PEN International. During two intense days of meetings and public activities, Belli shared her poetry and spoke of the crisis in Nicaragua.
“I found a very receptive public here, a great concern over the repression in my country. All are horrified by the mistreatment of the political prisoners,” Belli stated. “I thought that perhaps they’d completely forgotten about Nicaragua by now. It’s true, we’re in a different era, and in a country such as Sweden the war in Ukraine feels very close. But even so, there’s clear interest, an echo of the huge solidarity that Sweden provided us during the war against Somoza,” she added.
Her agenda while in the Swedish capital included interviews with a variety of Swedish and international civil society organizations, meetings with a group of former ambassadors and other leading figures of Swedish society, and a meeting with deputies from the Swedish Parliament.
During a cultural activity at the House of Authors, Belli read her poems and participated on a panel regarding the situation in Nicaragua. This in-person event was livestreamed with the help of some 50 Nicaraguan solidarity networks: in Central America, the United States, Canada, and Europe.
“How is it possible that the Sandinista revolution, which was so joyful and inspired so much optimism across the whole world, has ended this way, in a dictatorship?” was one of the questions posed to panelists during the event.
Belli’s response attempted to go beyond the factors that are now familiar internationally – the US economic embargo of the 1980s; the brutal Contra war with its consequences; and the weakness of the national political forces with a firmly democratic orientation. She spoke of what she called the “decomposition of the Sandinista ranks,” a process that, in her opinion, began during the war but accelerated after the party’s 1990 defeat.
“The truth is that the famous ‘piñata’ to a large extent was nothing other than a shameless looting of the State, through which many of the higher up FSLN authorities enriched themselves. Afterwards, the strategy of “governing from below” was implemented, aimed at seeding chaos and making it impossible for the elected government [of 1990] to govern. And when those reasons led an important number of historic leaders, including Sergio Ramirez and others, to found the MRS (Sandinista Renewal Movement), Daniel Ortega’s response was to denounce and slander them and their group as traitors and pawns of imperialism. All this reflected the decomposition of the Sandinista structures, a process that later accelerated still further, until eventually they signed a pact with the corrupt Arnoldo Aleman [President of Nicaragua from 1997 to 2002, subsequently jailed for corruption],” Belli recounted.
Eva Zetterberg, a well-known deputy in the Swedish Parliament, was also on the panel. Zetterberg served in Parliament for many years as representative for the Party of the Left and was also Sweden’s ambassador to Nicaragua from 2003 – 2008. She confessed that, unfortunately, she and her team had trusted Daniel Ortega’s declarations when he returned to power.
“When Daniel Ortega won back the presidency in 2006, after forming a [power-sharing] agreement with Aleman, I was in the country as Swedish ambassador. I had already held that office for several years, and we were following very closely the country’s political development. We thought we had analyzed the situation well,” Zetterberg recalled. “We had our doubts, of course, but I must admit that many of us were very ingenuous. We sustained several conversations with Ortega before and after his 2007 inauguration, and we trusted that he had changed, that he was now going to respect the law, the rights, and the democratic rules. However, we were mistaken,” the former ambassador concluded somewhat sadly.
Denouncing the situation of the political prisoners
The panel’s organizers emphasized the inhumane treatment the political prisoners and their families are suffering in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the Swedish branch of PEN revealed that the case of sports chronicler and political prisoner Miguel Mendoza is part of their “Twelve Silenced Voices” campaign.
The mistreatment of the political prisoners was a recurring theme in each one of the meetings held during Belli’s visit. Participants were horrified to learn the details of the inhumane conditions that the prisoners suffer, and the Nicaraguan government’s lack of respect for the basic principles of international law.
“No one understands why the regime would want to maintain this type of treatment of the prisoners and their families,” reflected Belli, just before leaving for the airport to return to Madrid, Spain, where she’s currently living in exile.
Belli’s visit to Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries has drawn in new figures and intensified the discussion of how to support the democratic cause in Nicaragua. The solidarity of the Scandinavian people with the Nicaraguan struggle for democracy now shows signs of rebirth.