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The political prisoners are the hope of Nicaragua

The 177 political prisoners in jail today symbolize national dignity and the hope for democratic change

The 177 political prisoners in jail today symbolize national dignity and the hope for democratic change in Nicaragua

Carlos F. Chamorro

9 de abril 2022


In a new mock trial held at the Chipote prison in Nicaragua, on Monday, March 21, Judge Luden Quiroz sentenced my sister, Cristiana Chamorro, aspiring presidential candidate and former president of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh), to eight years in prison and a fine of 3.2 million dollars, for the alleged crimes of money laundering, misappropriation and improper retention, and abusive management, after remaining under house arrest for more than nine months.

In that same process, in which an indictment and arrest warrant was issued against me for the “crime” of journalism, my brother Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, founder of the Citizens for Freedom party and former vice president of the FVBCh, former FVBCh officials Walter Gómez and Marcos Fletes, and driver Pedro Vásquez, were also sentenced to nine years in prison, with fines of millions of dollars and prison terms ranging from seven to 13 years.

10 days later, in a parallel judicial process, political prisoner Juan Lorenzo Holmann, general manager of the newspaper La Prensa, was sentenced to nine years in prison for the alleged crime of money laundering. In the sentence, the judge ordered the police custody over the assets of La Prensa to be maintained, with which the government is executing an illegal confiscation of the newspaper, seized by the police on August 13, 2021.

Just like the other 177 political prisoners of dictator Daniel Ortega’s regime, the prisoners from the FVBCh and La Prensa are innocent, because they did not commit any crime. The promotion of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which has been the main activity of the FVBCh for more than 20 years, is not an illegal act, but a constitutional right that was criminalized by the dictatorship, by imposing a de facto state of exception after the outbreak of the national civic protest in April 2018.

In reality, although the Ortega regime's attacks against the independent press have been intensifying for more than a decade, the campaign of political persecution against the FVBCh began in January 2021, when Cristiana Chamorro announced her decision to seek a presidential candidacy for the opposition. That same day, her arrest, the pretext for the accusation, and the guilty verdict began to be forged. 

Six other aspiring presidential candidates for the opposition were imprisoned between June and July 2021 - Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Medardo Mairena, Miguel Mora and Noel Vidaurre - and, after having demanded free elections, have also been condemned to sentences ranging from nine to 13 years in prison for the alleged crimes of “conspiracy” and “undermining the national integrity”. In these mock trials, the witnesses were the same police officers who spied on and kidnapped the accused, and the “evidence of the crime” were the interviews they gave to media outlets such as Confidencial or El País, or the opinions they published on social networks.

Since long before the beginning of the campaign for the elections of last November 7, the decision of the majority of the opposition to concur to the election under an alliance and with a single presidential formula, although without electoral guarantees, predicted the defeat of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, and therefore the dictatorship went ahead with imprisoning the presidential aspirants, outlawed the only two opposition parties, eliminated political competition and stole the elections to impose the reelection of Daniel Ortega.

A poll conducted by the Costa Rican firm Cid Gallup a month before the elections revealed that any of the seven imprisoned presidential candidates would have obtained 65% of the votes, against 19% for Daniel Ortega. The same firm conducted another poll one month after the elections, in which only 27% of the electorate affirmed having voted for Ortega and not the 75% that the Supreme Electoral Council attributed to him. In another poll, 70% demanded that all prisoners of conscience be released.

Among the 177 political prisoners, besides the seven presidential candidates, there are political and civic leaders of all ideological currents. But the majority are citizens, women and men without parties; peasant and student leaders; intellectuals, diplomats, ex-guerrillas, and ex-military; businessmen, producers, bankers, and union leaders; journalists and human rights defenders. They represent a sample of the plurality of Nicaragua, which demands a democratic change and has not yet been crushed by the totalitarian project of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

Five months after the electoral farce of November, the authoritarian drift of the regime has radicalized under the cover of its alignment with Vladimir Putin's Russia, the People's Republic of China, Cuba and Venezuela, and aims at the total cancellation of public liberties. Three media outlets -Confidencial, 100% Noticias and La Prensa- are illegally occupied by the Police, and more than 100 of us journalists have been forced to go into exile, but many more continue to report in stealth from Nicaragua. They are our eyes and ears.

The criminalization of press freedom also extends against the citizenry and freedom of expression: six private universities have been confiscated, 139 non-governmental organizations have been stripped of their legal status and new repressive laws have been passed to control universities and civil society. In a country where all citizens are hostages of the dictatorship, and with no way out in the face of growing unemployment and massive impoverishment, the exponential increase of migration to the United States and Costa Rica -in increasingly risky conditions- is imposing itself as a cruel escape valve.

Despite all this, the 177 political prisoners in jail today symbolize national dignity and the hope for democratic change. Ortega has tried to erase them from national memory and there are no photographs or videos of the prisoners, but he has not been able to produce a single confession or admission of guilt for the alleged crimes he accuses them of. Their conviction has not silenced the demand for their freedom, on the contrary: by punishing them, the regime is relaunching the national and international demand for their unconditional release with greater force. 

The recent approval at the United Nations Human Rights Council of a special mechanism to investigate the human rights violations that have occurred in the country since 2018, composed of an international group of independent experts, marks a roadmap on the road to justice.

However, bending a totalitarian dictatorship requires the simultaneous exertion of incremental political pressure, nationally and internationally, for Ortega to suspend the torture regime in prison. And culminating, irreversibly, in the release of all political prisoners and the return of exiles. As my father, the journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, assassinated in 1978 by another dictatorship, proclaimed, when we recover our freedom “Nicaragua will be a Republic again”. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in The Washington Post, and translated by our staff. 



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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.