I still remember covering my first election in Nicaragua — back in the days when elections were still a thing in Nicaragua. It was in 2000, and I had traveled up from Costa Rica by bus to watch Herty Lewites whup Arnoldista waterboy Wilfredo Navarro, long before he came out of the closet as an Ortega sycophant. I still have the phone numbers of Lewites and Navarro in my contact book, but one man is dead and the other is rotten.
I remember the excitement of that sweltering hot election night 21 years ago, listening to the celebratory fireworks thump the Managua sky around 1 a.m. as I lay on top of sweat-dampened sheets in a $10/ night hostel bed in Jardin de Italia, in a dicey part of Barrio Martha Quezada, waiting for the fan to oscillate back in my direction to push some stale tropical air over my body.
Since then I estimate that I’ve written upwards of 2,000 political articles about Nicaragua — first for The Tico Times, then The Nica Times, then The Nicaragua Dispatch, and a dozen other publications in between. It’s basically all I did for a decade.
Over the years I amassed a thick, well-thumbed contact book of names and numbers of Nicaraguan politicians, pundits, and troublemakers. At some point all the Nicaraguan phone numbers changed from 7 to 8 digits, and I dutifully went back through my book and added prefix 2s and 8s to all my contacts (just in case I couldn’t remember how to do the math).
Sadly, many of my old contacts are now dead, exiled, or imprisoned for imaginary crimes.
It’s impossible to look at my Nicaraguan contact book without a mix of anger and nostalgia. It’s the saddest book on my shelf. My formerly adoptive country is a tragedy beyond anything I ever imagined, even though I always expected things would end badly.
Despite the heartache, I have many fond memories of old contacts whose phones were stolen by the regime the day they were kidnapped. I still laugh at a photo I took of Dora María Téllez reclining in her rocking chair, holding a Nickelodeon throw pillow, and cracking an uncharacteristic smile when she told me she was the “Original Dora the Explorer.” I remember Víctor Hugo Tinoco laughing over the din of the street noise outside my door when I interrupted an interview to tell him: “’Espera, ‘spera, está pasando la barata, no oigo nada.”
I’m still grateful for the generosity of Hugo Torres, José Pallais, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro who always answered their phones when I called for comments. I’m appreciative of Mauricio Díaz, who in addition to being a source over the years had the misfortune of sitting next to me on the plane the day I was run out of Nicaragua and had to listen to me fume all the way back to Miami. I’m thankful for Juan Sebastián Chamorro, who spent a long weekend showing me around León and Chinandega when he was running the MCC. I’m saddened by the incarceration of José Adán Aguerri, who frequently made time to give me an interview even though he mostly looked at his phone and seemed bored by my questions. And I’m infuriated by the kidnappings of Tamara Dávila, Max Jerez, and Lester Alemán — young people spending the prime of their lives behind the bars of a dictatorship, just for dreaming of a better country.
I’m particularly pained by the arrests of Felix Maradiaga (the last WhatsApp text I sent him the day before his arrest “suerte mañana...ta bien fea la cosa hermano”) and Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, who’ve I consider a trusted source and friend for many years (he always asked me “¿Como esta el Nicaragua Displash? Dipslash? Dlasph?” to mock Adolfo Pastran, who often quoted me in his newsletter but always misspelled the name of my publication).
And I really miss Arturo Cruz, a confidant with whom I spoke several times a week about his campaign, politics, and life in Nicaragua. I truly believe Arturo was the most misunderstood pre-candidate in the country. (The Sandinistas have since gone through all our WhatsApp chat history, which I doubt has changed their opinion of me).
I could go on about the other political prisoners, but it’s just a long preamble to say this: I have no f’ing idea who any of these suckbag replacement candidates are.
None of these clowns are in my contact book because I’ve never heard of them. They didn’t make the cut. And I let everybody in. I even have multiple phone numbers for Wilfredo Navarro, Enrique Quiñónez, and Edwin Castro — so I clearly had no real admission standards. You just have to be a real person.
And that’s the thing: the names of Nicaragua’s “opposition candidates” are not in my contact book because their names never came up in my two decades of reporting on Nicaragua. Not once.
Ortega couldn’t have found a sadder collection of puppets for his pantomime if he had rummaged through the dumpster behind the Teatro de Títeres Guachipilín. Even calling this show an “electoral farce” is misleading, because it implies the hint of something election-like. It’s nothing of the sort.
November 7 is simply a declaration of continuance by two sociopaths who decided long ago that they will die on the throne, or die trying. OrMu has sunk Nicaragua so low it’s become the rear end of the Northern Triangle. The country needs a break.
But no tragedy lasts forever. I truly look forward to the day when I can start adding new names and numbers to my Nicaragua contact book again, rather than just crossing them off.
It would make a sad book smile.