“This [repressive] wave has hit us harder than the previous one. [The regime] has gone after our families. Journalists we’ve spoken with tell us that their children are blocked from leaving the country, police patrols keep watch on the homes of their in-laws. There’s been a very select repression directed against journalists and their families,” observed Tifani Roberts, a Nicaraguan reporter and network correspondent for the Spanish-language news channel Univision.
Roberts joined Anibal Toruño, owner of Radio Dario in Leon, in a joint discussion of the state of Nicaraguan journalism. The conversation took place on the online news program Esta Semana¸ which airs weekly on You Tube and Facebook Live. They analyzed the current second wave of exiled journalists, the self-censorship of those within the country, and the panorama for covering the November 7th voting in Nicaragua.
Beginning at the end of May, the regime intensified its attacks against the independent press and opposition groups. This has resulted in the abduction, imprisonment and baseless charges against the 37 newest political prisoners. The group includes sports writer Miguel Mendoza; journalist and former presidential candidate Miguel Mora; and the general manager of La Prensa newspaper, Juan Lorenzo Holmann.
During this same period, the National Police raided Confidencial’s newsroom and production studios for a second time in two and a half years. The prosecution then filed charges, with no evidence, against the media company’s director, Carlos F. Chamorro, who was forced to seek asylum in Costa Rica, also for a second time.
Miguel Mora’s news channel 100% Noticias was raided and occupied by police at the same time as the first occupation on Confidencial in December 2018. Both were later confiscated. In August of 2021, the police closed Nicaragua’s longest-running newspaper, La Prensa. As noted, both Mora and La Prensa manager Holmann remain in jail.
This furious persecution unleashed against the independent press has forced many journalists into exile, principally in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, both Roberts and Toruño assert that Nicaraguan journalists, both within and outside the country, have begun to practice an “anonymous” journalism “of resistance”.
“This has been a far more massive exile [of journalists]: more numerous, but also quieter. The silence has to do with fear; the dictator knows that, and he imposes it. It’s undeniable that this fear has especially permeated both journalists and doctors. People no longer want to grant you an interview, precisely for that same trepidation,” Toruño commented. He himself has suffered the burning down of his radio station, a raid of his home, and an interrogation by the Public Prosecutor, “investigating” arbitrary accusations of money laundering filed against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
From the perspective of his own experience of persecution for exercising his profession, Toruño noted: “there’s a new way of being: a journalism of resistance, in which you have to reinvent your daily practice every day, hoping there’s a tomorrow. It’s extremely difficult.”
Roberts agrees. “In Nicaragua, we’re learning a new way of doing journalism: I call it “anonymous journalism”. We’re learning to write without using our names; people we interview don’t reveal their names; our sources are anonymous, [because] we’ve seen that those we interview suffer consequences.”
She continued: “Those who remain in Nicaragua have changed their vocabulary. No one uses the word “sanctions”, they substitute other expressions. They don’t say “dictator”, or “regime”. They say “President Ortega”. It’s a new level of self-censored journalism.”
Journalists working in Nicaragua’s digital media no longer sign their articles, due to the threat of imprisonment under the “Special Cybercrimes Law”, approved by the National Assembly in October 2020.
The upcoming elections are “illegitimate”
Toruño stressed the importance of the independent press for the upcoming November 7 presidential elections. “It’s one of the great challenges we face. Ortega is going to want to legitimize his rule through this farce. That’s why it’s important that the media and the journalists do everything they can to expose Daniel Ortega’s inner workings. We must show the world, because they’re illegitimate [the elections].”
Similarly, he hoped the press “will have the strength to provide deep coverage, strategically and with full capacity, of what’s occurring, and what’s going to happen with the elections. Basically, he [Ortega] is in a baseball game, playing all by himself. But there’s also going to be a series of maneuvers at each individual polling station, the balloting centers. They’ve already eliminated over 1,000 voting centers, so I believe there’s a lot to be seen up ahead, and it’s important to demonstrate this, because we’re in a totally different world”
The silence of the business executives
Both journalists made reference to the silence maintained by the large business insiders regarding Ortega’s repression and the upcoming elections. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep) remained mute during their most important yearly commemoration – National Business Owners’ Day – which takes place on September 8.
Cosep issued no statement regarding the situation of the private sector in this national crisis. There wasn’t even a reminder that three of their representatives spent Business Owners’ Day in the “New Chipote” jail: former Cosep president Jose Adan Aguerri; banker Luis Rivas; and La Prensa general manager Juan Lorenzo Holmann.
Toruño’s noted this silence sadly. “It’s important that before November 7, a sector such as private enterprise makes clear their position and absolves themselves of history’s harsh judgement. Because what’s going to happen is simply a complete and total snatch [of power] by Ortega.”
“Their silence is more deafening than any protest. Why does it get our attention so strongly? I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the IMF providing funds to the government of Daniel Ortega. Okay, but – What is the large capital sector doing? Everyone turns to look at the international community, like they’re some kind of Superman who can save us. What about those who are inside [the country]?” Tifani Roberts wondered out loud.