Nicaragua: Two Chamorros Offer their Experiences

by Lucina Kathmann

On Friday April 23, as the final event of the midyear conference of  the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa/Inter-American Press Association [SIP-IAPA] , a panel about Nicaragua included Cristiana Chamorro, journalist and founder of the Fundación Violeta Chamorro Barrios, now a precandidate for the presidency of Nicaragua; and Carlos Fernando Chamorro, editor of Confidencial and two main TV news programs in the country.

The attraction of two Chamorros at once made me prioritize this panel. This family played a key role in the revolution in the 70s and ever since. Violeta Chamorro served as President of the country from 1990 to 1997, and they have been crucial in the present situation in Nicaragua.

It has been evident for years that Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-president Rosario Murillo, in no way uphold any of the principles of the Sandinista revolution that put them in power. Nonetheless the situation did not turn violent until April of 2018.

On April 20, 2018, protest broke out in Nicaragua, first in Managua. It spread all over the country in a few days. The people took to the streets. In Bluefields a young reporter, Angel Gahona, was shot and killed. Since then, all protest activities have been brutally repressed and in all aspects of life, one repressive measure after another has been adopted. At this point, you can be arrested for selling or flying the Nicaraguan flag, and many have been. At the least, your flag will be confiscated. (The government claims it is because of  “criminalization of national symbols.”)

Freedom of expression simply is not respected. Journalists Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda were arrested in December 2018 for “terrorism” and were detained for 172 days. The government refused to allow paper to be delivered to La Prensa and confiscated other independent media, among them Confidencial and 100% Noticias. After police raided Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s offices, occupied them and took many items, he was forced into exile in Costa Rica.

In 2020, a law was passed requiring any NGO that receives financial cooperation from abroad to register as a foreign agency. The members, as foreign agents, would be subject to government inspection of their activities and their budgets. Among many other restrictions, members could not run for public office or exercise their political rights. Though almost all of them were citizens, born in Nicaragua and still living there, they would be considered foreigners. This law forced many organizations, among them PEN Nicaragua and the Fundación Violeta Chamorro Barrios, to cease to function openly in Nicaragua.

On April 20 of this year, the third anniversary of the uprising, the Madres de Abril, mothers who have lost their children in the struggle since April, 2018, were detained as they tried to enter the provincial city of Estelí to celebrate a mass in honor of their dead relatives. Paulo Abrao, ex-secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, called the detention of their leader, Francys Validivia, an act of “state terrorism.”  

There is evidence for that. For example, there are roadblocks everywhere. You can’t get anywhere on time. Cristiana Chamorro said that when she had gone to the beach recently, there was a roadblock which took an hour to pass. It is possible that she only got through because of her high-profile name.

Carlos Fernando said that there was a roadblock right outside his house, perhaps especially to annoy him. He pointed out that through it all, Confidencial and his TV programs have never ceased to air or publish. When there was no paper, they moved to digital media. When Carlos Fernando was in exile in Costa Rica, these media were published from there.

Many Nicaraguans have left and gone into exile, either because of personal threats or because the conditions of life have simply become too difficult. Trying to live a normal life is liable to get you into detention.

Now, Carlos Fernando has returned to Nicaragua, but he does not drive his car. He sits in a less visible position. Otherwise they might be ambushed and killed or at least prevented from getting wherever they were going.

The international community has generated a list of demands of the Nicaraguan government to be taken into consideration in the upcoming elections, scheduled for just over six months from now. One is the return of international organizations, and another is the return of bishop Silvio Báez, Bishop of Managua,who received so many death threats that the Pope ordered him to go into exile. Others include conditions for the safe return of the many who have had to leave Nicaragua.

The government claims the continued protest is the result of  foreign agitators. Carlos Fernando pointed out that the April 2018 revolt would not have happened without the spontaneous demonstrations and constant cellphoned reports of the citizens.

However, the situation is not exactly like that of other police state situations in Latin America, such as Cuba and Venezuela. Although Reporters without Borders say that the situation in Nicaragua is worse than that in Cuba, Cristiana pointed out that the internet has not been seized, as it has in Cuba.

There was a discussion about how fair the election would be.With the present state of repression it is very hard for anyone to get reliable information about the candidates. It is also unlikely that Ortega will permit measures to insure a fair election, such as the presence of international observers. It is also very possible that no matter how the election goes, Ortega may refuse to leave office. The situation in Nicaragua is bleak.

What is needed? Both Chamorros say international pressure is crucial “Keep it up! The same and more!”

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