Once again, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua returns to the spotlight for its repression of the opposition. This Wednesday, the favorite presidential candidate among Ortega’s opponents, Cristiana Chamorro, was disqualified and placed under house arrest for an alleged crime of money laundering. His brother, Carlos Chamorro, is a journalist, director of Confidential, the Nicaraguan newspaper, and has also very recently suffered pressure from the Executive. Both are children of Violeta Chamorro, president of the country between 1990 and 1997 after defeating Ortega, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a journalist assassinated in 1978.
“My newsroom is occupied by the police, it was confiscated and now they assaulted it for the second time on May 20,” he says. However, he continues to work “despite the circumstances” because he considers the independent press as “the last reserve of freedom” that remains in Nicaragua. His work has just been recognized with an Ortega y Gasset award to his professional career for his defense of press freedom.RELATED
Carlos Chamorro comments on the current political situation in the country and the disqualification of his sister.
What are the money laundering allegations against her based on? Do you think they have to do with your candidacy as a candidate for the November elections?
There is no specific indication, neither in the Ministry of the Interior nor in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, on what is the presumption of money laundering, which is a serious criminal offense. What is clear is that the foundation funds that have been executed are international cooperation funds from Switzerland and other European countries, among others, and therefore that would rule out any laundering, because the origin of the funds is completely public and until today they have not presented any evidence.
It must be remembered that in this country there is no rule of law. In this country, the rule of law and the autonomy of the Prosecutor’s Office have been dismantled for more than a decade. They are an extension of the Executive, headed by President Ortega, a candidate for reelection.
We have previously seen other processes of de facto elimination of political parties whose legal status has been canceled and presidential candidates who are under de facto house arrest –as is the case of Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro or Medardo Mairena–. There is no court order against them, but they cannot mobilize. They cannot leave their home because they are surrounded by the police or they are chased when they go out. The difference in the process initiated against my sister Cristiana is that there is an attempt to deprive her of her political rights using the Prosecutor’s Office and the judicial system.
Do you think there is a possibility of revoking that precautionary decision before the elections?
In Nicaragua there is no justice. More than 300 people were killed in the April protests. None of these murders have been investigated or prosecuted and the murderers have not been brought to justice. This is the realm of impunity. What is happening is not an isolated case, but an escalation of the regime to eliminate political competition in the electoral process.
The November 7 elections lack the minimum guarantees of transparency. The electoral system is controlled by the ruling party, which made a mockery of electoral reform, which was rather a counter-reform, with the aim of obtaining more control.
We are now entering the phase of eliminating political competition and this is beginning. Cristiana is in a group of nine candidates for the presidency and we do not know what will happen next. They have stripped him of his political rights without a final judgment. But hey, that sentence can be made at any time. There is no guarantee that this can be reversed because they are political orders.
Is there any possibility of considering the November electoral process legitimate?
Right now, the elections lack legitimacy and legality. Between now and November 7, however, a lot can happen. In the first place, we do not know if the real opposition is going to participate in the elections. Opposition leaders argue that this is a decision they are going to make at the last minute and it is a decision that they are going to consult with the public. Some bet on going all together or retiring all together.
There is no reliable electoral system and international observation like the one in the 1990 or even 2011 elections is prohibited. Political leaders are calling for a revival of civic resistance because it is not conceivable that there can be a true electoral reform if there is no citizen pressure. Today there is no free, fair, transparent or competitive election.
And how is Nicaraguan civil society responding to the kind of abuses you describe?
There is outrage and rejection that is perceived in independent media and social networks, but people cannot meet or mobilize because not only is there a de facto ban, but because there is a police state. The regime has created laws to criminalize the exercise of journalism and freedom of expression and mobilization.
In advance, citizens who protest against the Ortega regime or who demand free elections are classified as coup plotters, as they also label journalists. When they entered the writing of Confidential, that’s what they said. The only coup plotters are in the seat of power. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo staged a coup from above. They violated the Constitution, dismantled the separation of powers and massacred the population in 2018. That is the coup d’état and that is the position in which Nicaragua finds itself today. The population cannot demonstrate because it is subjected to such implacable repression.
As for journalism, how are they escaping in ‘Confidencial’ and its television programs to the pressure of the Government?
My TV shows are censored. There is a threat on the television channel that if it transmits these programs, it closes it. Therefore we spread them through YouTube and Facebook. Our television studio has been robbed and robbed twice and yet we continue to make our audiovisual production. For its part, the Confidential website is kept continuously informed.
Journalism works with its nails and works out of conviction. They robbed our newsroom, but they can’t confiscate the journalism. There is a lot of risk for reporters, especially in the coverage that is done on the street. On Wednesday the journalists who were covering the raid outside the entrance to my sister’s house were attacked by the police and on other occasions they have been attacked by paramilitaries.
Your family has been related to journalism all your life. Would you compare your current situation with other dark periods in Nicaraguan history?
The Ortega dictatorship surpasses the Somoza dictatorship. Both have been brutal, but there is a totalitarian desire in Ortega’s attempt to control freedoms. There is a totalitarian desire to annul all freedoms.
What role is the Biden government playing in Nicaragua and what do you think it should play?
The statements of the Biden government have been very clear in the sense that the Ortega regime is moving further away from the path of democracy every day and is demonstrating its fear of free elections. On the other hand, he has also said that the sanctions that exist against senior officials of the Ortega regime that were imposed by the Donald Trump government are maintained and could be suspended if there is a restoration of democracy.
The United States plays an important role in the global concert to exert an element of pressure on Nicaragua, but the solution to this crisis is in Nicaragua. The ball is in the Nicaraguan court and whether we will have the capacity to relaunch civic resistance to achieve an electoral reform that restores the path to free elections.
He has suffered a lot in the last three years: death, assassinations, jail, exile … but there is a latent force that is what depends on a political change. I don’t think this depends on the Biden government, the EU or the Organization of American States. Pressure from the international community will be felt when the unity of the opposition is strengthened in Nicaragua. At that time, international pressure will be much more important to isolate the Ortega dictatorship.