On the morning of June 8, when I attended a summons imposed by the Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office controlled by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, it never crossed my mind that less than 24 hours later I would be fleeing into exile again . When I stepped on Costa Rican territory, there was no relief for my physical safety, after the direct threat of an angry prosecutor who de facto accused me of violating the Cybercrime Law, a legislative dagger of the Sandinista regime to silence journalists. I felt like a boxer gave me several low blows and I wanted to vomit on that small coast to which I arrived irregularly, circumventing the Nicaraguan borders and its officials, in charge of seizing passports from reporters and opponents.
I was undone because during the journey I was hammered by the promise that, absurdly, I raised under a dictatorship that without disgust shoot to kill: not to go into exile again. The first time I did it was at the end of 2018, after the Ortega-Murillos carried out a massacre of more than 325 people who protested against them starting in April of that year. One of the repressive phases on that occasion was against journalists and everything happened so untimely just like this time … At the beginning of June 2021, five months before the general elections scheduled for November 7, the dictatorship began a hunt down opponents, including all the candidates who tried to challenge the presidential couple in elections considered key to the resolution of the socio-political crisis, but which are now liquidated.
One of the most popular candidates in the polls was Cristiana Chamorro. She headed the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, an NGO named after the former president who defeated the Sandinista revolution at the polls in 1990. Based on international cooperation duly accredited to the Ministry of the Interior of the regime, the foundation was in charge of training and providing technical support to journalists. However, the Interior and the Public Ministry, following “orders from above”, conspired to accuse Chamorro and the foundation of money laundering and other related crimes that, to this day, prosecutors have not been able to prove. The accusation killed two birds with one stone: on the one hand, it removed the opposition candidate who caused the Ortega-Murillos the most fear from circulation, and on the other, it cornered independent journalists. The criminal plot that the Prosecutor’s Office has fabricated involves more than thirty directors, editors and reporters from the media who had some relationship with the Violeta Foundation. Even the writer Sergio Ramírez was required by prosecutors.
In my case, I was cited as a “witness” in the money laundering case. I attended the Prosecutor’s Office and the one thing that the prosecutor Heidy Ramírez asked me the least was about “money laundering.” I clarified that my relationship with the Violeta Foundation consisted of consultancies provided under the legal framework of professional services, as well as the payment of corresponding taxes. The other part of my relationship with the organization had to do with the fact that, on several occasions, I won the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro national journalism award and, consequently, I received, as in any contest of this nature, compensation clearly determined in public calls . However, in the interview that lasted almost four hours at the Prosecutor’s Office, I soon understood that Ramírez’s interest was different.
The prosecutor paused and left the room where she was questioning me. After a few minutes he came back, took out his cell phone (the truth is that he never stopped texting while he asked me, as if he was transmitting my answers) and said: “I never do this.” He put his cell phone in front of his face and began to read my reports and newspaper articles. That was when he started yelling almost in my face, alternating bravado with banging on the table. “You’re a liar!”
The first article he questioned was one that exclusively described the assault on the house and the capture of Cristiana Chamorro. At text, published in divergent, the police raid is recounted in detail. What bothered the most was that we told that the officers took even the checkbook with which they cover the expenses of the house of former president Violeta Barrios, 92 years old, bedridden.
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“Did you see the policemen take the checkbook?” Who is your source in the house? – Inquered the prosecutor Ramírez.
“I can’t reveal my source.” In no country in the world do journalists reveal their sources— I answered the prosecutor.
“Did you see the policeman who took the checkbook?” Did you consult them personally? – Ramírez launched.
—I was at the time of the raid on Cristiana Chamorro’s house. I tried asking the officers questions, but what they did was push and hit us to get us away from the site. This is how the Police in this country respond to reporters.
– I’m not asking you that. Answer me directly what I ask: who is your source?
My denial persisted. The prosecutor did not give up and kept trying to find out who my sources were in general. He asked me questions about Carlos Fernando Chamorro, with whom I grew up professionally and worked for many years at Confidencial, a communications outlet that has been confiscated today. He didn’t have to answer questions so out of the scope of the “washing” quote. In a further attempt at intimidation, the prosecutor took the official newspaper out of a folder The Gazette, in which the laws in Nicaragua are published. The document already had a circled paragraph. Ramírez told me that he had violated an article of the Cybercrime Law, “as a liar”, and that my status could change from “witness to accused.” They could easily impose eight years in prison, he insisted on making clear.
My lawyer, who was not allowed to speak, told the prosecutor that the appointment for which I was called did not correspond to his questions. That this interrogation was something else and that, furthermore, Ramírez was exceeding his duties as a prosecutor, because she sounded more like an inquisitive judge. The prosecutor wanted to expel the lawyer, to which I flatly refused. I continued sitting to his repetitive verbiage: “Liar, liar!” Ramírez decided to read the headlines and paragraphs of my contributions for EL PAÍS. How did I say that in Nicaragua there is persecution when “no one is persecuted”? How did he talk about money laundering when he was “not an expert” on the subject? The prosecutor was naturally not only ignorant of the journalistic profession, but also her submission to the dictatorship. One of the reports that held me the most in my face was the one entitled The heirs of the Ortega Murillo dynasty and their golden prison. Ramírez hinted that I “violated the privacy” of the ruling couple’s children.
My lawyer, who was also a prosecutor at the time, was puzzled. Of all the colleagues she had accompanied to the Public Ministry until that day, it was the first time that a prosecutor acted in such exasperation invoking Cybercrimes, one of the laws passed by the regime to dismantle critical voices in Nicaragua. (On June 10, already in exile, I learned that the journalist Fabián Medina, author of an unauthorized biography of Daniel Ortega, Prisoner 198, He was also threatened with Cybercrimes).
My appointment coincided with that of Félix Maradiaga, presidential candidate. His lasted less time. When I left the Office of the Prosecutor, I found out that the applicant was arrested by the Police with extreme violence a few kilometers from the Public Ministry. I decided to protect myself and assess scenarios with the lawyer. As night fell, police patrols increased fivefold through Managua. I do not remember the exact time, but after seven at night the messages and social networks dynamited my mobile: parallel captures of the candidate Juan Sebastián Chamorro, the activist Violeta Granera and the former president of the employer José Adán Aguerri. There was an orgy of housebreaks that night bruised by the stabs of light from police sirens streaming through the windows. The patrol of the special troops that was outside where I was sheltered ended up convincing me to leave the capital at midnight, under a torrential downpour. Troubled by so many warnings, with dozens of close friends telling me “go away”, I managed to organize my urgent departure from the country at dawn, already with my refusal to go into exile again, displaced by the clamor of the family and the conviction to avoid jail.
The next morning, I had to leave again… It was a quick and clean outing. I was alone, with the same clothes that I attended the Prosecutor’s Office. I only managed to get my computer out of the house, an indispensable megaphone. Disgusted again by that feeling of uprooting that he already knew, freshly skinned and ready for the vultures of loneliness that the coming days of a new exile hold with no close expiration date, before the total consolidation of a family and one-party dictatorship, as in Cuba or North Korea.
Less than a week after being taken in by Costa Rica (a country to which we Nicaraguans owe so much), an unofficial regime pamphlet published a convoluted story in which I was accused of “laundering money.” The only real thing in the bizarre story was my home address. When a relative went to find clothes to send me to Costa Rica, he found a strange piece of paper in the house with the following phrase: “I see you.” Once again, since 2018, I had to disarm the fourth home because of the persecution. Another sown garden is left behind, storing belongings and spending the night again in the houses of friends abroad, with the tedious uncertainty that – paraphrasing the Malpaís song by the Tico group of the same name– I no longer know if I am going or I am back, there “in my bad country”, where the dictatorship makes us feel that we do not exist because we criticize or think differently.
I have been in Costa Rica for a few months now, rediscovering the Nicaraguan exile that has lived here since 2018 and the new waves that have arrived (or returned) since the electoral close in Nicaragua. We have seen astonished how the arrests of opponents and journalists continue every time the international community deals a blow to the regime. For now, the immediate and medium-term future is not promising.
Ortega and Murillo will remain in power after simulating an election without any competition. On the night of this Monday, October 25, the Sandinista leader reaffirmed the family model by calling his wife “co-president of Nicaragua.” A position that not even the Political Constitution amended by themselves establishes, but that de facto seals the presidential assumption of Murillo without actually going through the polls, after that dream that she has always had was truncated by the international sanctions that have been imposed on her. for largely ordering the lethal repression since 2018. The new appointment of the vice president is condemned to rule in illegitimacy. For this reason, the real concern of the presidential couple is not the fake elections, but what lies after them: a majority ignorance of the “electoral circus” and the illegitimacy in which they are submerged. That is why dictators desperately try to mount a dialogue with business friends and other sectors that they manage to co-opt (or intimidate with jail) to try to manufacture legitimacy.
However, it is an uphill task when Ortega and Murillo are labeled as “criminals against humanity”, and the only thing they know how to do is radicalize the repression, while the country is falling apart, prey to the couple’s whim of all-encompassing power. All they get is a short-term mirage that always leads to the cliff. In these moments of unease and fog that covers the horizon, the important thing is that the voices that the dictatorship has tried to silence do not remain silent. For now, the space to continue with a burning voice is here, once again in exile.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.