“There are four obvious ways in which a governing group can fall from power. Either it’s conquered from outside, or it governs in such an inefficient way that the masses move to rebel. Or it allows a strong and discontented middle group to be formed, or it loses confidence in itself and the will to govern.” -George Orwell, 1984
It was 2015, and the faces of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo had formed part of the landscape since 2007. As in the rest of Central America, every time the electoral period approached, the telephone poles, rocks and even trees would be filled – and continue to remain full – of propaganda from some political party, making promises that would be forgotten as soon as they came to power.
In Nicaragua, from the moment that you set foot on its warm earth, you’ll find enormous billboards with those screaming (horrible) colors and the typical Ortega government slogan: “Christian, Socialist and in Solidarity”. Those who have been in the country at one time or another have surely wondered who came up with these design graphics to represent a government.
It’s such a cheap and common example of political propaganda, but one on which they certainly spent thousands of cordobas. As a student of international relations, it inspired a mild nausea in me from the first moment, and I could only think: if people just knew all of the bad things behind that stupid slogan. After several months of living in the country, you discover that there’s none of this in the government. Nothing of “Christian values”; nothing of socialism; and zero solidarity.
During the first months after I returned to my native country, I had a few friends who tried to bring me up to date on the realities in Nicaragua, beginning with the government.
First, la Chayo [common nickname for Rosario, and a reference to Rosario Murillo] had her eyes and ears everywhere. A tremor had barely stopped when you could already hear her on the radio announcing the intensity and location of the earthquake. If the government had to issue an announcement of any kind, the companera would be the one speaking. In the political rallies, she was the “cheerleader”, and the opening and closing number at the event.
You would see her on television playing “Santa Claus” during the Christmas season. In short, the Madame was the event planner, communicator, volcanologist, meteorologist, journalist, mediator of conflicts, Christmas tree and even the priestess of some religion she herself has invented. Ah! And first lady … and since 2017 Vice President of the nation.
What did Daniel Ortega do? Merely show his face after the sun was down and repeat a speech full of ideas from the 80s about communism and the imperialist enemies. Meanwhile, a quantity of followers who really didn’t know why they were there, would go shout for him in the public square, litter the streets, and later get plastered to the gills, while some enormous speakers set up for the occasion piped the same songs again and again. In addition to this and to making pacts with corrupt ex-presidents in order to maintain himself in power, and to being a rapist who exiled his stepdaughter after she denounced him, I really don’t know what else he did.
Everyone said that the one giving the orders behind Ortega’s face, was Rosario Murillo. I always thought, and still think, that he was simply preparing the terrain for the moment when he had no more to give; then, she could go on to be the official president, since none of their “blessings” is apt for governing, and a dynasty must be maintained any way it can.
A little while ago, I finally finished reading the book 1984 by George Orwell. It was my second attempt. The first time I tried to read it, I was very young, but now that I’d had the experience of living under a dictatorship, I could understand a little more the context and the world in which Winston, the protagonist, lived, and his feelings and thoughts.
In Orwell’s novel, there’s a Thought Police, who are charged with going after all those who have rebellious thoughts, or any thoughts in general that they feel to be against the system. In the real life in Nicaragua, there are the National Police, people who don’t think much but only act, following orders from Ortega’s regime, and who attack any person who expresses themselves as being against him.
You don’t need a lot of education to join the Police The few times I’ve had contact with some agent was once when I asked one who was at a roundabout what I could do to denounce someone who was harassing me in the street. His reply: “Well, who’s after you, then? I saw him again the next day, and this time it was him accosting the girls in the street.
My second encounter with these individuals was while I was walking down the street and passed a typical pick-up full of them. All of them began to whistle at me and yell obscenities. The third time was when they began to appear in the marches to repress people, and the last when they got together with the paramilitary to attack the students occupying the University, during their “Clean-up Operation”.
A lot of Ortega lovers may show up here to say that everything I’m writing didn’t happen. While I was reading the novel, it was inevitable that I’d compare the Ministry of Truth with the Ortega followers and their official channels, except that in Nicaragua it’s a shoddier, homemade version.
The Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s novel, is charged with erasing the events that aren’t convenient to them, of rewriting history, destroying documents that would prove them wrong, and of creating cheap pornography to entertain people, as well as lying to the population, manipulating the truth and selling any idea to them in order to keep them docile fanatics of the party led by “Big Brother”.
In Nicaragua, it’s not that structured, in fact it’s all a stew, and the way they act is so cheap, that those who have a minimum of common sense laugh at the absurd things that the Ortega government does.
We only have to remind the Madame that she (or those supposedly on board) didn’t know what bus route had been supposedly hijacked by the students; or the reports of the kidnapping of Telemaco Talavera [rector of Nicaragua’s National Agrarian University], who visited the UNAN at one point during the 2018 occupation, and left shortly thereafter; or the girl who said she’d been attacked by University students who tossed a Molotov cocktail at her, leaving her blouse full of holes, but her skin intact. I won’t go on, because really there are so many ridiculous lies that we only have to Google “False news from the Ortega regime”, to find some.
As in any dictatorship, torture also exists in Nicaragua. All those who protested or who continue demonstrating against the Ortega regime have been attacked, tortured, some killed, and others are missing. In 1984, there’s a Ministry of Love, that has the job of imprisoning those people who’ve committed some crime of thought or rebellion against the party. Some are taken to Room 101, where they’re tortured psychologically and physically; those who leave there are never the same.
The Ministry of Love uses the population itself as its accomplices. The people sell out their friends, family members and neighbors, denouncing them to the Thought Police. With no proof, those denounced are then put on trial for having committed invented crimes. Nicaragua has the famous El Chipote jail and others, where many of the political prisoners (whose status is also denied by the regime) were taken, only to be freed months later (and I repeat: after the government asserted time and again that no one was in jail for protesting).
There are still 139 political prisoners there. Inside, some have been killed and many others tortured. Those who have left there have given their testimonies, while the Ortega lovers continue to be blinded by the State-controlled media and repeat over and over: “Love and Peace”, just as in the novel, the citizens repeat: “War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the last part of the slogan from the “Ingsoc”, the political party that runs the State in the imagined 1984, “Ignorance is strength”, can very well be applied to the Ortega-Murillo government. They’ve already taken it upon themselves to keep the population ignorant so that they can easily manipulate them, and they’ve also made them believe that they care about their rights. Rights that are later mocked if they decide to rebel and join those who oppose their continuance in power.
Further, just as in Orwell’s novel, society is made up of a pyramid: in the book, there’s “Inner Party” on top, with less than 2% of the population. The “Outer Party” is in the middle, and on the bottom are the approximately 85% of the population, called the “prole” that the party maintains in poverty (through the Ministry of Abundance) so that they can’t or don’t want to rebel. Does this sound familiar?
Although in the novel 1984, Winston doesn’t succeed in defeating Big Brother, because he’s deceived, and also because he’s alone in his struggle, our reality is cyclical, and no regime or system is eternal. All must fall at some moment. These falls are long processes, violent and confusing, but possible. If there’s anything that identifies us with other species of the animal kingdom, it’s that we’re restless beings, dominating and territorial, but we’ve evolved to conform complex and changeable societies. Ortega will have to leave power at some point. If it’s not by peaceful means, the time will come when people rise up again and challenge him, as he seems to be hoping for.
For all those people who wish to expand their knowledge a little more and would like to read a good book, I’d recommend 1984. It’s not only interesting, but also so real that it’s possible we could come to live in a society like that if we allow ourselves to, by believing blindly what some people sell us as truth. Let’s learn to be critical and to challenge the ideas of political dinosaurs full of hate and authoritarian ideas like those of Daniel Ortega and all his fanatic followers.