“Be Like Ortega,” The Viral Message in Nicaragua for Covid-19

“Ortega doesn’t go to marches or meetings. Ortega doesn’t send his grandchildren to school. Nothing makes Ortega leave his house. Ortega wants to live. The opposition calls Ortega inept and a coward.

“Ortega doesn’t go to marches or meetings. Ortega doesn’t send his grandchildren to school. Nothing makes Ortega leave his house. Ortega wants to live. The opposition calls Ortega inept and a coward.

“Be like Ortega,” is the viral message in Nicaragua to combat the covid-19. The message refers to the absence of Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega, who hasn’t been seen in public since the coronavirus pandemic.

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo with the PAHO representative in Nicaragua, prior to a virtual meeting with SICA, on March 12.  PAHO representative in Nicaragua says that there was “a typing error” when registering 6 positive cases and not 2, as the Government maintains. Photo: Government

The message to ‘be like Ortega’ is to tell Nicaraguans to stay home, not to go out, just as their president is doing.

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“Ortega doesn’t go to marches or meetings. Ortega doesn’t send his grandchildren to school. Nothing makes Ortega leave his house. Ortega wants to live. Be smart, be like Ortega,” is the ironic message on Nicaragua’s social media, but that also serves as a model to follow when battling the coronavirus.

Ortega, 75 and his wife and vice-president of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, 69, haven’t been seen participating in any public event since February 21, the taking of possession of General Julio Cesar Aviles of his third consecutive term for another five years as commander in chief of the Nicaraguan army.

Also absent were Ortega and Murillo in the march/rally organized by the government on March 14th called, “Love in the Time of Covid-19”, in Managua, attended by thousands of Sandinista sympathizers and public employees. Also absent were organizers and leaders, of the even or their children who had participated in previous marches.

The opposition calls Ortega inept and a coward. “Do they know why Ortega doesn’t show his face during Nicaragua’s coronavirus crisis? Because he’s an inept coward and doesn’t know what to say in a crisis like this, and hides, but for his followers, he’s a God who speaks through his priest [Murillo],” wrote the opposition politician Eliseo Nuñez in a tweet.

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Murillo has been at the front of the coronavirus pandemic in Nicaragua, organizing, marshaling the troops, if you will, even though she hasn’t shown up in person for meetings, but communicates by telephone calls to television stations where she reported the two confirmed cases of covid-19 in the country and on Thursday, the first death.

Critics say the fear of being infected keeps the presidential couple, who for their age are among the population most vulnerable to this virus.

Supporters and defenders justify the absence, arguing that he has delegated the duty of informing his wife and that of prevention to Health authorities.

“And Ortega? Why doesn’t he show up at all? He hides his face, his government is negligent and irresponsible, putting the life of the people of Nicaragua in danger,” said Dora Maria Tellez the former Minister of Health during the first Sandinista government in the 1980s.

Tellez, presently a dissident, characterized Murillo’s behavior as “criminal conduct to convene people through a microphone to expose themselves to coronavirus” by promoting a day of house-to-house visits to combat coronavirus.

With two confirmed cases, one death and 14 suspected, the government of Ortega and Murillo has not declared an alert nor restrictions, unlike the rest of Central America. In Nicaragua there is no emergency for the pandemic, schools are open, the borders are open, in fact the government is inviting tourism.

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The government promotes a campaign of small sanitation brigades, accompanied by police, visiting house-to-house all over the country, with no protective mask or gloves, with the objective of distributing information about how to take care of health in the face of Covid-19.

Thousands of families have rejected the campaign by not opening their doors to them.

With the lack of government preventive measures, the absence of Ortega and Murillo in public, other health vigilance, the Nicaraguan people have resorted to acting on their own, based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).

With notes from Confidencial and La Prensa.

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Nicaragua Adopts the Cuban – Venezuelan Model

In early October 2018, Daniel Ortega’s regime installed a state of siege via a Police decree prohibiting civic marches. The OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights warned at the time that Ortega instituted a de facto State of Emergency. He had essentially suspended constitutional rights such as the freedom of assembly and mobilization, free speech, and a free press.

The goal of the state of siege was to wipe out the independent civic protest and to suppress and divide the opposition. Further, they aimed to impose a false normality through repression. With this, they hoped to coopt the large business leaders and reestablish the regime’s political and economic alliances.

Nevertheless, looking at the facts, Ortega instead deepened his national and international isolation. In addition, for two consecutive years he aggravated the economic recession and the social crisis. This continued until the negligent management of the Coronavirus health crisis brought him an unexpected political invoice. The mismanaged public health crisis wore down the credibility of his leadership, even among the members of his own party.

The regime now announces the imposition of new punitive laws. There’s a push to allow the use of life sentences for certain crimes. There’s a new law to regulate supposed “foreign agents”, and a “cybercrimes” law, better known as the “Gag law”. With these, the regime is recognizing the failure of the police state. The repression never succeeded in squashing the civic protests. Even without massive demonstrations, the spirit of the resistance remains intact.  Despite the National Coalition’s stumbles and the lack of a united national front, today the resistance is greater and better organized. It now has a presence in all of the country’s municipalities.

In the next two weeks, the regime’s parliamentary steamroller will assure the approval of that combo of punitive laws. These impose severe jail sentences for any and all opposition, a majority who represent over three-fourths of the electorate.

However, in reality, the regime has never needed legal pretexts to repress and imprison. Almost two years ago, the police assaulted the offices of Confidencial and Esta Semana and executed a de facto confiscationThis was done without the backing of any judicial orders. Yet, despite the television censorship, they never silenced us. We continue our truth-based journalism. Meanwhile the independent press – persecuted, harassed and sometimes exiled – now enjoys much more credibility and influence than the official machinery.

The latest Cid-Gallup polls confirm that the majority of the population no longer believes the government’s lies about COVID-19. The express burials and the Ministry of Health statistics on pneumonia fatalities and COVID-19 tests speak for themselves. These facts refute the daily monologues of Vice President Rosario Murillo.  Because of that deception, every day political support for Ortega and the FSLN shrinks still more. His backing among the public employees, both civilian and military, continues eroding.

In reality, the “Gag Law” is aimed at threatening the honest and professional public servants. It is meant to keep them from leaking information to the press and the public regarding acts of political corruption.  Such acts are occurrences that the regime wishes to hide.

The “Cybercrimes Law” also threatens users of social media with jail time. However, the dictatorship will continue losing the battle for the truth in social media. They can’t control the massive exercise of free speech and the use of new information technologies now at the service of citizens.

These punitive laws aren’t a symptom of strength, but rather of the political and moral defeat of a minority regime. Why, then, does Ortega need to impose them against wind and tides?  There are at least three hypotheses to explain this imperious political necessity.  All are based on the regime’s urgency to adapt the Cuban and Venezuelan “model” of repressive authoritarianism to Nicaragua.

First, they intend to make full use of the Constitution and laws as one pillar of their repressive strategy. However, they don’t want these as guardians of rights, but as a means to criminalize democratic liberties and civic protest. Clearly, it’s not a carbon copy, but this strategy definitively reflects the Cuban and Venezuelan “model”. The regime is adapting that model to fit a dynastic family dictatorship with the aim of liquidating the democratic project in Nicaragua.

Expedited by the “Law” he’s mandating, Ortega will now be able to eliminate organizations of civil society. He will also control any eventual adversaries and political competitors, by criminalizing them as “foreign agents”. The Venezuelan experience demonstrates that despite high international political costs, the Cuban “model” can prove effective in giving the regime stability. Through this model, pure and harsh repression can be draped in a “legal” mantle. For Ortega, this translates into an incentive to accumulate political hostages and gain time.

Secondly, the regime intends to take over the agenda of justice and present itself as a punisher of “hate crimes”. The latter would now carry a sentence of life in prison. This, in the end, is merely a defensive act. It responds to the need to assure the Sandinista bases that they’re not the ones under the gaze of justice.

Those accused of true “hate crimes”, crimes against humanity, crimes with no statute of limitations, are in the regime’s inner circle. The finger points to members of the Ortega-Murillo regime who are most directly tied to the repression. However, as in the April killings and the failed official narrative of an attempted “Coup d’Etat”, Ortega will point the finger elsewhere. He’ll try to convince his followers that his own hate crimes can be attributed to the victims.

Thirdly, although the Nicaraguan Constitution proclaims political pluralism, this combo of punitive laws assures there’ll be no competitive elections. With these laws, Ortega has ratified his stance for the November 2021 elections. Given this, it’s illusory to expect some electoral opening from a regime that’s willing to play All or Nothing. Though they risk further international sanctions and a declaration of illegitimacy, they’ll be celebrating the elections with no competition and without transparency.

Will we arrive at the opening of the 2021 electoral campaign without a political reform?  The answer to this interrogative doesn’t depend on Ortega, but on the political opposition.  Ortega has already decided to radicalize his authoritarian model. Meanwhile, the opposition continues to be paralyzed. They’re discussing which electoral box is the safest, in imaginary elections in which they haven’t even been invited to participate.

Meanwhile, the national debate must center itself on determining the most effective strategy. The opposition must work on joining forces, weakening the regime, and altering the balance of power. They must thus force a political reform on the regime, one that results from national and international pressure. First, the reform, with or without Ortega, and later free elections.

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