The Sandinista revolution overthrew Somoza in 1979 and he was one of its most prominent leaders. Along with Daniel Ortega, Violeta Chamorro, Alfonso Robelo and Moises Hassan, he was part of the first government junta of the guerrilla. He was Daniel Ortega’s vice president until the 1990 elections. After losing power, they parted ways. Sergio Ramírez ended up dedicating himself entirely to literature. Ortega fought to regain power with the now consummated intention of never letting it go again. In 2018 the Ortega police charged with violence against the population fed up with poverty and arbitrariness. There were hundreds of deaths and the tension remains. Of those nation revolts Tongolele did not know how to dance (Alfaguara, 2021), Sergio Ramírez’s latest novel, a story that portrays the president of Nicaragua and Rosario Murillo, his wife and vice president of the country, in all their vileness and arbitrariness. “Nicaragua is a story of repetitions,” says Ramírez. “In the 70s the dictator was Somoza, now it is Ortega; despite everything I do not regret the revolution.”
Tongolele’s mother, the protagonist of her latest book, was very angry because many more than 69 had been planted in Nicaragua. trees of life How important are these trees today in Nicaragua?
They have acquired a capital importance since it is a regime that is governed by the unwritten rules of esotericism. Sai Baba is a great priest of that absent religion. All this comes from the personal beliefs of the president’s wife, Rosario Murillo, and her personal hobbies to interpret the world from a magical perspective. That is why when the riots begin in 2018, the first victims are the trees of life. People insist on taking them down. Hundreds of people gathered. But it was a partial felling, then the repression came and many of the trees were left standing and are being replanted.
History repeats itself, in ’79 the headlines were that the Army repressed the people’s demonstrations, as of 2018 the headlines are almost the same. In his book, Monsignor Welcome harshly criticizes the excesses of the dictatorship; that already happened with the Church in the 70s …
Nicaragua is a history of repetitions. It is a story that always bites its tail. Priests have been important in the great phenomena of change that the country has experienced and they were in the time of Somoza, with the wave of priests committed to the gospel of the poor identified with the Second Vatican Council and had a lot to do with the revolution. From the literacy crusade led by a Jesuit, Father Fernando Cardenal, Ernesto’s brother, to the hands that Gustavo Gutiérrez, the great Peruvian theologian, put in the pastoral letter that the church issued supporting the process of the revolution.
And what does Pope Francis say about what is happening?
I do not know. Pope Francis has kept a silence that is heard around the world about the situation in Nicaragua and the bishop Monsignor Baez, which is the model of the bishop that appears in the book, he was sent to Rome by an agreement between the Vatican and the Ortega regime, supposedly to occupy a position in the Roman Curia, but then no one paid any attention to him and he had to go to Miami to live with his family.
In Nicaragua is the voice of the Pope expected in any way at this time?
It would be advisable for all the Catholic faithful in Nicaragua, who are half the population, to listen to what the Pope has to say about this barbarity that has been happening since 2018 and that continues to occur now with the arrest of so many people, with the unstoppable growth of political prisoners.
The elections are on Sunday, November 7, and in recent months all the candidates who could overshadow Ortega have been arrested.
The candidates that remain are false, invented by the regime. There is a funny list of those parties manufactured at the last minute, where the candidate for president has his brothers, his uncles, his cousins on the list of deputies. The Nicaraguan model is getting very close to that of the former Eastern European countries in which the rulers were elected with 99% of the votes.
Who is Daniel Ortega today?
He could have gone down in history as a revolutionary leader, but he is going to be judged as a tyrant, a dictator from the old tradition of dictators that has always existed in Latin America. The ideological color does not matter, without a doubt a dictator. No surnames. A dictator, yes.
You had a very close relationship with him for a long time. He supported the revolution, he was part of the first Sandinista government junta, and then he became vice president with Ortega as president. Didn’t you see it coming?
I think that looking at it from the point of view of the novelist, as I like to see things, people change, people evolve. Daniel Ortega spent seven years in jail for robbing a bank – at that time robbing banks was part of the revolutionary mystique to get funds to the revolution – and he was freed by a command including Hugo Torres. Today Hugo Torres is imprisoned by order of Ortega. That gives the idea of how that person who was surely grateful at that time for the gesture of that command that got him out of jail, behaves today in front of his liberators. I believe that one of the most definitive transforming elements that the human being has is power, ambition, the desire for power. That’s in world literature, it reminds me a lot of Macbeth.
Does Ortega’s ambition for power change him?
Yes. That is, the determination to return to power and never leave again. He was always convinced that he made a mistake in handing over power to Violeta Chamorro after the 1990 elections, because it meant losing what he considered the revolution. The Sandinista Party collapsed with defeat because it was paid for by the public treasury. The Army went to find its own institutions, the same as the police. Then that kingdom he believed in was undone.
Did you ever think that these elections should not have been called?
No, I always believed that there was no other way out than to call democratic elections. I think there are two great moments of the Sandinista Front, that of 1979, when it took power by arms and in 1990 when it left it by votes. In other words, that could have constituted a double, enormous prestige for Sandinismo. The first guerrilla movement that I know of that leaves power because it loses an election. But that is ruined by Ortega himself by conspiring against Mrs. Chamorro, seeking how to overthrow her, how to destabilize her.
You have just decided that you will go into exile permanently in Madrid. Why can’t you return to Nicaragua?
Before leaving Nicaragua I had been called to testify in the case of Cristiana Chamorro [candidata a las elecciones ahora detenida], which they were accusing of money laundering. And since my foundation, which is named after my mother, Luisa Mercado, had a cooperation agreement to organize seminars and journalism workshops with the Violeta Chamorro Foundation, which Cristiana presided over, they called me. But in reality what they wanted, as we say in Nicaragua, was to mark the card. It was a warning. They were putting everyone in jail. They were adding and adding prisoners. So when I finished medical treatment in the United States, I decided to go to Costa Rica. And while there I learned of the arrest warrant against me for the same crimes that Cristiana was being accused of.
Why have you decided to stay in Spain?
I feel good here. Although I have been an infinity of times, it is a new experience to live continuously in Spain. It’s a decision I made with my wife. It seems to me that returning to Central America is to begin to breathe again that toxic environment that is what led me to physical deterioration. I want to put the ocean in the middle and try here the search for what I would call a spiritual peace, although that does not exist.
One of the immediate victims of the situation in Nicaragua has been journalism. Again in this the situation is very similar to the times of Somoza …
There is no free journalism in Nicaragua. They finished with La Prensa [el principal periódico que en 1979 fue bombardeado por la aviación de Somoza]They began by not delivering the shipments of paper to customs and the police immediately dealt with it. So the digital edition of La Prensa is made from underground in Nicaragua. There are many journalists in exile, and small electronic media have been born, which are those who work doing very important journalism now in Nicaragua. And we must not forget the exile of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, member of the Governing Council of the Gabo Foundation, Like myself, who had to go out clandestinely to avoid being caught. There is an arrest warrant against him, just like the one they issued against me. Confidential, its medium is being made from Costa Rica.
When in Nicaragua Somoza closed all the media, what was called journalism from the catacombs emerged. The journalists went to the churches and from the main altar they read the news, reporting what was happening, the repression, the missing boys, the dead, the bombing of the neighborhoods. And now there is a new journalism from the catacombs, which is this one that is done by digital means that cannot avoid it unless they impose a blackout, an electronic blackout in the country.
Who supports Ortega from the outside?
Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Turkey are his allies. Erdogan defends Ortega, Putin defends Ortega, the ayatollahs defend Ortega, but when it comes to translating this into real support, I don’t know what they do. The most Putin does is send buses that don’t even arrive prepared for the tropics. Windows cannot be lowered. And in Nicaragua they decompose every year. I am intrigued to know what the actual assistance is, except for the presence of intelligence and security forces. Of course, because there is a Russian bunker in Nicaragua where spy communication systems operate. And Cuban and Venezuelan collaboration in intelligence and security matters is also present.
What role is the United States playing?
Very contradictory, because President Biden, in his United Nations speech, did not include Ortega on the list of dictatorships. And on the other hand, the Secretary of State has a very energetic speech against Ortega. But the International Monetary Fund gave Ortega 370 million dollars in one go. So, it seems to me that this contradictory policy is perhaps because Nicaragua is not a priority for the United States like Venezuela is.
There is no press, the leaders of the parties are imprisoned, the opposition to the regime is in the hands of the young, but at a very high cost in lives …
Forty thousand have gone into exile since May alone, plus the thousands that already existed before. But the germ of resistance is always there. They cannot change that nor can they dominate it, no matter how much they put a slab of lead on it. In the latest Gallup poll it turns out that only 19 percent of the population would vote for Ortega. If there were a real election, 65 percent would vote for any of the candidates who are in prison.