There was a time in Nicaragua when Sandinismo was a movement full of artists and intellectuals. It was the 1970s, and the struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza (1925-1980) united several sectors of Nicaraguan society.
The Sandinista Front led the revolution, with ideas inspired by the transformations in Cuba and attracting writers, theologians and popular singers, including Ernesto Cardenal, who died in 2020, Sergio Ramírez and Gioconda Belli, both exiled in Spain. Nicaragua became a reference for the world left, and artists, its spokespersons.
“I never thought I would live twice in a dictatorship,” says Belli in a telephone interview with Folha. “It is very frustrating to have fought so hard, to have believed so much in a revolution and now to see Nicaragua once again under the oppression of another totalitarian regime.”
During her time as a Sandinista, the writer even carried out guerrilla training in Cuba. Persecuted in Nicaragua, she fled into exile, but returned with the revolution and built a career in literature.
Belli sees the presidential elections held this Sunday (7), which ended with the predictable victory of Daniel Ortega (75% of the votes), with “sadness and frustration” — she told Folha before the election. The dictator, former leader of Sandinismo, has been carrying out a persecution against opponents. There are already 39 politicians arrested in the last six months, including the seven candidates who could threaten their reelection, as well as journalists, businessmen and other former allies of the movement.
You have been in exile before. What is it like to be in the same situation again? Very hard, because, on that occasion, I left knowing that I would come back for the revolution, for the end of the Somoza dictatorship. And I was younger, I had a lot of hope. I stayed out in 1975 and 1976.
This time, I didn’t leave thinking it would be a new exile, I went to visit my daughters, who live in the USA. I went with a suitcase with summer clothes, because I thought I would come back. Things suddenly got ugly in Nicaragua. My brother was called to testify, and we know this is the first step in getting arrested. Then came a search and seizure of his house, taking several things. And I knew they were looking for me. My brother left the country, and I didn’t come back.
I feel like I’ve abandoned my home, where my books and my dogs are. Since then I’ve been traveling, staying at friends’ houses, and I have to settle here in Spain. There is no possibility of returning to Nicaragua now. I also feel a great sense of injustice. Because Ortega is burying our dreams, our fight. A real betrayal against those who fought for the end of tyranny.
Was Ortega’s climb expected? Somehow yes. That was the trend if we look back to 2018 and the repression that was unleashed against popular protests. Ortega still cannot accept having lost the election to Violeta Chamorro [em 1990] and has become more and more obsessed with staying in power. He comes against us, against the former Sandinista Front allies, because he doesn’t want competition, because we know he makes up this story that he was the one who freed us in 1979.
At that time, Ortega was nothing more than a member of a group of nine who took the project forward after the fall of Somoza, and he was neither the brightest nor the most influential member. We know him, and that’s why he’s chasing us now. He says we embrace imperialism.
But we did not expect such blatant persecution of opponents. We thought that it was possible for there to be fraud in the elections, but not that they would arrest candidates without trial. I worry that there is a left in Latin America that still sees Ortega as a leftist leader. Ideology should not make people turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. If anyone still sees you with sympathy, you need to understand that Nicaraguans’ lives are at stake.
What is the role of Rosario Murillo [mulher de Ortega e atual vice-presidente] in the regime? When she entered the scene, he became more confident in his project, more isolated. The two are responsible for the advance against Justice and against the laws, which they changed so that he can be reelected indefinitely.
She embodies this idea that women’s place in the revolution is not to be a protagonist, to fight independently, but rather to stand by their husbands — as she stood by his side when her daughter Zoilamérica’s accusations surfaced that he would have abused her.
Instead of protecting her, Murillo excused her husband, stayed with him, supported him, and forced his own daughter into exile. Many people feel identified with this terrible story, because this type of abuse is very common in Nicaragua. In a macho society, the choice to preserve the husband, to side with the male, is popular, even when the victim is your own daughter.
On the other hand, she seduces because she has guaranteed a place for women in public jobs, in Congress, in companies, but they are indoctrinated women, nominated by her, so this is not a feminist achievement. Murillo and Ortega together exercise patriarchal power in Nicaragua.
In this sense, was there a setback in relation to what women achieved in the revolution? A huge setback, the Nicaraguan woman has always been a protagonist in our historic struggles, as well as in the Sandinista Revolution. Ortega and Murillo have strengthened ties with the more traditional sector of the Catholic Church, and many women’s rights are receding. Abortion was allowed in cases of rape in Nicaragua, it is not anymore. And it is a government that incites prejudice against homosexuals and women.
I perceive in Murillo’s narrative a project to exchange revolutionary discourse for esoterism. Weapons by verbal seduction, by magic. Murillo is also the one who distributes the fake news on which the regime is based, this false narrative about the revolution, a stimulus to anti-imperialism, the idea that those who rebelled in 2018 performed satanic rites. It’s all very bleak.
Do you believe that Nicaragua’s problems are forgotten by the international community? Yes, for a long time, but I believe that in recent months that has changed. Several international actors are speaking out against this authoritarian escalation, and the US has placed more sanctions against regime officials. What I wonder is if this works, because Ortega is isolating himself, closing Nicaragua, and, with that, he has more freedom to exercise repression. In what they call the election, this Sunday, there was no journalism, because vehicles were closed, journalists were expelled or imprisoned, and international correspondents were prevented from entering the country. Nor international observers, which the regime does not let into the country. For now, I see no way out.
What is your main concern today? Political prisoners. I hope Ortega has the nobility to at least release the opponents who were put behind bars so that he won the election. And the ideal was that all those who are deprived of liberty due to political persecution leave, because they have not been tried or convicted and are having their basic rights violated.
China, land in the middle
Gioconda Belli, 72
A poet, she was born in Managua, capital of Nicaragua, in 1948. She studied part of her studies in the USA and Spain. He was part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and, due to his militancy, he had to exile himself until the revolutionary movement took power in 1979.
She is the author of works such as “A Mulher Habitada”, “O País sob Minha Pele” and “O País das Mulheres”. With the authoritarian escalation of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega, who was also a member of the Sandinista Front, he had to go into exile again, this time in Madrid, Spain.