The conviction for money laundering against Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, general manager of the newspaper the press —the longest in Nicaragua— is the latest coup by the regime led by Daniel Ortega against one of the most important family clans in Nicaragua, whose history has been linked to political power, control of the media and confrontation with the long dictatorship somocista The Chamorros have given Nicaragua at least six presidents—some infamous—and a national hero, journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, assassinated in 1978 during the Somoza dictatorship.
A few days before the conviction against Holmann Chamorro, the journalist and former presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of Pedro Joaquín and former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was sentenced to eight years in prison, after a judicial process considered “spurious” by the opposition and human rights defenders, and in which the authorities loyal to Ortega were unable to prove the crimes he is accused of. The members of this clan have been sentenced to prison, exile or ostracism, in a hunt that can be interpreted as personal revenge long cultivated by Ortega after losing the 1990 elections against Violeta Barrios Chamorro, now 92 years old, who is sick and alone fades little by little in her house in Managua, in a haze of memories. The hatred towards her family has been evident in the words of Ortega’s wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, who has described the Chamorros as “a submissive caste, exploited and looters.”
It has been of little use that there are condemnations from international organizations for the trials against Juan Lorenzo, Juan Sebastián Chamorro —another opposition candidate—, Cristiana and her brother, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, also a member of the leadership of the press. Like the rest, he was arrested in the orgy of arrests against opponents that Ortega unleashed last summer to silence any figure who tried to overshadow him in the November elections, which the president considered won with 75% of the votes. Polls showed that Cristiana Chamorro was the opposition figure most likely to beat Ortega in a fair election. The trials against the Chamorros have mobilized journalistic organizations from all over the continent, which publicly rejected the sentences. “We hold the State of Nicaragua responsible for the life and integrity of prisoners of conscience and we demand their immediate release, the cessation of their criminalization and the revocation of all sentences handed down against them, for the mere fact of exercising their right to freedom of expression”, warned a group of 18 journalistic organizations in Latin America. “We are facing one of the fiercest dictatorships in Latin American history,” said Jorge Canahuati, president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). “We must close ranks to prevent the Nicaraguan regime from continuing to restrict the freedoms of citizens and destroying the rule of law,” he has requested.
While his brothers and relatives have been imprisoned and sentenced by the regime, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the most internationally recognized Nicaraguan journalist, went into exile in Costa Rica due to the persecution and threats against him. Chamorro is the director of the independent digital newspaper Confidential and the program of reports and interviews Esta Semana, and who has maintained a critical editorial line with the Government since Ortega returned to power in 2007. Confidential He had denounced, through investigative reports with Ortega recently installed in power, that representatives of the Sandinista Front maintained an extortion network in the judiciary to blackmail businessmen. This public denunciation, known as the Tola case, caused the government to file charges against Chamorro, accusing him of money laundering; his offices were intervened, and that the justice system threatened the journalist with jail. After the explosion of massive demonstrations in April 2018 —which Ortega blew up with bullets, with a balance of more than 360 dead— the regime ordered the assault and confiscation of the editorial office of Confidential and increased the siege against its director and journalists, also forced into exile.
“The guilty verdicts against my sister Cristiana and my brother, Pedro Joaquín, are not the result of a trial, because in Nicaragua there is no rule of law, but rather a police state. There was a mock trial in prison, where crimes are fabricated. These convictions have no legal value, they have a political value, which consists in Daniel Ortega confirming that he stole the November 7 elections, because he could not accept political competition in that election. Ortega intends to legalize this elimination of electoral competition alleging that there has been a trial in which crimes have been proven. We are in a moment of radicalization of a totalitarian dictatorship, which intends to cling to power at any cost,” says Carlos Fernando Chamorro in an interview from his exile in Costa Rica. “All political prisoners in Nicaragua are innocent, they have not committed any crime. The only thing they have done is demand free elections, democracy, justice. Here, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and also the right to choose have been criminalized. Ortega is throwing himself into the void, because what he is doing is aggravating the national crisis”, he added.
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For Ortega and his loyalists, Carlos F. Chamorro is a “traitor.” Chamorro supported the clandestine struggle of the Sandinista Front guerrillas against the Somocista dictatorship. After the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, he held positions within the new structure of the State, until he was appointed director of Barricade, the official newspaper of the Sandinista Front. The Chamorro family, then, was divided. Pedro Joaquín, the older brother, left Nicaragua to support the armed opposition that was forming against Sandinismo. Cristiana maintained a critical line against the regime from the press, the opposition newspaper, while Claudia Chamorro supported the revolutionary government. Claudia is the only one of the brothers who has not been detained by the regime. Friends of the family say that Violeta Chamorro, her mother, was a kind of arbitrator between the family’s political differences and that when she invited her children to dinner at home she demanded that we talk about politics. Carlos Fernando Chamorro was criticized for having supported the Sandinista government, led by ex-guerrilla fighters turned military and that would become a regime that did not allow civil liberties and persecuted critical voices.
Chamorro would be forced to make a self-criticism in the nineties, after the electoral triumph of his mother, Violeta Chamorro. She became an unlikely opposition candidate to stand up to Daniel Ortega in the 1990 elections. Even in their worst nightmares, the Sandinistas did not imagine an electoral defeat, despite the people’s weariness with war and shortages. . Ortega gave himself mass baths in which he presented himself sure of victory, as “el rooster ennavajado” —as his campaign song said— that would practically effortlessly defeat Violeta, who had based her candidacy on promises of the end of the war. and the reconciliation of a bitterly divided country. The scare came the same night of the election, when the president of the Electoral Tribunal, Mariano Fiallos, read the first results: the Sandinista Front lost to the candidate of the National Opposition Union (UN). With his mother in power, Carlos Fernando became from Barricade in strong opposition to the government, but Daniel Ortega’s desire to control the Sandinista Front at all costs caused many party figures to distance themselves, including the writer Sergio Ramírez y Chamorro. Ortega kept that “betrayal” to himself for many years, which would make Carlos Fernando pay with the persecution against him, the result of which has been his exile.
A clan linked to the political history of Nicaragua
It is practically impossible to tell the political history of Nicaragua without mentioning the Chamorro family. The clan, forged in the ranks of conservatism, has given the country six presidents, including the one considered the first president of republican Nicaragua, General José Chamorro Pérez, and the infamous Emiliano Chamorro, who signed the so-called Bryan Treaty in 1914 -Chamorro, with which he granted the United States the right in perpetuity to build an interoceanic canal through the Central American country. Ortega would do the same a century later, when in 2011 he handed over a 100-year concession to an obscure Chinese businessman for the construction of a canal in Nicaragua, a project valued at 50,000 million dollars of which not a single stone has been laid. Emiliano Chamorro is also remembered for his immense political ambition, for which he seized power through a coup d’état perpetuated in 1926.
The character of this clan who is perhaps most loved and respected in Nicaragua is Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, the father of Carlos Fernando, Cristiana and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios. He was the great opponent of the Somocista dictatorship, who from the pages of the press he launched fierce criticism of the dictatorship, which had him as the most uncomfortable voice. His texts were read avidly and his radio program was tuned in every evening. “The Press for Pedro was his life. Not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the Nicaraguan people,” said his wife, Violeta. Due to his bravery and belligerence, Chamorro was assassinated in 1978 by hired assassins when he was driving his vehicle to the newspaper’s office. His murder shocked the country and sentenced the dictatorship. The funerals of the journalist and opponent were tremendous and ended in a demonstration that demanded the fall of the dictator, who responded by ordering a harsh repression. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro is considered a national hero and is called a martyr for freedoms.
Despite the tragic history of Nicaragua, no one could imagine that less than half a century later, the Chamorros would again be at the center of the excesses of power. And less so that the man at the head of the hunt against him was a man who fought to overthrow Somocismo. History once again places the Chamorro family among its protagonists in this new tragedy, persecuted for the “crime” of defending freedom of expression, denouncing corruption and daring to aspire to defeat Daniel Ortega through the ballot box. For this they have paid with prison and exile. “In Nicaragua there is a police state, a state of fear, of control, of surveillance,” denounces Carlos Fernando Chamorro, whose voice, as at the time was that of his father with Somoza, is the one that most bothers Daniel Ortega’s regime. .
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