Nicaraguan Artists: Between the Underground or Exile

due to arrests and persecution against musicians

Katia and Nina Cardenal during their performance at the Singing for Peace concert. Photo: Uriel Molina / La Prensa. 

After the protests of 2018, numerous artists joined with their creations the demand for justice and democracy, for this reason they are being targeted by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Ahead of the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the April Rebellion, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has undertaken a new wave of arrests against artists whom it considers opponents for using any element linked to or in reference to the 2018 civic upraising and its civilian victims.

The hunt against musicians was unleashed on April 12, and these performance artists fear that arrests will increase, and more musicians will decide to go underground or go into exile. A source close to some Nicaraguan bands confirmed to La Prensa that several musicians have opted to leave their homes and take refuge, while others are considering leaving the country to protect their freedom and physical integrity.

“Several are in hiding. There is no security. Some say that there is a list of several bands. What we believe is that they are going after all of us who at some point have made protests or shouted slogans at the concerts,” said an artist who asked for anonymity for his safety.

The source does not know if any artist has already left the country after the imprisonment of four musicians last Tuesday but assures that most likely several are considering exile as an option. “I cannot tell you if anyone has already left, but almost all are considering it,” he said.

On April 12 the police abducted Salvador Espinoza and Xochilt Tapia (owners of the Saxo Producciones company), Josue Monroy (vocalist of the Monroy y Surmenage Band), and Leonardo Canales (producer and director of La Antesala), from their homes.

So far, the Police has not informed about the whereabouts of any of the artists, although sources close to the detainees confirmed to La Prensa that they were taken to the infamous El Chipote prison.  

Who reinitiated the witch-hunt?

Another source also confirmed to La Prensa that the Police have a list of musicians with arrest warrants. “I don’t know the list in detail, but they have only alerted us that they have a list of musicians with arrest warrants,” informed an artist under anonymity.

The same artist detailed that he had been notified that by order of the Police, his events programmed for Easter Week in Poneloya and San Juan del Sur were cancelled. “The Police are in charge of cancelling the events. The producer and owner of a very well-known bar in Managua said that there is a list of bands that the regime calls “coup mongers” and all these bands will not be allowed to play anywhere,” said the musician.

On social networks there are rumors that this new wave of arrests against artists, especially musicians, is directed by the son of the dictators, Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, who is also a musician and leads the Ciclo Band, which toured the country in the midst of the socio-political crisis and the pandemic.

They also point out that their concerts are characterized by low attendance of a reduced group of followers —all sympathetic to the regime— despite the publicity and the powerful sounding board from the radio and television media controlled by Juan Carlos Ortega, another of the reasons why internet users believe that the Ortega-Murillo’s musician son is behind this new attack against the artists.

They are Salvador Espinoza, Xochilt Tapia and Josue Monroy. La Prensa.

Artists have denounced the dictatorship

Since the outbreak of the anti-government protests in April 2018, several artists have joined with their creations to the demands for justice and democracy maintained by the Nicaraguan population, which have caused them to be targeted by the dictatorship.

During the marches and sit-ins, on several occasions there were young dancers with choreographies alluding to the political crisis, musicians with protest songs and even painters and cartoonists with paintings and drawings making reference to the people murdered or to political prisoners.

The young poet Jose Alberto Montoya was one of those who recited his poems during the protests and other spaces in 2018, and after the intensification of repression against opponents between the months of May and August, Montoya received threats from the Sandinista Youth, so he decided to go into exile.

Montoya has closely followed the recent persecution of artists that continues in Nicaragua.  He believes “the only escape valve to talk about what is happening, have been the artists,” because most activists have been imprisoned or threatened, and that is why the Ortega dictatorship has lashed out against them.

“We are close to April 19 and the government does not want anything to be mentioned about it. That there be no allusion to anything,” says Montoya.

For his part, musician Mario Rocha assesses that “the intolerance of the dictatorship is in plain sight. They no longer make any effort to hide anything at all and are willing to do anything to stay in power.”

Both artists are in exile and are particularly concerned about the repression against their profession and the imprisonment of the four musicians last Tuesday, April 12.

Artists during a concert in Monimbo, Masaya, when the city was insurrected against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. La Prensa.

Ortega’s intention

According to Montoya, the dictatorship seeks to pretend a false tranquility and make it seem as if the country is satisfied with Ortega’s administration. “Those who have just been imprisoned are young people who in their gigs made a comment or played a song that more than one person found uncomfortable. They (Sandinistas) want to spare themselves that discomfort,” says the poet.

Rocha comments that Ortega can’t bear that Nicaraguans express themselves in any way. “The simple fact that an artist sings his songs, or a plastic artist shows his works, his paintings. They have no tolerance to accept criticism. We are going from bad to worse,” he says.

In addition to the persecution against them, artists are faced with their work being taken away by the regime, as happened with the singers-songwriters Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy.

On February 19, 2021, the National Assembly controlled by the dictatorship approved a law that declares as “intangible cultural heritage of the nation,” a flag, a hymn, a seal, the songs, the written or graphic documents and audiovisuals of the Army in Defense of National Sovereignty (EDSN), which was commanded by General Augusto Calderón Sandino, the highest figure of the Sandinista Front.

With this norm, several songs of the Mejia Godoy brothers’ repertoire were taken away from them, and at the time, they considered that as “expropriation” and a “blatant theft” of their artistic and cultural property. Today, the two singer-songwriters are in exile.

Painting, sculpture and even haircuts have become the barricades of Nicaraguan artists who denounce government repression. La Prensa.

Art is valuable for a country

A sociologist, who requested anonymity, explains that art for any society “can represent the expression of a collective feeling. In times of crisis, songs, poems, books, become a vehicle of denunciation and also of expression.”

On the other hand, the source states that art tends to become an expression that contributes to the collective memory of the nation and gives as an example the songs of the Mejia Godoy brothers.

In the sociologist’s opinion, the fact that the dictatorship is persecuting artists constitutes a violation of freedom of expression since the purpose is to silence them. “Especially now that the anniversary of April is coming,” he comments.

Rocha agrees with the sociologist’s view that the artists’ right to freedom of expression is being violated. According to the musician, the population sees itself represented in the artists’ works. “Art is food for people’s souls and the fear (of the dictatorship) is that people will rise up again,” he comments.

“The artists’ work is genuine, and since it is genuine, it cannot go against truth and they are afraid of the truth,” indicates the Rocha. He also maintains that artists who are on the side of the Ortega regime “are simply just technical executors of an ability. Anything that is at the margin of truth is a technical execution and not someone who makes art.”

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