Why are Celebrity Concerts Controversial in Nicaragua?

Olga Tañon in concert in Nicaragua. Photo: the government’s El 19 Digital website

Social networks are polarized every time a mega event is announced in Nicaragua. Some are in favor of recreation and others say that attending supports the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Since 2018, the year in which more than 300 people died due to armed repression against civil protests, concerts and mega-events in Nicaragua have been the subject of controversy between those who defend the right to recreation amid the socio-political crisis and those who consider that attending is supporting the Ortega dictatorship.

The recent concert of Olga Tañón and Eddy Herrera was no exception, in addition to their statements thanking the press and the media in a country where dozens of media outlets have been censored, their assets and properties stolen, journalists and media owners have been imprisoned, expelled and banished for criticizing Ortega.

“I want my people to smile, even if they don’t have permission”

Former political prisoner Levis Rugama, despite having been in exile for more than three years for leading student protests in Nicaragua, defended the right of Nicaraguans to enjoy themselves.

“The fact that everything is topsy-turvy in Nicaragua does not mean that people are going to just lay down and die, and that they can’t go to see the Van Gogh gallery or go to a concert. It seems to me that some Nicaraguans abroad want the country to sink more than it already has,” he wrote on Twitter.

Levis Rugama, student and former political prisoner of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. La Prensa/Archive

Rugama also said that “Nicaraguans are not indifferent to the situation of the country. But they have to bear the burden: work, be distracted, continue life as it goes on. And that is resistance and resilience.”

“I suffer in exile and I want my people to smile, even if they don’t have permission,” the 25-year-old added.

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, opposition leader and exiled former political prisoner, wrote a direct message to Olga Tañon on Twitter, to inform her about what is happening in Nicaragua, to refute the idea that it is a country where there is freedom of expression.

“Ms. Tañón, you need to know that you are making money in a country where the dictatorship murders its citizens and has imprisoned a Catholic Bishop. That same dictatorship is paying you. I am informing you that independent media does not exist in Nicaragua. Informing you so that you stop writing nonsense. You should be ashamed,” said the former political prisoner.

Former Nicaraguan political prisoner Juan Sebastián Chamorro. LA PRENSA/AFP

Chamorro, who was imprisoned for more than a year for his opposition to the regime and was sent to the United States stripped of his Nicaraguan nationality on February 9, said it is important that artists and celebrities who arrive in Nicaragua are aware of what is happening.

“The commitment of an artist goes beyond mere artistic expression. They should think about the society to which they are taking their art. This lady, Olga Tañón, needs to know that she is going to a place where more than 360 people have been murdered, that Bishop Rolando Álvarez is imprisoned, that Bishop Silvio Báez is in exile, that there is persecution of the Catholic Church, and that she is coming to a country where there is no right to free expression,” Chamorro said.

He added that he is not against commercial events, but in the context of Nicaragua concerts like Olga Tañon’s are used by the Ortega regime to pretend that everything is normal.

“These artistic expressions that they are organizing are obviously directed by the dictatorship, with the sole objective of making Nicaraguan society believe that there is a certain degree of normalcy in the country. This is a strategy that dictatorships have always employed, of presenting spectacles to the people to create an image of normalcy that does not exist,” Chamorro said in statements to LA PRENSA.

Some critics point out that going to these events is contributing to the regime’s coffers. But in contrast, others say that if that is the case, then the taxes paid on everything that is purchased in Nicaragua does so as well, things that are necessary in order to live.

Nicaraguans need to release tensions

Sociologist Douglas Castro said that in repressive and hopeless contexts such as the one Nicaragua is currently experiencing, the need for distraction and recreation may be even greater, so he considers it important to avoid generalizations and avoid labeling the artists who decide to perform in Nicaragua or the people who attend these events as apathetic or sympathetic to the regime.

Castro also said that it must be taken into account that these recreational events will not change the fact that Nicaragua is run by a dictatorship.

“On social networks the discussion is very polarized, as some assume that the artists who perform and the people who attend the events automatically support the dictatorship. This is not necessarily true. Many opponents of the regime attend these events, and some artists have even taken the opportunity to criticize the dictatorship,” expressed Castro.

He added that historically, famous artists have performed in countries with authoritarian governments. “The case of Queen, who performed concerts in socialist countries during the Cold War, comes to mind. Or other iconic bands that played beyond the Iron Curtain. On the other hand, there are also cases of boycotts, artists who have refused to perform in countries with repressive regimes, such as South Africa during apartheid”.

Christian Nodal: “I had no idea”

Another singer who generated controversy after announcing a concert in Nicaragua was Christian Nodal from Mexico. He even replied to Nicaraguans who denounced the critical situation in the country: Censorship, human rights violations, imprisonment of opponents. “I had no idea,” Nodal wrote on Twitter about Nicaragua. However, his concert took place at the end of May 2022 and this past June he returned to Nicaragua to give another concert.

Mexican singer Christian Nodal in Nicaragua. LA PRENSA/Archive

Colombian singer Carlos Vives was perhaps one of the first performers to be at the center of the debate for a concert he was going to give in 2019, when the 2018 massacre was recent. He finally decided to cancel it, which at the time was a triumph for the Nicaraguan opposition.

Other singers have expressed their solidarity with Nicaragua on stage, such as Mexican artist Ana Gabriel, who said that is why she has not returned to the country.

In May of 2022, Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean canceled a concert in Nicaragua and clearly expressed that he does not support countries in dictatorship.

“For my own safety and the safety of my team, we decided it is better to wait to perform there once Nicaragua is free. When that day comes, I will perform for free and with all the love in the world,” Ocean wrote on Twitter.

A jab in front of Camila Ortega

Last March, during the concert of the group Pandora y Flans, which was promoted by the government, the singers raised the Nicaragua flag and sang Nicaragua Nicaragüita by singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy, who is exiled in Costa Rica for protesting against the abuses of the Ortega dictatorship with his music.

Camila Ortega during the concert of Pandora y Flans. LA PRENSA/Video Capture

Present at that event was the daughter of dictators Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, Camila Ortega Murillo, who witnessed the cry of Nicaraguans “Long live free Nicaragua”, a slogan that the opposition has used to protest against the regime.

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