Gioconda Belli: “There’s a Vengeful Madness” in Nicaragua
“They want to eliminate all the voices people listen to”
Nicaraguan writer assures that the citizens don’t protest because “they can kill them. The regime’s only strength is the army and the police.”
HAVANA TIMES – PEN Nicaragua was the Nicaraguan branch of the PEN International writers’ association. It’s now one of the 1,206 NGOs whose legal permission to operate was canceled by the Sandinista regime in the first 7 months of this year. However, in this case, the dictatorship’s measure came a year too late: the organization, which promoted culture and reading in the country, had already decided in February 2021 to suspend operations.
In the words of Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli, PEN Nicaragua’s ex-president, the outlawing of over a thousand NGOs “has a very great impact, because they’re annulling, destroying and trying to squash civil society, with everything that signifies.”
PEN Nicaragua closed its doors in response to the passage of the Foreign Agents’ Law in Nicaragua. The law, steamrolled through Nicaragua’s National Assembly in October 2020, is now being used by the regime to justify the cancellation of non-profit organizations. From December 2018 until now, the dictatorship has outlawed a total of 1,280 NGOs.
In an interview broadcast via the online television news program Esta Noche, Gioconda Belli laments the regime’s persecution of Nicaraguan writers, musicians, and artists. She attributes the harassment to the fact that “we have a voice people listen to,” and “because poetry and music achieve a very direct and emotional connection with people.”
The writer also speaks of the regime’s attacks on religious leaders and the recent closures of the Catholic Church’s media outlets. “They [the Ortega followers] are playing a very sticky card, because the Catholic Church holds a very particular weight with people(…) And Rosario Murillo’s running lies, wanting to create a pagan religion where she’s the high priestess, is also very clear to see,” affirms the author. Gioconda Belli is currently exiled in Spain.
The regime, working through its embassy in Spain, blocked your participation in the “Celebrating Ibero-America” Festival in Madrid, an event of the Organization of Ibero-American States for Science and Culture. How do you view this veto?
What they’re doing is absurd. Having a government use diplomacy to repress a writer that’s not participating as an official representative, but at a table I was going to have with Elida Piñon and Monica Ojeda, seems to me unprecedented. I’m there as a Nicaraguan writer, speaking of the writer as traveler. Imagine! The topic had nothing to do with politics. They want to extend the dark hand of the dictatorship into terrain that doesn’t pertain to them – to use diplomacy to repress Nicaraguan writers and artists outside their borders. It’s a terrible precedent.
In February 2021, you closed the Nicaraguan branch of PEN International. A year and a half later, over a thousand NGOs have now been canceled, among them the Nicaraguan Academy of Language. What repercussions does this dismantling of spaces for cultural promotion have?
Within Nicaragua, it has a very great impact, because they’re annulling, destroying and moving to squash civil society with everything it signifies, which means people’s capacity to achieve the things they want – culture, education, water – in the ways they’ve been benefitting for a very long time. From an exterior viewpoint, it means that every day they discredit themselves more.
The regime also launched a witch hunt last April against Nicaraguan musicians and producers. Why do you think they’re going after the Nicaraguan artists and performers?
Because we have a voice the people listen to. Because poetry and music achieves a very direct, emotional connection with people. Take a look at what happened during the Revolution in Nicaragua in the 70s: the music of Carlos Mejia was very important, for example; that of Luis Enrique [Mejia]; the poetry of so many poets who spoke of the revolution. Ernesto Cardenal. They know it has an important impact on people’s hearts, and what they’re trying to do is something unheard of – to build a wall around people’s hearts, isolate Nicaraguan’s heart and emotions, make them believe that a parallel reality exists.
It still bothers me greatly that Rosario Murillo is celebrating 2018 as a milestone in history, saying that they succeeded in triumphing over a coup d’etat. It’s enough for anyone to look at the quantity of people who came out to demonstrate in those days, to realize that it wasn’t a coup, that it was a popular expression of distaste for what they [the regime] were doing. The hypocrisy, the manipulation, the falsehoods with which they’re creating that discourse and avoiding having anyone else intervene. They’re closing all the spaces where people could hear a different view, and that seems atrocious to me.
What do you think is the objective of imposing an official message that, in addition, uses the historic symbols of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship?
It’s a propagandistic manipulation. It’s what Donald Trump does, what authoritarian governments do in other parts of the world. People should be clear that they want to brainwash them, they’re trying to invent for them a reality that doesn’t exist.
Do they have an audience? Do you think they have an impact on the population?
There’s an insidious side to that type of information management. If they take everything away, other channels of information, then, logically, you have an ear for that type of thing. And the people want to be at peace, they want to live in peace.
That’s the most terrible thing. It’s like trying to erode the conscience of the Nicaraguan people. I trust the Nicaraguan people. It’s the way people lived for many years in the Soviet Union, with a discourse that later wasn’t believed at all. That discourse of Rosario Murillo is the complete opposite of what she’s doing, and people can’t avoid seeing the dissonance between reality and what she says.
Attacks on the Catholic Church
The regime has also pointed its repression against the Catholic Church, with the persecution and jailing of priests. We’re witnessing right now the attack on Father Uriel Vallejos in a parish in Sebaco. Can the regime substitute for the Catholic Church?
I believe they absolutely can’t. They’re playing a very sticky card, because the Catholic Church has a very particular weight; within each parish, every priest has his particular weight. That discourse of Rosario Murillo, trying to create a pagan religion where she’s the high priestess, is also very clear. It’s very easy to see that a person who talks about God and the Virgin also sends people to burn an image, sends people to attack religious leaders that the people love, orders the closure of Catholic radios. How far will these people go in their vengeful madness, in wanting to take control over Nicaragua, without caring if they violate all the rules, all the forms of existence that we Nicaraguans have had? It seems to me a great stupidity, because people can’t go on swallowing this. If people don’t rise up now, it’s because they could kill them, and the only strength this government has is the Army and the Police.
What does the regime gain with these attacks on religious figures, with their campaign against these symbols that the communities respect and support? Does this have the backing of Sandinistas?
I believe there’s a group that follows them and swallows their line, to a certain extent. It’s very difficult to swallow that line. That happened in the Revolution during the 80s. I have to accept that what the Revolution did in the 80s never seemed right to me, but it was done. And what happened? People didn’t swallow it, or rather, at the moment that people had the opportunity to vote in a clean election, they did away with the Sandinista Revolution. The Sandinista Revolution then, committed the same mistakes that they’re committing now.
The rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights has stressed that there’s a dictatorship in Nicaragua and an attempt to silence all the voices. Can the regime attain this?
No. Because we’re in another world, another technology. People have cell phones, they have other means of information – you [Confidencial in YouTube], for example, with three hundred thousand plus followers that listen. People have a need to hear other points of view that seem closer to their own.
The fact that Cristiana Chamorro came out with a 54% favorable view (in a recent Cid-Gallup poll) tells you that people aren’t buying everything Ortega and Murillo are saying. They’re going to fail, they’re not going to triumph with their cruelty, that human misery they’ve shown with the political prisoners, with the priests, with all the values we love most in Nicaragua: the values of country, of love… They’ve squashed everything, they’ve crushed it, and people are clear of that. Why did such a large quantity of people come out in 2018? I’d never seen that capacity before, that spontaneous coming together of people from all the social strata, united in repudiation of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
One thought on “Gioconda Belli: “There’s a Vengeful Madness” in Nicaragua”
Thank you for publishing this.
Sra. Belli’s book _The Country Under My Skin_ is excellent.
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