Nicaragua: “The Dictatorship Can’t Hide the Truth”

Ana Chamorro de Holmann. Photo: Oscar Navarette / La Prensa

In this interview, Ana Chamorro de Holmann, better known as Doña Anita, talks about the recent misfortunes her family and LA PRENSA newspaper have suffered: the death of Don Jaime, the seizure of the newspaper, and the imprisonment of her son Juan Lorenzo Holman.

By Fabian Medina (La Prensa)

HAVANA TIMES – Ana Chamorro de Holmann, better known as Doña Anita, is clearly a strong woman. At ninety-four years old, she has lived through a lot of history, and suffered many misfortunes. She was born one year after the founding of La Prensa, and like most of the Chamorro clan, her life has been tied to the fate of the newspaper that is a Nicaraguan institution.

She saw the newspaper’s buildings destroyed in two earthquakes and was there when Anastasio Somoza García shut the paper down the first time, sending the Chamorro family into exile. She suffered the death of her father, the murder of her brother Pedro Joaquín, constant hostilities towards LA PRENSA, and, in the last few months, the death of her brother Jaime, the police seizure of the newspaper and the imprisonment of her son Juan Lorenzo by the Ortega- Murillo regime. It feels like she has cried so much that she no longer has any tears left. Only when she talks about her son being imprisoned does she take off her glasses to wipe off one lonely teardrop. “With God’s help we are going to win,” she says.

In recent months you have received several blows in a row: first, the death of your brother, Don Jaime

Jaime was deteriorating little by little. In the United States he was never told that he had bone marrow cancer. It was gradually getting worse. He had not been to La Prensa since February because all he did was go from his house to the hospital and from the hospital to his house. His bone marrow was not producing white blood cells. But he was always thinking about La Prensa up until the end. Jamie and I were a team. He was president of the Board of Directors, Cristiana (Chamorro) was the vice-president, and I was a member of the board. We were there all the time. We are really missing his expertise and experience.

Doña Anita Chamorro de Holmann and her son Juan Lorenzo. Courtesy photo

Then came the seizure of La Prensa and the arrest of her son, Juan Lorenzo.

This was the last straw. As Hugo (Holmann) retired from La Prensa, and Juan Lorenzo was the secretary of the Board of Directors, Juan Lorenzo took over as manager. That day the police got there to demand facts and figures because my son had complained about La Prensa’s newsprint being withheld in Customs. The police began to ask questions and my son showed them everything including the different places where there were rolls of paper that were for printing magazines, not newspapers. The police called him a liar for saying that they didn’t have paper to print the newspaper. They were with him at La Prensa until 2:30 A.M. He was allowed to call his wife and told her “I’m leaving with them now because they say I need to go sign some documents. She went to La Prensa to bring him some medicine. But when they took him (to El Chipote) instead of signing papers they told him he was going to stay in jail.

What do you think of all that is happening?

They are doing everything to win this election, like others, by hook or by crook. All the candidates were thrown into prison. Cristiana (Chamorro) was disqualified, and they invented money laundering charges against her. It is clear that what they want are advantages for them, so that there is only one candidate. Because who are we going to vote for?

How do you explain the Ortega-Murillo government’s viciousness against the Chamorros?

I believe they are trying to eliminate all possible opposition candidates and that they are against La Prensa just like Somoza was. It was the same thing with Arnoldo Alemán: an accusation of tax fraud just like now. The person handling it then, Byron Jerez, was a dreadful man, untrustworthy and opportunist. We won that trial because at that time the law functioned. Now, no, verdicts are political. The Chamorro’s tradition with La Prensa has always been to obey the law. This is what my father taught us: obey, obey, and obey. Now Daniel accuses us of defrauding customs. It’s not true! We have never broken the law.

As a mother, how do you feel about having your son imprisoned?

It has hurt me a lot, especially the deceitfulness of having imprisoned him after he had shown them all the receipts and papers. It’s the dishonesty that has hurt me. Also, the circumstances they have him held in, incommunicado and not allowed anything but water. His wife said that when she (recently) was allowed to see him, he was very excited, but his eyes teared up when she told him that La Prensa was being produced digitally but it was intervened (by the government). And he asked a lot about all the contributors, asking “Who else is imprisoned?” But she told him that there were no other prisoners from La Prensa.

Some people believe that La Prensa is in its last days.

So it seems, but we have hope and faith. That is all we have because here the laws are made to order. La Prensa has always told the truth, and here we are with our faith in God because that is all we have, since we can’t expect anything from the government.

Ligia Chamorro, Hilda Argeñal de Chamorro, Jaime Chamorro, and Ana Maria Chamorro. Photo Courtesy

Don Jaime said that LA PRENSA would reach its 100th birthday

La Prensa is 95 years old. Such is our hope. Faith and hope are things you never lose because they cannot tear that out of our hearts. We count on all of you, and we thank you because you are true colleagues with the love you have for La Prensa, from the advertisers who have backed us, to our readers. We have received thousands of messages of solidarity and hope, as well as prayers that La Prensa returns to what it was and that it continues to be read as it always has been.

We thank the Almighty God and the Blessed Virgin for having allowed us to inform Nicaraguans for 95 years and for having been the voice of those who have no voice, where abused could be denounced.

You and La Prensa were born a year apart from each other.

I say that La Prensa is my older sister. I was born in 1927. I was born among lead type and spacers, ordered in boxes. They were experts at it and never made mistakes. The paper was put on and taken off once it was printed, all manually. It had a strange noise and we heard it because we lived right next to the warehouse that housed La Prensa.

As a child did you visit La Prensa?

I would go there to explore, especially on the days of St. Peter and St. Paul, which were especially cheerful there. They would shoot off fireworks, had beer on tap to give one glass per person, although there were always those who drank more. A real celebration!

What do you remember about your father?

He was the director then. Emilio Alvarez was the bookkeeper, and Carlos Uriza was the one who collected in a bowl all the money from the street venders who shouted “La Prensa! La Prensa! Subscriptions were delivered by bicycle. The life of La Prensa was very simple. Then came the earthquake (1972) and La Prensa was totally destroyed. The earthquake was really strong. We used the insurance money to buy the land where it is now. We bought it from the heirs of a man named Jose Argüello Cervantes who sold trucks and tractors.

Did the arrival of your brother, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal, mean changes in the way La Prensa was run?

Pedro Joaquin joined La Prensa in 1948. He had studied in Mexico because the universities in Nicaragua were closed down, so my dad sent him to study in Mexico. He studied law and a little bit of journalism, which was very advanced in Mexico. The same as Pablo Antonio (Cuadra). He lived in Mexico, and he told my brother to study journalism so that he could return to Nicaragua and revamp La Prensa. He was deputy director.

How did you get along with your brother?

We were very good friends, because I was the second of my father’s children. Pedro was three years older than me. We were very close and above all, he got along very well with my husband, Carlos Holmann. They met in school. My husband was an athlete and he liked going on outings and such. They had a lot in common. My husband said that Pedro was the brother he never had because out of 5 siblings, 4 of them were female.

Ana Chamorro de Holmann. Photo: Oscar Navarette / La Prensa

Don Jaime was the youngest of your brothers. His character was different.

Jaime was less impulsive, more passive. Pedro was spontaneous. There were many times my father ripped up Pedro’s editorials saying that they were too reckless. Pedro would arrive angry, and my father would say “Calm down.” La Prensa was shut down in 1944 and Pedro was beaten there near the central park. This, plus the universities in Managua being closed, is why my parents sent him to Mexico. The national guard were very aggressive. They would attack students with the butts of their rifles to break up protests.

How was the experience of LA PRENSA being shut down?

In 1944 my parents left for the United States. I was already in the school where my mother went when she was single, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. Then came my sister Ligia. When the nuns realized that our family business had been shut down, they gave us scholarships. We stayed there for two years until 1946 when Somoza allowed us to reopen La Prensa. That was the first prolonged shutdown: two years. My mother worked in a fine clothing finishing factory, and my dad had gotten a job at The New York Times in the Spanish section, as his English was very basic. My mother was the one who supported the family. When La Prensa closed, my father had to sell a farm to pay the employees who were out of work.

Where were you when you received the news of the murder of your brother Pedro Joaquín?

Here in Managua. We had heard on the radio that Pedro had been in an accident. And my mother, upset, got in the car and I went with her. When we arrived at the hospital, a man called out to us from a window and said “He died.” Although we couldn’t hear him, my mother read his lips. We saw him on the stretcher. He was lying there with bullets in his chest, and according to what they said, a wound in his nose was what killed him because that bullet went straight to his brain. We left with his corpse and there was an incredible demonstration in the streets. When we passed by the Air Force headquarters they threw tear gas at us, but it didn’t get us too badly, and we were able to weather it.

Was the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro one of La Prensa’s hardest blows?

Yes, yes. It was horrible. Because he was everything to everyone there. They say that the workers and colleagues really loved him.

Did you ever sympathize with the Sandinista revolution?

Yes, at some point. I think everybody did because it was a call to end the Somoza dictatorship, which was very difficult. Rosario (Murillo) worked at La Prensa. She worked with Pedro for seven years.

How do you remember Doña Rosario?

She was a good worker, very accomplished, but she didn’t relate much to the staff, with the rest of the workers. She rarely participated in festivities and things we celebrated like the day of San Pedro, or anything like that.

Did you have a personal relationship with her?

Not much. When the earthquake of 1972 hit, her house fell on one of her children. My husband and Pedro pulled the child’s little body out of the rubble. Rosario arrived at Violeta’s (Barrios de Chamorro) house crying and they gave her the medicine of Violeta’s mother, Doña Amalia, for calming nerves, because she was inconsolable. When my husband Carlos died, she came to the house to express her condolences. That was a very painful day, and she came to comfort me.

Rosario Murillo with Carlos Holmann and Ana María Chamorro. (Photo courtesy)

Do you find any similarity between the Rosario Murillo who worked at La Prensa and the Rosario Murillo who is in power now?

No. I was not a close friend of her’s. I didn’t know her well.

And now that she is in power, what do you think of her?

She has a lot of power. Many say that she’s the one in charge. There have been signs of this several times. In 2018 she’s the one who said, “Let’s hit them with all we got.” This phrase is famous, and it wasn’t merely a signal to imprison them.

What do you think is going to happen in Nicaragua?

I think he (Daniel Ortega) keeps all of this [the political prioners] as his bargaining chips. He will win the election because nobody will run against him. He is so evil it is assumed that the governments of the European Union and the Central American Union, will not recognize him, plus this will be the fourth time he will be re-elected. What is this? It’s like a monarchy.

You seem like a very strong woman.

I’m used to these ups and downs. Since the time of my grandparents. But I never have felt the kind of dishonesty as I do from these people. Now they say vendepatria (traitor to the homeland) to anyone who is against them, as if they are the homeland. My son is from a trustworthy family that does not go around stealing or laundering money. Already the next day they had told him his sentence. Can you believe it? Not even a court appearance, proof, something. No. They treat people at their whim. That’s why people don’t believe anything they say, because this is how they act. Only God can save us.

I ask the Blessed Virgin, now that the Purisima is coming. [The Purisima is the celebration of the Virgin Mary held between November 28th and December 8th. It is the most popular time of the religious calendar for most Nicaraguans.] And, above all, Saint Joseph, as it is the year of St. Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin of Cuapa who once graced us by appearing here. You’ll see that with God’s help we will win.

We are sad because this year we will break with LA PRENSA’s tradition of printing the song sheets to the Virgin for La Purisima, but the voices of the devotees will still be shouting “Who causes such happiness? The Conception of Mary!” Because that devotion is Nicaraguan, and it can’t be taken away.

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega will surely read this interview. What would you like to say to them since they will be able to read it?

This game they are playing with LA PRENSA and with my son is ludicrous, because you, Rosario, more than Daniel, know perfectly well how our family conducts itself. You worked with our older brother, and you know why he was killed: for telling the truth. Nobody is going to give you a thumbs up when you win the throne, because the throne is ill-gotten and will not last long. Who won’t see that you put all your opponents in prison, and you are the only ones left? It is a race between a loose tiger and a tethered donkey. No country in the world will acknowledge you. Well, maybe the Taliban.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.