Before Night Falls in Nicaragua

Police special forces in the occupation of the Confidencial offices since the night of Friday, December 14th.

 

“The public must make its contribution to—good—journalism: defend it as everyone can, sustain it.”

 

By Martin Caparros*  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Carlos Fernando Chamorro knew it. Or, at least, he suspected it: “With Daniel, one is always wrong. The most common mistake is to underestimate him, because in the end he always gets something out of any situation. We do not know what will happen this time, he has it difficult, but we must be alert, very alert.”

He told me that a few months ago, while he and his team helped me to report for these pages about the Nicaraguan insurrection. Chamorro is, probably, the most respected journalist in the country: several times, in various places, protesters told me that he should be the one leading a new democratic government; he, of course, said he did not even imagine it.

Chamorro has other ideas: he is a journalist and does journalism and that, when it is done seriously, will piss someone off. On Friday at dawn a police band sent by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo invaded his newsroom, stole everything they could, broke what they did not, tried to instill fear.

Chamorro is undeterred; the following day he showed up at police headquarters to ask for explanations. What they gave him was another charge of infantry, more violence. Chamorro keeps talking; outside of Nicaragua few do.

In 2018, Daniel Ortega’s government has killed hundreds of people on the streets. It continues: the Nicaraguan government, its police, its henchmen, have already killed more than 500 people and the world looks on, in general, somewhere else. Against that silence, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and the entire editorial staff of Confidencial (a digital media), Niu and two TV programs for YouTube, Esta Noche (Tonight) and Esta Semana (This Week) rose up; because, now, their government tries to silence them.

This same weekend, in Venezuela, one of the oldest newspapers, El Nacional, announced that, after 75 years, it stopped printing: the government of Nicolas Maduro has a monopoly on the importation of newsprint and it gives it grudgingly to the media that do not pay homage. This is how—Prodavinci reported—since 2013, 66 of the 90 print media circulating in the country were lost. Here it goes again: in 2013 there were 90 newspapers printed in Venezuela, now there is only one third (27).

The methods are different, but the results try to be the same: shut up the dissident. The right—which sometimes is called, also, center-right—gains space in Latin America.

Some are surprised: they do not take into account that the help given to those extremely authoritarian governments, which for years many insisted on considering as “left”, went to military and paramilitary groups used to silence the media that tries to tell a story beyond the official versions.

It is hard. And the worst thing is that the reactions are scarce. Some organizations have protested—the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation for New Journalism, on whose Advisory Council Chamorro and myself participate, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, among a few others, but in the big flows of opinion the issue does not appear.

It does not appear even in the media that could be concerned: Clarin (the largest newspaper in Argentina), for example, sent a journalist to Managua in these days because a rape scandal that shakes the Argentine press happened there nine years ago. In several articles, only once does it make a brief mention of the attack on Confidencial’s staff, casually and mistaking the name.

That silence is the most dangerous thing. Governments have always tried to silence other voices: they test, they try and if they do not find obstacles they advance. The most openly authoritarian governments do so with direct measures, such as denying newsprint or ransacking a newsroom; the most timid, with personal attacks such as the recent one by Trump against journalist Jim Acosta or of Alvaro Uribe against the documentarist Margarita Martinez. They are nuances that have some weight. But, in any case, the examples spread: if a government sees that another manages to silence without paying a high cost, it is likely to try the same.  

We must try to stop them: to try by all possible means to stop them. It is necessary to defend ourselves; to get together, to show solidarity: not to lose the few ways of expression that remain. In order for—good—journalism to make its contribution to public life, the public has to make its contribution to—good—journalism. Defend it as anyone can, sustain it. It is easy to look the other way; it is tragic to stop doing it when it is already too late.

*Martin Caparros is a journalist and novelist. His most recent book is the novel “Todo por la patria” (Everything for the Homeland). He was born in Buenos Aires, lives in Madrid and is a regular contributor to the New York Times in Spanish. This article was originally published in the New York Times in Spanish.

One thought on “Before Night Falls in Nicaragua

  • December 21, 2018 at 6:52 am
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    We — the world — needs a network of democrats. Not progressive democrats, not conservative democrats, but all democrats. Left and Right differ on some serious issues: how much should the state intervene to alter ‘natural’ social arrangements among people; to what extent should the state transfer income from one group to another; what sorts of endeavors are best done by the state instead of private initiative. But over the last few centuries a powerful consensus has developed about the importance of the right of the individual to speak and write freely, and in particular to criticize powerful institutions.

    The incidents described here need to be known widely around the world. We cannot rely on the established organs for reporting the news to do so — they’re too easily influenced by owners, advertisers, governments whose favor they must retain.

    We need a ‘Demintern’ — a Democracy International which is, in effect, a United Front around the single issue of free expression.

    Reply

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