The Dictator Who Believes in God

Rosario Murillo, Daniel Ortega and Miguel Obando y Bravo. File photo

Democracy has died in Nicaragua. But if there’s one thing we know about Nicaraguans, it’s that they never let themselves be cowed. The dictator who believes in God will also fall.

By Jorge Ramos (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Daniel Ortega, the man responsible for hundreds of deaths and a brutal repression in Nicaragua, has never had a problem talking about his religious faith.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked him during a 2006 interview [1], when he was the Presidential candidate.

“Of course, I do!” he responded. “Christ (became) a source of inspiration for me, I consider him a rebel, a revolutionary.”

“Do you take communion? Do you go to Mass?” I persisted.

“That’s right,” he told me. “I’ve always taken communion. In the eighties, in the middle of the war, when our compañeros were dying in combat, I’d go to Mass and receive communion.”

Just a few months before that March of 2006, Ortega had married the now Vice President, Rosario Murillo, and didn’t hesitate to proclaim his religious fervor. “My mother always insisted that I should get married (…) I was born Catholic, and I’ve always been a Catholic.”

At the time, many were suspicious of his sudden closeness to the Catholic Church and to now-deceased Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo in particular. They told me that Ortega was doing this only to win votes. Be that true or not, he won the elections that November of 2006, elections the Carter Center classified as “acceptable” and within international standards.

That was the last time he won such an election.

From that time on, Ortega has modified the laws and the Constitution in his own favor; he’s carried out fraudulent elections, repressed all opponents, censored journalists, imprisoned political and business leaders and presidential candidates, and concentrated nearly all the power. He has glued himself fast to the Presidential seat. And now that he no longer needs the Catholic Church to attract voters, he’s launched a campaign against their principal leaders.

On August 19, the police entered the Matagalpa diocese and detained the city’s bishop, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, one of the most outspoken critics of the dictatorship. Since that time, Alvarez has been held incommunicado under house arrest, accused of “destabilizing the Nicaraguan State and attacking the Constitutional authorities.” He denies these charges.

Ortega’s attacks on the Catholic Church have gone far beyond the arrest of Bishop Alvarez. The BBC reports that in the last year and a half, the government has jailed seven priests, closed Catholic radio stations and expelled the Papal Nuncio and 18 nuns from the country.

“The Church is the last frontier,” Anibal Toruño told me in an interview. Toruño is the owner of Radio Dario, a private station the government recently closed after 73 years on the air. “He wants silence, total control over Nicaragua (…) Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are bulldozing Nicaragua. Imagine it as a jungle that’s been totally and completely flattened.”

The Catholic Church and other organizations denounced the deaths and extra-judicial executions during the pro-democracy demonstrations of 2018. At least 355 people died due to the government’s repression, according to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Those assassinations all occurred with the “knowledge of the highest authorities,” including Daniel Ortega, a report from Amnesty International denounced.

It’s unnecessary and inappropriate to question Daniel Ortega’s professed Catholic faith. That’s an entirely personal matter. However, in the solitude of night – How does he justify his crimes? The assassinations, torture and very serious human rights violations his government has committed go against the precepts of any religion. And his recent campaign attacking and imprisoning the Catholic priests and church leaders in Nicaragua only highlights that flagrant contradiction. Ortega is, then, a dictator who believes in God, takes communion, represses and kills.

But the conflict between his actions and his religious faith isn’t the only odd thing about Ortega. It’s almost beyond belief that someone who themselves fought against a dictatorship – in this case, that of Somoza – is now constructing another. All the sacrifices his fellow guerrilla and millions of Nicaraguans made during the Sandinista revolution, today seem useless.

Something broke in Ortega. He led the junta that ruled Nicaragua after the fall of the Somoza dynasty in 1979; and in 1990, after losing the presidential elections, he stepped down in a surprisingly democratic gesture. Later, in 2006, he recovered the presidency with a mere 38% of the vote, and from that time on, he has clung to power and never let go.

Nicaraguan friends and journalists assure me that the Ortega dictatorship is as cruel or crueler than that of any of the Somoza’s. And that he has the same intentions as Somoza of establishing a dynasty: first, with his wife Rosario Murillo – the de facto head of the country – and later with his son Laureano, who many know as an amateur opera singer.

Democracy has died in Nicaragua. But if there’s one thing we know about Nicaraguans, it’s that they never let themselves be cowed. Their democratic fiber is unequaled, and they don’t like it when someone believes themselves to be better than others. Like their classic theater piece El Gueguense demonstrates, there are a thousand ways to resist the abuses of authority. Nicaraguans have overthrown dictators before, and they’ll do it again.

The dictator who believes in God will fall too.

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