The Resistance of the Exiled Nicaraguan Press
Words of thanks after receiving the “Libertad de Expresion” [Freedom of Expression] award from the “Unio de Periodistes Valencians,” an organization of professional journalists in Valencia, Spain.
By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – In the name of our entire Confidencial team and of all Nicaraguan independent journalists, I’d like to express our profound gratitude for this Freedom of Expression award given us by the Unió de Periodistes Valencians on World Press Freedom Day.
We dedicate this recognition to the memory of journalist Angel Gahona, assassinated on April 21, 2018, while covering the civic protests in Nicaragua. His murder has gone uninvestigated and unpunished for five years now. We also dedicate it to our colleague José Rubén Zamora, director of El Periódico in Guatemala, who after being imprisoned for nine months, is today facing a trial that threatens freedom of expression in Guatemala, at the hands of Guatemalan President Alejandro Gianmmattei.
We feel especially honored, given that this prize has been awarded yearly for over four decades. Above all, it encourages us to continue our journalism, now from exile, and to continue informing and defeating the censorship the dictatorship has tried to impose on Nicaragua.
On February 15th, 94 Nicaraguan citizens, including myself, were stripped of our nationality by the regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, in an illegal, unconstitutional act that violates the international treaties signed by the Nicaraguan government.
On that list of 94 people are 11 journalists and directors of media outlets that are now operating from exile, as is Confidencial, the news site I’ve directed for over 25 years. Other media outlets affected include 100% Noticias, Articulo 66, Nicaragua Investiga, Radio Dario, Divergentes, Café con Voz, and others.
On February 9th, 6 days before this occurred, another 222 people, all of them political prisoners, were released, banished to the United States and stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality in an act of political vengeance.
Among those released prisoners were 12 people linked to the communications media: a sports columnist and blogger; three members of the board of the newspaper La Prensa; the journalist who founded the 100% Noticias cable news channel; a political commentator from Nicaragua’s Channel 10 television; several local journalists; and even two drivers who had worked at La Prensa and whose “crime” was transporting the reporters who covered the expulsion of the nuns from the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in July 2022.
All of them had been convicted without any evidence, for alleged “conspiracy against national sovereignty”, “money laundering”, and “propagation of false news,” and held in isolation either in jail or under house arrest for up to 600 days.
As a result of political persecution, in Nicaragua there are no longer independent sources to whom information, data, or an assessment of the facts can be attributed. All without exception request that their identities be protected in order to inform or give their opinion, for fear of government reprisals which can include jail.
This double criminalization of freedom of the press and freedom of expression – to silence journalists, information sources, and freedom of opinion – represents the last stage of a long process of demolition of the rule of law that has played out over the last 16 years.
Under the de facto police state imposed in Nicaragua since 2018, there’s no freedom of assembly or of mobilization. In 2021, the regime annulled political competition and free elections. In 2022, they increased their implacable persecution of civil society, canceling the legal status of over 3,200 non-governmental organizations. And in 2023, the regime escalated its persecution of the Catholic Church, sentencing Rolando Alvarez, the Bishop of Matagalpa, to 26 years in jail and even issuing decrees forbidding religious processions.
Nonetheless, journalism resists from exile, as the last reserve of all the curtailed freedoms. Since the political crisis exploded five years ago, with the civic protests of April 2018, the repression against journalists has included assassination and physical assaults, television censorship, physical destruction of media studios, a custom’s blockade on the newspapers, all culminating in the closure and confiscation of major independent media outlets, the imposition of repressive laws, and the imprisoning of journalists.
The latest police abduction of a journalist occurred during the past Easter Week. Victor Ticay, a correspondent for channel 10 in Nandaime, was jailed for the alleged crime of having broadcast on Facebook a religious procession held on Holy Wednesday.
Doing journalism under a dictatorship, continuing to report and tell the truth, is an act of resistance. My own newsroom, Confidencial, has been confiscated and assaulted twice by the Police – in December 2018 and in May 2021. However, we never stopped reporting for a single day, making use of digital platforms and social networks.
Ortega has also confiscated the cable channel 100% Noticias, and Nicaragua’s oldest newspaper La Prensa. However, he’s never been able to confiscate journalism. The media outlets whose facilities he confiscated continue to report from exile.
The regime has also closed more than 50 local radio and television outlets and forced more than 150 journalists into exile. A part of them have reorganized around 25 digital news platforms, mainly in Costa Rica, Spain, and the United States. However, over 30% of journalists are engaged in other jobs to survive or have left the profession for fear of reprisals against their families.
Since mid-2021, I’ve been exiled in Costa Rica for the second time, in order to avoid being silenced in Nicaragua with a slanderous criminal accusation and a warrant for my arrest. My entire editorial and news team, like those of nearly all the other independent media outlets, are working from exile.
My television news programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche are censored on broadcast television and on the cable networks, but we continue reaching an audience of over 425,000 subscribers via the Confidencial YouTube channel and Facebook Live. The social networks represent an extraordinary vehicle for overcoming censorship, but they have also become a space for disinformation and political polarization that competes with the independent press.
In consequence, the resistance of the press also requires producing quality journalism, without falling into activism. These qualities are key to the effectiveness of the [independent] press in confronting the [Ortega regime’s] propaganda machinery, which includes five television channels, dozens of radio stations and websites that the governing family manages as private businesses, at the expense of the State.
Organizations in the Americas and Europe that defend human rights and freedom of the press, have done an extraordinary job of documenting and shining a spotlight on the persecution of the press in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, where there is no rule of law and therefore no protection for journalists.
But ultimately, our only protection lies in producing more and better journalism to strengthen the credibility of our media and the relationship with our audiences.
Exile is no longer a temporary emergency that forces us to leave and relocate to another country. Rather, it’s now a permanent, medium-term condition.
We face the challenges of protecting our sources and collaborators, ensuring internet and digital security, and increasing our verification procedures to corroborate information originating from anonymous sources, so that we can continue to publish reliable information.
We also face the challenge of journalism’s economic sustainability in exile, when the problems caused by unfair competition with the technological giants are compounded by the criminalization of our advertisers.
The crisis forces us to seek new models of economic sustenance to finance the independence of the media, through international donations, audience support and commercial monetization.
A paradigm change is also needed on the part of the international aid organizations that support independent journalism. It should be recognized that the survival of the press in exile – not only in Nicaragua, but also in Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and other countries – is a democratic imperative that requires long-term support strategies.
Our journalistic investigations have not produced any change in the public policies of an authoritarian regime that is not designed for accountability. However, many of these stories, data, and testimonies represent valuable input for investigations into human rights violations in Nicaragua, such as the report regarding crimes against humanity presented by the UN Group of Experts before the UN Human Rights Council.
Together with the relatives of the victims of repression, journalism has documented the first draft of truth and memory, laying the foundations for justice and the restitution of democracy in Nicaragua.
The collapse of the rule of law in Nicaragua and the consolidation of the dictatorship is also a mirror in which the Central American press is seeing itself today, in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, threatened by authoritarian tendencies.
The Nicaraguan experience shows that the resistance of the press in exile under a dictatorship is not enough to clear the way for democratic change, but as long as it persists, doing more and better journalism, it will keep the flame of press freedom burning, as the last reserve of all liberties.
Thank you very much,
*Carlos Fernando Chamorro is a Nicaraguan journalist and the director of Confidencial.digital.