Press freedom, protest and elections in Nicaragua
In 2018, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans flooded the streets in protest against the country’s increasingly repressive president, Daniel Ortega, and his wife Rosario Murillo, who occupies a mix of positions, including that of vice president and communications coordinator. The protests posed a serious threat to Ortega’s retention in power for fourteen years; with news outlets stubbornly covering the country’s greatest history, the Ortega regime blocked the print materials needed to run newspapers, ransacked newsrooms, and arrested and tortured some journalists. Since then, the administration has continued its brutal crackdown on independent journalism, as Oswaldo Rivas documented for CJR earlier this year. In November, Ortega will be re-elected; with a number of former journalists running against him, one could argue that the fate of the Nicaraguan free press is also at the ballot box.
This summer, the Ortega administration has grown increasingly brazen in its attacks on journalism. In at the end of May, police officers raided and ransacked several newsrooms, arrested some of their employees and launched fictitious investigations into prominent journalists and opposition leaders. Through early June, the favorite opposition candidate Cristiana Chamorro –– a popular journalist and the daughter of a former Nicaraguan president (who beat Ortega for office in 1990) –– has been placed under house arrest, where she is, under questionable money laundering charges. Throughout the summer, the Ortega regime arrested six other presidential candidates, including Miguel Mora, another journalist, on similar pretexts.
Since then, dozens of journalists have been summoned for questioning related to these investigations. “There is an attempt to turn the exercise of journalism into a crime, by defining what is a lie”, Fabian Medina, columnist for La Prensa, told PEN International, a press freedom group, in June. In July, Reporters Without Borders, another press freedom group, added Ortega to its “predator gallery, with people like Mohammed ben salman, Viktor Orban, and Kim jong un.
At least twenty-six journalists have gone into exile between June and August. Two weeks ago, a report in La Prensa, a leading independent newspaper in Nicaragua, documented eighty attacks on press freedom in the month of August alone; seventy-eight, he said, were carried out by “agents of the state”. One of these attacks included another raid on La Prensa, forcing it to close its printing activities and leading to the arrest of its director, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro. Last week, La Prensa––The last independent printed newspaper in Nicaragua –– laid off half of its staff, partly, he said, for “guarantee the survival of the company in the midst of a hostile environment imposed on us by the dictatorship.” The newspaper added: “La Prensa will prevail to recount the fall of the Orteguismo.
The country’s press freedom dynamic is not unique to the region. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele has encouraged hostilities against the free press, with much of his anger formed over El Faro (“The Lighthouse”), a digital newsroom and an investigative force who exposed countless wrongdoing in his administration. A report released earlier this month by the El Salvador Journalists Association documented 177 attacks on journalists this year, 34 of which were carried out by the national civilian police. “On the part of the highest authorities and government spokespersons, guarantees of press freedom are being eroded,” said Pedro Vaca, a press freedom advocate. the Latin American Journal of Journalism.
In Cuba, since anti-government protests began in July, dozens of writers and artists have been detained; cybersecurity laws proposed in August further threaten the livelihoods of online dissent. In Guatemala, advocacy groups have warned on the anti-press rhetoric of President Alejandro Giammattei, in particular around the Covid. There, in July, Pedro Alfonso Guadrón Hernández, a local journalist, was shot dead in a small town near the borders of Honduras and El Salvador; defenders of the press have drawn connections between his murder and his reporting on local corruption and drug trafficking.
Three Central American countries now rank among the lowest in the world in Article 19 index of freedom of expression. In Nicaragua and El Salvador, the decline has been rapid: between 2010 and 2020, on the group’s hundred point scale, Nicaragua fell from 39 to 8, with much of its decline having occurred since 2015, while that El Salvador has gone from 80 to 57. As the report says, “Populist leaders and those who seek to establish their own power hate responsibility. “
Below, more information on journalism in Latin America:
- “Under an avalanche of memories”: Among those under investigation in Nicaragua is Sergio Ramírez, an acclaimed novelist. Earlier this month, Ortega issued an arrest warrant against him – a familiar pattern in a country with a sordid history of imprisoning writers and intellectuals under the Somoza dictatorship. Although the two fought together in the Sandinista revolution, Ramírez’s latest novel, Tongelele No Sabía Bailar, tells of the country’s turn towards dictatorship since 2018. Ortega also ordered customs officials to seize copies of the book. Ramirez spoke to The Guardian of exile in Costa Rica.
- In better news: Ecuador is seeking to reform a restrictive communications law, enacted in 2013, which primarily imposed sanctions on the media. While some elected officials still favor the most restrictive parts of the law, MP Marjorie Chávez said to Latin American Journal of Journalism, “I believe [reform] is something the country is waiting for, the model change. And stop waiting for the state to tell you what to consume, what type of information to consume and under what conditions.
Other remarkable stories:
- For CJR’s latest magazine, Shinhee Kang, Ian Karbal and Feven Merid interviewed ten political journalists who began their careers during the Trump era. They discuss their relationships with news consumers, their perceptions of journalistic objectivity and their vision for the future of political journalism.
- The Washington post immersed in how Gabby Petito’s disappearance became a social media sensation. His name hashtag has been viewed on TikTok over 212 million times, the To post writing. The article adds: “People go missing every day, but few cases receive this kind of unwavering attention.” Last year Alexandria Neason wrote for CJR on the disappearance of Vanessa Guillén: “Guillén’s unresolved disappearance is the story of Breonna Taylor, it’s the story of Nina Pop, it’s the story of Tony McDade. The details of each life and death differ significantly, but the press is still a character, often making the wrong choices when it comes to focus and framing. “
- Thursday, Win McCormack, owner and editor of The New Republic, approved Nick Kristof, a New York Times columnist on leave to run for governor of Oregon. (Or, like Defector Put the: “Hack Meekly Endorses Hacking. ”) Earlier this month, Jon Allsop wrote about the porous boundaries between politics and the media.
- In more gubernatorial news, apparently Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas. Vanity Show, do your thing.
- Ben Smith, the Timesmedia columnist of, talked with Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, on the botched evacuation of Afghan journalists by the United States. Blinken insisted that the government has done and will continue to do everything in its power to help Afghan journalists. However, those involved in the evacuations are contesting his request. “We haven’t seen any policies here,” Joel Simon, head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Smith. “Our experience has shown that powerful media organizations are able to leverage their own connections and use their own resources. “
This post has been updated to clarify a reference to Nick Kristof.
Savannah Jacobson is a CJR contributor and New York-based journalist and writer.
TOP IMAGE: Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica demonstrate in San José to commemorate the third anniversary of the start of protests against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on April 18, 2021. – The political crisis in Nicaragua erupted in April 2018, when the Protests escalated into a popular uprising that met with brutal repression in which hundreds of people were killed. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP) (Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA / AFP via Getty Images)