Nicaragua’s government is a regime of accelerating oppression, injustice, and terror. Through Daniel Ortega’s 15 year regime, elections have become increasingly unfair, civil unrest has grown, and oppositions have been silenced more than ever. Evidently, Nicaragua is a prime case of democratic erosion. Although there are several factors that play into its democratic backsliding, one that must be dissected heavily is the erosion of journalism and increased censorship by the Ortega Murillo regime.
As evinced by Joshua Woods in “Democracy and the Press,” it is necessary for a democracy to have free press, since it promotes pluralism, provides accountability, and bridges the gap between the people and the government. Democratic erosion is a likely outcome when the press is subverted, since the people lose their facility to keep the government in check.
Democratic breakdown occurs when competition is undermined (for example, over 40 of Ortega’s political rivals were arrested and Ortega won the election with over 2 million votes, 1.4 million more votes than all other opponents combined), citizens lose rights (significant loss of free press and freedom to voice opposition), and the government becomes less accountable (as evidenced by the removal of any independent news outlets that could expose their regimes). Since April 2018, Nicaragua has been repressing civic spaces and growing their number of political prisoners (who are treated inhumanely, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights). Experts representing the United Nations have also stated that the Nicaraguan government has violated the freedoms of assembly, expression, and media. They declared that other countries must open their borders to Nicaraguan refugees because the oppression in Nicaragua has become a drastic humanitarian issue.
According to the 2022 Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Nicaragua ranked 160 out of 180 countries in the world for their press freedom (180 being the most repressive). Daniel Ortega won reelection in 2021 (now fulfilling his fourth consecutive term), thus continuing his reign of terror on journalists, who are constantly harrassed, arrested, and faced with death threats. The National Police took over multiple news outlets, preventing them from circulating any papers or broadcasting on the radio, and accusing them of breaking the law. Now, surviving independent media must operate digitally. This oppression is clear evidence of the erosion of democratic processes, and it is only increasing.
Nicaragua is suffering from economic asphyxia, and journalists face harassment, arrests, stolen newsrooms, and confiscation of equipment. Journalists are constantly prepared to flee, with suitcases already packed and wills written. Journalists left in Nicaragua are under constant surveillance and afraid. News buildings are raided and destroyed; police shut down public interviews within seconds; journalists are attacked, imprisoned, shot, and killed. Carlos Chamorro, a Nicaraguan independent investigative journalist and founder of Confidencial, was imprisoned and exiled, but then returned in 2019 and tried to reinstate independent media. Alas, his network was raided and he was exiled again. Nicaraguan citizens who wish to independently report on their government are denied safety and stripped of their livelihoods, demonstrating the oppressive nature of the current Nicaraguan government.
Stealth authoritarianism, as defined by Ozan Varol, is also a large component in Nicaragua’s democratic erosion. This is especially evident through their charging of media outlets with non-political crimes just to remove opposition, and their enactment of laws to “legitimize” their actions and deflect from their anti-democratic behavior. Journalists and news networks are accused of crimes they didn’t commit (like money laundering) so the government can be ‘justified’ in shutting them down. In 2020, The government approved laws designed to attack journalists and political opponents. One of them is the Special Cybercrime Law, which has sentenced several journalists to a decade in prison for posting “fake news.” More than 1,200 assaults against the press have been documented in Nicaragua since 2018. For example, Ángel Gahona was shot and killed while broadcasting Nicaraguan protests live. The government prosecuted two innocent men with the crime but later released them due to backlash. Plus, a prominent station, Radio Darío, was burned to the ground and its journalists were exiled.
Because of this rapid removal of journalists, Families who originally relied on the radio for news now have difficulty accessing any information. Independent radio networks used to reach those living in rural areas, but have now been shut down by the Ortega government. In February 2021, the Ortega Murillo regime illegally transferred the property of two independent networks, Confidencial and 100% Noticias, to the Ministry of Health and placed the locations under surveillance of National Police officers, removing the services from air and ousting the journalists. 100% Noticias, a formerly popular independent news network, is now a propaganda network called Channel(Canal) 15. The few media networks left in Nicaragua are operating either in hiding or outside the country.
In How Democracies Die, Levitsky and Ziblatt list the signs of would-be authoritarians: they reject the democratic ‘rules of the game,’ deny the legitimacy of opponents, tolerate/encourage violence, and are willing to curtail the civil liberties of opponents (which includes the media). This process is wholly evident with the Ortega regime, which has been repeatedly accused of forgoing democratic systems. Now, the Ortega Murillo government owns virtually every broadcasted news outlet in the country. Vice President Rosario Murillo is currently the country spokesperson and spearhead of media control. She has repeatedly criticized protesters, promoted hate speech, and shut down opposition. Despite winning a supposedly ‘democratic’ election, the Ortega Murillo government is exhibiting characteristics of an authoritarian regime.
Nicaraguans, especially young citizens who have swarmed to social media, have expressed feelings of hopelessness and repression in their country. Over 800,000 Nicaraguans have left the country, and many have stated they would rather die than return. Their economy is failing, transparent news is nonexistent, and Ortega is promoting “an atmosphere of terror.” Democratic Erosion in Nicaragua is incredibly evident, despite the Nicaraguan government’s attempts to block the world from the truth.
The freedom of the press is crucial, as explained in your paper. I’m curious to see if the repression of the press is seen in other countries neighboring Nicaragua. Or, if it is evident in Latin America as a region. I’m also curious to see what the future might look like for Nicaragua. Are we seeing something similar to Venezuela? Will Nicaragua become a failed state? Or is it already failed?
I’m also curious about the forms of opposition undertaken by journalists. You mentioned that journalists and independent media have begun using online platforms– would this be a form of opposition? And is it effective?
I have many questions. To summarize I’m mostly curious about the international and domestic pressures that contribute to (or limit) the erosion of democracy in Nicaragua– via suppression of the press.
This article emphasizes the unjust media censorship that has been experienced in Nicaragua by the regime of Ortega Murillo. This author quotes Joshua Woods in “Democracy and the Press” in supporting the notion that a free press is truly necessary to have a functioning and thriving Democracy. They then go on to explain how intimidation and force was used on some of Ortegas opponents and how this shaped the election to result in him winning by over 2 million votes. In result of the authoritarian issues that have pursued, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled the country and many have turned desperately to social media to express how unhappy and trapped they have felt due to their incredibly harsh government. This author does a great job at expressing the unfortunate manipulation the government has been forcing on their citizens.