Columns / Corruption

Ortega’s Second Attack on Confidencial & Press Freedom

Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Carlos Fernando Chamorro

At 8:45 am on Thursday, May 20th, some twenty riot police raided and ransacked the temporary studios we’d set up to produce our two television news programs: Esta Semana and Esta Noche. Our production equipment and temporary offices were being housed in a Corporate building in Managua.

Going on three years before, in December 2018, the same police force executed a takeover and military occupation of our then-permanent editorial offices and television studio. That occupation ended with the illegal confiscation of the property in February 2021.

As in 2018, the police arrived with no legal mandate. They were simply carrying out political orders issued by their supreme chief, President Daniel Ortega, currently running for a third consecutive reelection. Clearly, that order was to shut down the independent media outlet by force of arms.

Their mission was to capture the Confidencial journalists, who the police have classed as “coup promotors”, echoing the party propaganda of the governing FSLN. They’re “coup promotors”, allegedly, for engaging in “independent journalism”.

During the occupation, our cameraman, Leonel Gutierrez, was detained for seven hours. He was submitted to an interrogation, in another attempt to criminalize the exercise of journalism.

To finalize the raid, they emptied the offices, taking two television cameras with their tripods, lights, microphones, the switch and master control, two television editing consoles, an iPad with its tripod and accessories, two computers, and a number of boxes containing organizational and personal documents.  All this was removed with no record, formal receipt, or any other documentation of the seizure.

We were left with an empty office, where everything had been sacked. No one is allowed to enter, as it’s being guarded by three armed police officers. It’s as if the editorial offices – where journalists gathered to freely debate their ideas and draft their news reports and investigations – had been the scene of a horrendous crime.

Despite all this, last Sunday, May 23, we were able to produce and transmit our weekly internet news program Esta Semana, right on schedule.  This was thanks to the solidarity of colleagues, who loaned us equipment to get through the emergency. Meanwhile, the Confidencial website continues informing online, uninterrupted.

They closed us down a second time, but they didn’t silence us. They stole everything, but we continue demonstrating that they’ll never be able to confiscate journalism.

Ortega police officers remove computers and other equipment from the recording studio of Esta Semana and Esta Noche, illegally raided on May 20, 2021. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial
Ortega police officers remove computers and other equipment from the recording studio of Esta Semana and Esta Noche, illegally raided on May 20, 2021. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial

Some Background

This is the third time that the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has launched a frontal attack against me personally, as a way of crushing freedom of the press and speech. The first attack came nearly 13 years ago, on October 11th, 2008, the eve of the first great electoral fraud involving the municipal elections. On that October day, the police and the district attorney raided the non-government organization “CINCO” – the Center for Communications Investigations. With no base of evidence, the organization was accused of money laundering.

One year previously, Esta Semana had documented and reported on “Extorsion in Tola”. This was the first denunciation of corruption and influence-trafficking under the new government of President Daniel Ortega. The government then unleashed a wave of vicious attacks in the official media and conducted a failed investigation.

At that time, the truth won out. The police and prosecutors who carried out the raid concluded that there was no institutional relationship between the NGO “Cinco” and the media outlets I direct – Confidencial and Esta Semana. The three institutions occupied separate offices in the same building.

The Police and D.A. at that time abusively sequestered five thousand pages of accounting information and four computers belonging to Cinco. However, they didn’t enter the editorial offices of Confidencial or Esta Semana. It was a blow against freedom of association and free expression.  It was also a harbinger of things to come. This was a time when the Ortega-Murillo regime was just beginning to consolidate the dictatorship. However, at that moment, the judges, prosecutors, and police still upheld some minimal respect for due process.

Ten years later, under a consolidated dictatorship that dismantled the independent democratic institutions, the FSLN boss ordered a new direct assault against Confidencial. For a decade they had operated in the shelter of a pact between Ortega and the corporate executives.

The December 2018 raid on our offices was a follow-up to the intensified repression seen during the April 2018 massacre, and later “Operation Clean-up”. At that time, the Police stole all the equipment and documents from the Confidencial and Esta Semana production companies.  They did the same with a third company for environmental consulting, which was owned by my wife. They then mounted a permanent occupation of our editorial offices, until they were eventually illegally confiscated.

The National Police Chief, Francisco Diaz justified the police assault by alleging that the police had arrived to close down Cinco, which had been stripped of its legal status. However, following the October 2008 incident, the Police, the District Attorney’s office and the Interior Ministry had all officially recognized that Cinco and Confidencial were completely separate entities, with no relation between them whatsoever.

Two and a half years later, with less than six months to go until the presidential elections, we’re faced with a new repressive escalation on the part of the regime. They’re now attempting to close down all the spaces for freedom of the press and political competition. Ortega cancelled the legal status of the PRD party in order to eliminate the National Coalition – allied with this party – from possible electoral competition. There’s a legal process underway to inhibit a number of the presidential candidates from running, in an attempt to eliminate any substantial electoral competition well before November 7th.

The latest raid on Confidencial, a second attempt to close us down, is part of this new repressive wave. Once again, there wasn’t any legal order or any other justification, other than Ortega’s desperate wish to smash press freedom. The pretext offered by the riot police is that they were impounding the property of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, for supposed money laundering. That’s what they claimed, although they know full well that there’s no tie or relationship between the Foundation and Confidencial.

We condemn the criminalization of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. The regime is attempting to accuse them of criminal conduct in order to strip away the political rights of my sister and former Foundation director, Cristiana Chamorro. They want to be sure her presidential candidacy is inhibited.  We repudiate this new assault on freedom of the press and of association.

We urge all the country’s active forces – the self-organized citizens, the opposition leaders and the aspiring presidential candidates; the public servants, both civil and military; the owners of large companies and the independent trade unions; and the leaders of the Catholic Church – to demand the suspension of the police state. To demand the resumption of our freedom to mobilize, and call for an electoral reform, in order to end this dictatorship.

At Confidencial, we’ll continue exercising journalism aimed at recovering freedom, holding power accountable, informing people of the truth, and promoting public debate. The dictatorship that has tried to bolt down its power by force isn’t sustainable in the medium run. Sooner or later, it will fall, as a result of the civic resistance as expressed in free elections.  My conviction remains that we journalists will be telling the story of how a bloody dictatorship was defeated by peaceful means, giving the country back its hope for democratic change.

*This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and was translated by Havana Times

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