In 2021, Sergio Ramírez (Masatepe, 1942) published a new novel, ‘Tongolele did not know how to dance’, which takes place in the convulsed Nicaragua of 2018; inaugurated the Guadalajara Book Fair, was honored by governments and universities, and received an arrest warrant that forced him to live his second exile: on September 8, the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office accused the writer of “laundering money, property and assets; undermining national integrity, and provocation, proposition and conspiracy ”. Safe prison in a country without independent justice and with seven opposition candidates to the presidential elections in November imprisoned by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
In the following months, the presidential marriage was re-elected in a process questioned by the international community, and Ramírez was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 2017 and the José Donoso Prize in 2011, among many other literary recognitions, he deepened his criticism of the regime (of which he was part as vice president of Ortega’s first term, between 1985 and 1990).
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Exponent of a tradition of Latin American intellectuals committed to politics, Ramírez gave interviews and wrote columns in which he denounced the dangers it implies for Latin America the prolongation of the Ortega and Murillo regime, topics that he reviews in conversation with the Grupo de Diarios América (GDA), which chose him as this year’s Latin American character.
In a year with a pandemic, a migratory crisis and the usual problems in Latin America, Nicaragua was the protagonist for the re-election of Ortega and Murillo. How do you analyze the impact of this process in the region?
What a process of this nature creates is greater polarization in those countries that are in a democratic system, however imperfect it may be. Among the countries that carry out electoral processes and have this institutional way of replacing governments when their terms expire, and those other governments in which, like Nicaragua’s, their only political will is to stay in power forever, no matter how fiercely it goes over the laws, the Constitution; violation of DD. HH., Repression. It seems that the great panorama of Latin America, no matter how many nuances it may have, opens up to these two poles: democracy and tyranny.
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When he received the Cervantes Prize in 2018, he dedicated part of his speech to Nicaraguans who had suffered state violence. Why do you think that in these more than three years the Ortega regime could not be contained?
A dead poet friend, Carlos Perezalonso, had a short poem that I more or less want to remember: ‘Nicaragua is a country of little lakes, little volcanoes, little mountains and little soldiers and little soldiers and little soldiers and little soldiers’. Like in a child’s painting. What Ortega did when unleashing the repression was to multiply the police forces by three, he made use of the paramilitary forces who took them out with rifles, snipers, hit men. ANDSo the country is not moving towards a democratic transformation, because at the moment it is under very closed repression, which leaves no respite, especially since the difference between dictatorship and tyranny is very important in this regard. The dictatorship has repressive laws, it has judges, military courts, courts-martial, and it grinds you down. But in tyranny you don’t know what to expect. One morning a military jeep may wake up in front of your house and tell you ‘you can’t leave your house’. And that arbitrariness prevents a real democratic alternative from being developed in the country. Imagine that since May of this year alone, more than 100,000 people have left Nicaragua. 70,000 to the US, 40,000 to Costa Rica; the vast majority for lack of political air to breathe.
‘Nicaragua is a country of little lakes, little volcanoes, little mountains and little soldiers and little soldiers and little soldiers and little soldiers’.
You are one of these thousands of Nicaraguans who have left the country for different reasons. Venezuela, another country in the region that is governed by an authoritarian regime, is experiencing an exodus of more than five million people. What similarities and differences do you see between the two processes?
There are many connections and many differences. The first difference is that Venezuela is a super-rich country, owner of strategic materials, gold, lithium … the largest reserves of heavy oil in the world are in the Orinoco region. And all that has given over 20 years to an incredible expense. One of Ortega’s luck was that when he assumed the presidency back in 2006, Hugo Chávez was in power and gave him 1,500, 2,000 million dollars in oil concessions each year. Nicaragua is still a 19th century agricultural economy. It is among the poorest in Latin America, we are the tail, with Haiti and Honduras. So, Ortega can support himself by extending his hand. There is also the duality of international sanctions, which punish them politically, but keep the key to international financing open. So, it is an artificial economic life that is lived within Nicaragua. This seems to me to be a very important difference.
And in the political part?
Politically, it seems to me that the strategies of Maduro and Ortega are very similar, which is the strategy of buying time: calling for dialogue, cajoling the opposition, dividing it, holding false elections. With the difference that, thanks to some support from the international community, Maduro’s women gain a little more credibility, and the participation of part of the legitimate opposition. In Nicaragua, Ortega’s elections do not have any credit, because with the opposition and the candidates imprisoned, without international observation and counting their votes at their own will, the difference in credibility has been very large.
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Human rights organizations warn every year about the loss of fundamental rights in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Does another country stand out that is careful in this matter?
I would say that a very different model, but very worrying, is El Salvador. Let’s see, Ortega is unpopular, in the last CID Gallup poll, which was taken before the supposed elections of November 7, it appears with a support of 19 percent, and that 65 percent of the people would vote for any of the 7 imprisoned candidates. On the contrary, President (Nayib) Bukele has huge popular support, 85 percent, which does not seem to diminish. It seems to many that it is doing well, and those are the great risks of democratically expressed opinion. Bukele invaded the National Assembly with military forces, then replaced the judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, and no one thought it wrong. It seems to me that it is an incubating danger within political systems for which, after all, a huge price is being paid. But I would never compare Ortega to Bukele. Bukele abuses the institutions, but in Nicaragua the people paid a price of jail, exile and death.
In recent years, populisms of different political signs have come to power in Latin American countries. Does this current moment have differences with other times in which the region saw caudillos and populists parading through the presidential seats?
I think this has a historical reason that should not be lost sight of. The emergence of the first contemporary populism, of modern populism in Latin America, Getulio Vargas, Juan Domingo Perón, until the middle of the 20th century, had its own characteristics, more or less the same bases. Contemporary populism begins in Venezuela in the late 1990s with Hugo Chávez. But here is a very important reason, and it is that the bipartisan political system that was created in Venezuela after the fall of (Marcos) Pérez Jiménez in 1958, and that works very well, ends up crumbling due to the lack of renewal, due to the corruption, and this is what is going to give Chávez the great pretext to become the popular hero of a coup, which is something unusual. He comes to power with an enormous backing of the masses and finds himself with suitcases full of gold, coffers full of oil, black gold, and real gold. That is, Chávez had a very large petty cash with which to give to other governments, obtain political support in the Caribbean, Nicaragua, Central America, with open oil doors, distribute housing, create universities of very low academic quality. This is populism, which multiplies the loaves without the bread having yeast.
The traditional political system was based more or less on traditional parties, for centuries even, and now these are marginal
This year, Pedro Castillo came to power in Peru; Ortega, in Nicaragua; Maduro won the regional elections, Luis Arce served one year in Bolivia, López Obrador reached the middle of his term. How do you analyze political movements in the region?
The traditional political system was based more or less on traditional parties, for centuries even, and now these are marginal. In Colombia, for example, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, in the current elections, weigh absolutely nothing. Power is being disputed by other types of forces that have a new registration. These are new political expressions in the face of a credibility crisis of the previous political system. That is what is determining the history of Latin America today. And let’s not say in Chile, where the old post-Pinochet alliance has been displaced from public opinion, and also the right that represents the president.
How do you see Chile’s second presidential round?
For me, the situation in Chile is really exciting, because after the movements in the streets of two years ago, with people of very different tendencies, a constituent assembly came out, which, looking at it from afar, I see that now it is going to a second plane to open the stage between two very polarized forces, which were not in the traditional electoral landscape, and it seems to me that this is what arouses great interest. The advantage that I see in this polarization is that it will be resolved at the polls, and it may be that I do not like the electoral result when these elections happen, but those are the results, what the people want. Political options are free affairs of the people, who vote, decide and then pay the consequences of their decision. But the important thing is that you vote.
EL MERCURIO (CHILE) – GDA *
The Grupo de Diarios América (GDA), to which EL TIEMPO belongs, is a leading media network founded in 1991, which promotes democratic values, independent press and freedom of expression in Latin America through quality journalism.