We Need the Free World's Support
On Jan. 1 the Sandinista dictatorship closed down Radio Catolica. The newspaper La Prensa is now the last independent news outlet left in Nicaragua, although it is heavily censored by the regime.
The murder of a journalist, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, editor of La Prensa, sparked the anti-Somoza insurrection. Freedom of the press was one of the banners of the struggle. On the day the new government took power, July 20, 1979, it repealed the Somoza radio and television law and granted freedom of information.
Nevertheless, the history of freedom of the press under the Sandinista dictatorship has gone the opposite way.
Soon after victory the party (FSLN) started building up its own propaganda machinery, taking for its own use as spoils of war 16 radio stations, the only two television channels and the newspaper Novedades (now known as Barricada).
In April 1980, the Sandinistas tried, but failed, to shut down La Prensa. In 1980 they also suspended a radio program directed by Oscar Leonardo Montalvan and imprisoned for six months another independent newsman, Guillermo Treminio.
In September of that year, they issued decrees 511 and 512 embargoing news of the security of the state and forbidding news of food shortages, scarcities and matters relating to the police.
Soon a chain of decrees was issued banning the written or oral spreading of commentaries questioning the impartiality and authority of the judicial branch and favoring delinquent behavior. Also prohibited was unauthorized publication of any facts implicating a policeman or soldier.
As may be noted, all these things took place before the existence of the contra "counterrevolution."
From July to October 1981, La Prensa was shut down five times for periods of two or three days for infringing these decrees. When we published an interview of an entrepreneur whose business had been confiscated, we were accused of praising delinquent behavior, and were closed.
In the same year Sandinista mobs destroyed Radio Mi Preferida and Radio Amor; the owner of the two radio stations was assaulted. Mobs partially destroyed the independent radios Corporacion and Mundial and beat the owner of the first and his wife.
In March 1982 the Sandinista dictatorship imposed a state of emergency and required all media to submit all material prior to publication. At the same time 22 independent radio news programs were shut down for good.
Through the method of censorship similar to the one used by Somoza, La Prensa has suffered an average delay of publication of about five hours every day, and has found 47 percent of the submitted material censored. Because of censorship, La Prensa has not published at all on 33 occasions.
For three months before the visit of the pope, it was forbidden to mention his name or his planned visit. When Leonid Brezhnev's obituary was published, all his bad traits were suppressed.
All our complaints of censorship and our explanations to readers are censored. On Jan. 14, 1986, an editorial welcoming the Spanish foreign minister and another congratulating Guatemalans for reinstating democracy were censored.
The Sandinistas used to say that the censorship is due to the war, but only a minimal part of the material stopped has to do with the civil war.
Since 1982 four of our reporters and one photographer have been jailed and senior editor Horacio Ruiz kidnapped. Five newsmen including co-director Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Jr. and editorial page editor Humberto Belli live now in exile because of governmental pressures.
Last October on Radio Catolica, the Gospel itself was censored: Luke 19:41, when Christ cries over Jerusalem, ad Matthew 5:10, when Christ blesses those who suffer persecution.
On Oct. 12, 1985, the newspaper of the Catholic Church, Iglesia, was confiscated and its facilities occupied by the secret police. On Jan. 1, 1986, Radio Catolica was closed for good for its delay in transmitting President Daniel Ortega's New Year's speech, leaving the church unable to preach the Gospel.
With its closing, a sword of Damocles hangs over our heads. Only the public opinion of the Western world can save us. For this reason, the international propaganda machinery of the Sandinistas aims to present us as traitors to the motherland who have sold out to Ronald Reagan and as unprofessional journalists who are despised by the Nicaraguan people. Solidarity with the free world is the oxygen necessary for our continued existence.