The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ortega continues to suffocate protests and the press in Nicaragua

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, alongside Rosario Murillo, the first lady and vice president, in Managua on Nov. 29. (Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images)

Dánae Vílchez is a Nicaraguan journalist who covers human rights and politics.

The people in Nicaragua have been struggling since April against the cruel dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and his family. More than 300 people have been killed and more than 500 are political prisoners, according to estimates by the Nicaraguan Center of Human Rights. Each day, the police and paramilitary troops raid cities looking for people to capture and sometimes torture. Peaceful demonstrations are now criminalized, with participants rounded up and accused of being terrorists.

It has been eight months of civic rebellion, 240 days in which all peaceful alternatives for a political resolution have been exhausted. Most citizens are desperately crying for democracy, peace and justice — but Ortega has demonstrated that he does not want to step down and does not want to find a solution to the crisis.

This week, at least five human rights organizations were declared illegal by the National Assembly (which Ortega controls) and, immediately, police were sent to loot the groups’ offices.

Ortega’s regime has constantly besieged the media and journalists as well. On Thursday night, the police raided the offices of the digital news site Confidencial and the TV magazine “Esta Semana.” Agents took computers, equipment and documents without a warrant or any legal reason. “They entered as criminals, it is an attack on freedom of expression,” said Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of both media outlets.

The Ortega regime not only is trying to intimidate the media, but regular citizens as well. Levis Rugama Artola, a 21-year-old law student who participated in protests, has been imprisoned since late August, accused of terrorism — absurd charges that the government has obviously not been able to prove.

Artola’s family this week denounced his being held in solitary confinement for singing the national anthem. The family also said that prison guards have also refused to give him food as a punishment.

In April, the police shot 15-year-old Álvaro Conrado in the throat while he was bringing water to the university students that were protesting, and though he managed to get to a hospital in time, he was at first denied medical attention and later died. In June, Teyler Lorío, who was 14 months old, died when policemen chasing protesters shot him in the head while he was in his mother’s arms in a street in their neighborhood.

All these horrific crimes haven’t been officially investigated. These stories of terror would seem enough to generate worldwide condemnation against Ortega and support for the people of Nicaragua. But as the experience of Venezuela has shown, international organizations and other governments have been slow to act against repressive regimes in Latin America — and the story seems to be repeating itself.

The United States has taken some important steps, including the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act that was approved this week by Congress, a bill that would place conditions on the “approval of loans to the Ortega regime by international financial institutions,” and expand the Magnistky sanctions on people close to the regime (including Rosario Murillo, the vice president and first lady). The United Nations, however, seems to believe that democracy and the lives of thousands can be defended with press releases.

But only concrete actions can stop a dictator such as Ortega, a man who possesses an unquenchable thirst for power and is capable of anything to keep it.

Read more:

Dánae Vílchez: Nicaraguans are under siege. But we won’t stop resisting until Ortega steps down.

Otto J. Reich: Daniel Ortega’s familiar path of repression in Nicaragua

The Post’s View: Nicaraguans are waking up to the political rot in their government

Francisco Toro and James Bosworth: The unlikely origins of Nicaragua’s epic wave of protest