IAPA Midyear Meeting 2017

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

March 31 – April 3


President Daniel Ortega, now in his third consecutive term in office and his fourth overall, was scheduled to finally deliver a "state of the nation" address to Congress — for only the second time in ten years — but he did not show. He went to a convention center and said he would send his treasury minister to deliver the address. Moreover, he barred journalists of media outlets not controlled by pro-government circles from attending the event.

This blackout of the independent media encompasses all types of government-related news and activity, from police press conferences to reports on natural disasters, instructions on vaccinations or prevention of epidemics, and even access to public trials.

The newspaper La Prensa runs the following statement: "Since January 10, 2007, it has now been 3,759 days since the unconstitutional President Daniel Ortega has given a press conference." The prevailing scenario is one of absolute secrecy, despite the Law on Access to Information. The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation found that only 32 of the 218 government entities bound by the law have public information offices, and their websites are out of date and contain copious partisan propaganda.

Advertising continues to be withheld from the few independent media outlets that exist, and is used to reward media outlets owned by the Ortega family. A 2016 report on advertising agencies found that US$16.2 million were invested in media outlets. Most outlets, including those in the mass media such as television and radio, are held by the duopoly of the Ortega family and business mogul Ángel González, and they receive large amounts of government advertising. Channel 12, owned by the Valle-Flores family, is the only independent free-to-air television station. The situation is similar in radio: the Ortega family owns Radio Ya, La Sandino, and 10 other radio stations, while González owns 17 stations.

The abstention rate in the November 6 elections was estimated at 60 to 70 percent. The leading opposition coalition was eliminated in the lead-up to the vote, and very little electoral campaigning, advertising or monitoring was carried out.

Independent media outlets were denied access to the registration of candidates, the counting of votes, and the reporting of results. Election results were not published as the law requires.

Such has been the hostility against human rights advocates that Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo disseminated a letter, signed by her and all female ministers and deputy ministers, in which they criticized Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center. The U.S. embassy had honored Núñez for her lifelong work by nominating her for the International Women of Courage Award at a reception where the letter's signatories were present and applauded the nomination. The letter described the ambassador's recognition of Núñez as a "hostile" and "interventionist" act, claiming that the nominee had insulted the Nicaraguan people and government.

Lottie Cunningham, president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast, has received death threats from unidentified people who have warned her: "We are no longer going to let you all speak against the Sandinista Liberation Front. One more story run in La Prensa, radio or television, now you know what will happen. If you want war you'll get war, and war means blood."

The Americas Barometer survey found that Nicaraguans are afraid of talking about politics. In September and October 2016, the study found that 63 percent of Nicaraguans agreed with the statement, "One must be careful when talking about politics, even among friends."

This percentage represents an increase over 2014, when the figure was 55 percent. The study was carried out by Vanderbilt University and the Latin American Public Opinion Project.

Governmental repression has impacted rural residents who are opposed to the interoceanic canal. An organized march on November 30 was impeded by checkpoints, vehicle searches, and deployment of tear gas and gunfire.