Polls show that just one in five Nicaraguans believe the official line that “those who participated in roadblocks and marches are terrorists”. But this hasn’t stopped the Ortega-controlled courts prosecuting protesters as if they were the violent extremists government propaganda claims.
“We presented an alternative reality, where protesters were rightwing extremists killing Sandinistas,” says Carlos Mikel Espinoza, who was editor of El 19 Digital when protests broke out. “It was fascistic, an attempt to infuse hatred into government supporters and police.” Espinoza quit and fled to Costa Rica in June, after police and militants burned alive a family of six in their own home.
“It’s an Orwellian strategy, to falsify the reality of the repression,” says Sofía Montenegro, a journalist and former Sandinista guerrilla who fought alongside President Daniel Ortega in the 1970s.
The official version of events is disseminated through a media empire built by Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s first lady and, since 2017, vice-president. In 2007, shortly after her husband returned to power, Murillo published an ominous communication strategy, outlining plans to prevent critical media“contaminating” public perception of his administration. Through the next decade, Murillo spent millions of dollars of Venezuelan cooperation funds – ostensibly destined for poverty reduction – on buying up Nicaragua’s media.
TV channels 4, 8, 9 and 13 are now owned by her children; also under the family’s control are Radio Ya, Radio Nicaragua and Radio Sandino, state broadcaster Channel 6, and the online news service El 19 Digital. This media apparatus worked to whitewash the government’s deadly response to the protests.