Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was never a socialist according to the World Socialist Movement, one of the few critical voices of the Sandinistas over the decades. Our journals and our blogs revealed the authoritarian nature of his regime and the nepotism that existed.
So it did not come as a great surprise when Reuters did a feature on the corruption of the Ortega dynasty.
The president, his family and close associates have gained ownership or managerial control of at least a dozen TV channels, radio stations, and online news sites. Some of the acquisitions, including the Canal 8 deal, were financed at least in part by funds provided by oil-rich Venezuela, said three current and former employees and people familiar with the acquisitions.
The Ortega family itself, according to 2020 tax and corporate registration documents reviewed by Reuters, controls ownership of Canal 8 and radio broadcaster Radio Ya.
Friends and close allies, according to the documents, own three additional television channels – Canal 4, Canal 13, and Canal 22 – all managed by children of the Ortegas. A fourth station, Canal 2, is also owned by an associate, according to people familiar with the channel, and the Ortegas manage its news operations.
Through state ownership, the Ortegas control TV broadcaster Canal 6, national network Radio Nicaragua, and online news portals like El 19 Digital. Associates of the first family own at least three other radio stations, all openly allied with the government.
The clan’s media empire has silenced those opposed to Ortega. The National Assembly, the country’s pro-Ortega legislature, recently passed laws that further pressure rival media. One bill makes it a crime for anyone to spread “false” information via social media or in news outlets. Another imposes prison sentences of up to six years for anyone convicted of publishing information “not authorized” by the government. In 2018, an Ortega plan to increase social security contributions and lower pension payouts sparked demonstrations. At first, Murillo told state and allied outlets not to cover the unrest. “The order was to ignore everything,” said Carlos Mikel Espinosa, then an editor at El 19 Digital, a state-controlled online news portal. Espinosa quit when the upheaval intensified and the government response grew violent.
Over the past two years, Nicaragua’s government bought advertising worth an estimated $59 million from the three biggest TV channels owned or controlled by the Ortega family, according to data compiled by Media Gurú, a consultancy that tracks media spending. The government spent an estimated $230,000, less than 1% as much, at channels not affiliated with the Ortegas. Over the past decade, Canal 8 hasn’t paid more than $4 million in tax and interest it should have under Nicaraguan law.
“They’ve created a system in which the money comes out of the national budget, runs through their holdings, and all stays in their pockets,” said Alfonso Malespín, a media specialist at the University of Commercial Sciences in Managua
The International Monetary Fund, in a 2017 report, estimated that Nicaragua received as much as $3.2 billion from Venezuela before the South American country’s economy imploded in recent years. Nicaragua’s own central bank has said the figure reached as much as $5 billion. But neither government has ever given a full accounting of the financing or how Ortega spent the money, which is equivalent to as much as a third of Nicaragua’s annual economic output.
As the media empire shores up the president’s power, his government is steering large sums of state money into the properties controlled by the family and its allies. By 2008, Ortega’s family and close associates had begun building what today is a business empire with assets in energy, security and other sectors.