Ortega will build a cultural center in the occupied building of a critical newspaper in Nicaragua:

The President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, will transform the premises where the newspaper La Prensa, a critic of his government, operated into a cultural center, and which the police occupied last year, thus joining a long list of entities that are passed into the hands of the state.

The premises of the newspaper, the oldest in the country with 95 years of existence, were seized by the police on August 13, 2021, citing an investigation for fraud and money laundering against its leaders.

On Tuesday, the vice-president and wife of Ortega, Rosario Murillo, announced the upcoming construction of the “Cultural and Polytechnic Center José Coronel Urtecho”, which will be managed by the National Institute of Technology (Inatec).

During an installation ceremony where the center will operate, the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR), Wendy Morales, handed over to the Inatec authorities the deed attesting that the property was “duly registered for the benefit of the State “.

The large letters with the name of the newspaper that were visible on the facade of the building have been removed.

“I’m shocked that they’re removing the La Prensa sign (…) It was unwavering for [the dictatorship of] Somoza, in the 80s and always. This withdrawal is a lack of respect for Nicaragua’s historical memory of dignity and freedom,” said Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli, exiled in Spain.

La Prensa director Juan Lorenzo Holmann was arrested last year amid a series of arrests of civil society leaders, opponents and presidential aspirants, ahead of the November 2021 elections, where Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term.

“The theft materialized on August 23” despite the fact that during Holmann’s trial the prosecution presented no evidence to prove any wrongdoing, denounced La Prensa on its digital platform that it produces currently in exile from Costa Rica. This year, Holmann was sentenced to nine years in prison.

The decision on La Prensa comes a day after the government inaugurated the ‘House of Sovereignty’ in the building that served as the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS), an entity it expelled from the country in April .

Nicaragua announced its withdrawal from the body in November 2021, after the OAS failed to recognize Ortega’s re-election, with his rivals imprisoned or exiled.

Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla fighter, first ruled the country from 1979 to 1990. He lost elections that year to a right-wing coalition and returned to power in 2007, where he remains after being re-elected for three consecutive terms.

Clear history

“These places that have been dens of machinations, of crimes against humanity, are today centers of deep spirituality and education,” Murillo said. “The past of hatred will not return (…) it is decreed”, she added.

“Today, Daniel Ortega is confiscating La Prensa and to avenge his crime, he is christening it José Coronel Cultural Center,” journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, exiled and member of the clan that owns the media, said on Twitter.

His sister, Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (1990-1997), is one of the former presidential candidates arrested last year, now under house arrest.

“They removed the letters and want to erase the story. They can never eliminate journalism! declared on Twitter the former Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS, Arturo McFields, who left his post in March after denouncing the “dictatorship” in his country.

A situation similar to that of La Prensa was experienced by the television channel 100% Noticias, which closed in 2018 with its assets taken over by the state.

In 2019, the same fate befell digital newspaper Confidencial, owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Both media currently publish via the Internet.

The opposition bloc Unidad Nacional, with its leaders in exile, denounced a “new attack” by the government on NGOs, the media and the Catholic Church, in its eagerness to eliminate any independent space.

Last year, the government banned some 1,500 entities, including civil society organizations or universities, on the grounds that they did not follow the law and put their property at the disposal of the state.

Humanitarian organizations also count 190 opponents imprisoned in Nicaragua. Ortega accuses them of plotting to try to overthrow him, with the help of Washington.

In recent days, relations between Ortega and the Catholic Church have been strained, after the arrest of the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Alvarez, a government critic.

Pope Francis said he was following the events with “concern”. In March, the government expelled the apostolic nuncio.

The Association of Missionaries of Charity, of the Order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which left the country in July, was also banned.

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