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Nicaragua Struggles To Rebuild After Hurricanes Hit

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nicaragua faces a natural disaster amid a Democratic disaster. Daniel Ortega is president of Nicaragua. He came to power in a 1979 revolution and was later voted out. Later still, after the country established more democratic government, he won election as president in 2007. Since then, his government has become increasingly authoritarian. It has cracked down on independent media outlets like Confidencial, whose leader is Carlos Fernando Chamorro. The repression made it difficult to respond to two massive hurricanes that struck Nicaragua and also made it harder for Chamorro's teams to cover it.

CARLOS FERNANDO CHAMORRO: I sent reporters to the coast town of Haulover that has been completely destroyed. Haulover was the place where the hurricane, Iota, impact with winds of 250 kilometers per hour. We also sent another team to the area of Matagalpa, where a mudslide killed 11 people in a community. So you have different impacts in different places. When we were reporting, we had to face the repression by the police. The government have maintained the censorship to the press. They don't want the press to go to the places and talk to the victims because they just want to have control of the information and give us their own version of the truth.

INSKEEP: What is it that police of the government of Daniel Ortega are doing to your reporters, just turning them back when they go along the roads to different places?

CHAMORRO: Yes, that's exactly what happened. They simply said, you cannot go in. And they also expelled our reporters in a place where the victims have gathered together and they were mourning their deaths. They said, you cannot talk to them. Just get out of here.

INSKEEP: To the extent that you've been able to determine it, given that kind of blockage, how well has the government been able to respond to the needs of people?

CHAMORRO: The Nicaraguan government, it's not a democratic government. It's a very obscure regime. The Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, have never addressed the nation during these three weeks of emergency. There is this confusion between the state duties and the political party and the caudillo leaders of the country. And people are saying that they're discriminating others because of their political beliefs.

INSKEEP: Are people being denied aid if they don't have the correct political views?

CHAMORRO: There are several municipalities that are not controlled by the government. They are controlled by elected officials from opposition parties. Well, those municipalities do not get any support from the central government. They're basically abandoned.

INSKEEP: How - and I realize this is a simple question, perhaps with a complicated answer - how is it that President Daniel Ortega maintains power despite years of protests after more than a decade in office?

CHAMORRO: Ortega had, until some point, popular support. He lost popular support after April 2018, when we had massive protests against the government. People protested originally for a reform to the health system, but then it became a political protest. And people ended up demanding the president's resignation. The response by the government was violent repression. There are about 320 people assassinated between April 2018 until September that year, more than 700 political prisoners, 100,000 exiles. So how Ortega maintains in power - well, everything is controlled by a mixture of the police and the paramilitaries. He controls the government. He controls the public employees. And there is a repressive machinery that simply allows him to stay in power.

INSKEEP: Do you manage, despite all the restrictions, to get any sense of people's resilience, how they're working their own way through this crisis if they can't rely on the government to help them very much?

CHAMORRO: There has been a lot of what we call in Nicaragua the spirit of solidarity networks, or self-support communities for COVID, for emergencies and also for political resistance. I mean, we are just waiting for the opportunity to have free elections. And that could change Nicaragua completely.

INSKEEP: Carlos Chamorro of Confidencial in Nicaragua.

Thanks very much for the report.

CHAMORRO: Thanks to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.