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Rosario Murillo, the faithful political companion of Daniel Ortega

Nicaragua’s “co-president” gains presence in a scenario marked by the repression of dissent

Nicaragua is heading for elections in which Daniel Ortega, without significant rivals, will extend his power. At his side will be, as in the last four decades, Rosario Murillo, who has gone from comrade in political struggle to wife, first, and vice president, later, to the point that the Nicaraguan government and the clientelistic network that surrounds her do not understand already without the ‘companion Rosario’.

Ortega and Murillo shared the struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and their romance began already in exile, in the final stretch of the 1970s. Together they have had seven children – plus an eighth from a previous Murillo couple that Ortega adopted as his own – and they have traveled an inseparable political path by now.

The Ortega-Murillo family life and Nicaraguan politics were shaken in 1998 by an accusation made by the eldest daughter of the now vice president. Zoilamérica Narváez went to court to denounce her stepfather for continued sexual abuse when she was a minor, but the judge understood that her potential crimes were already prescribed.

The most remarkable thing then was the position that Murillo adopted, which she publicly charged against her daughter, calling her a liar, to come out of her in defense of her husband. Murillo was then the “lifeline” of a man who would have found it difficult or even impossible to continue his political career with an accusation of such caliber, as noted by Rogelio Núñez, senior researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, in statements to Europa Press .

The marriage already lived a first stage in power in the eighties, but it was in this second phase, which began in 2007, when Murillo has been vindicated as something more than a first lady. Thus, after two vice-presidencies in the hands of Omar Halleslevens and Jaime Morales, in 2016 Ortega decided that it would be his wife who would accompany him on the electoral card for the following elections.

She appealed to gender parity to justify the promotion, but for the opposition it was the definitive demonstration that Ortega wanted to start weaving a dynasty. Six years younger than her husband, Murillo also represented a safety net in a regime in which the president’s health has always been a “mystery.”

The vice president has emerged as the spearhead of the Administration, in a figure that “has been increasingly important” through speeches and with an equivalent relevance and even greater than that of the president at key moments, according to Núñez.

The “physical deterioration” of Ortega, about which there has always been speculation – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the few appearances of the president -, adds to a leadership role of the vice president within the “client network “of the Government and of Sandinismo, in which the children of the marriage are also implicated.

Murillo has ended up becoming a “fundamental pillar” for “day-to-day political management,” explains Núñez, and the opposition attributes him a preponderant role in the repressive drift that began after the 2018 protests and the failure of the dialogue later.

Tension has increased this year, at the dawn of preparations for the November 7 elections and thanks to a “tailor-made” legal and juridical apparatus of the Government. More than 30 political representatives have been arrested and three political parties suspended, which anticipates a re-election that is practically pending for the ruling couple.

The Elcano Royal Institute researcher stresses that “the regime has chosen to end any hint of pluralism”, but discards that it is a new trend, but rather that “it sinks its roots at the same time that Ortega became president for the second time.” .

In this sense, he believes that during the last decade the president has struggled to build a “hybrid regime”, with “an apparent plurality of opinions” but elections “very controlled and highly distorted by power.” Freedom of expression, he adds, is “increasingly limited.”

The United States and the European Union have already denounced that the elections will be held without minimum guarantees, which allows us to anticipate that they will not recognize their result. However, Nicaragua’s isolation will not be total, to the same extent that the sanctions adopted in recent years – also against Murillo herself – have not translated into changes on the ground.

Nicaragua “knows that it has doors to knock on,” according to Núñez, who cites China and Russia as potential aid to an Ortega during low hours and that, in any case, continues to enjoy the public support of the allied countries in Latin America. united in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALNBA).

However, he does predict that Murillo’s role will be “even more important” in the post-election scenario, especially if it is confirmed that Ortega’s health is weak and the first lady and vice president continues to gain presence. Still, it is not clear to him that the regime can survive without its current leader.

Although the marriage does have “very important” control of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSNL), this would not be “total”. “I am not so sure that (certain sectors) will accept the leadership of the vice president,” asserts Núñez, who also recalls that Nicaragua continues to be a markedly macho country.

Ortega, meanwhile, not only does not detract from his wife, but he publicly reaffirms her. On October 25 he made it clear that Murillo was not his ‘number two’, but the “co-president” of a government that is governed by “the 50-50 principle”, therefore shared equally between the two members of a marriage that for now he does not renounce anything.

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