Corruption and lack of transparency: from the millionaire construction of the Juan Pablo II Museum to the murky creation of the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center

The Sandinista regime ordered the disappearance of the museum in honor of Saint John Paul II, which cost 56 million córdobas and not 40, as reported at the time, and instead created a cultural space that will ‘supposedly’ function for the creative and innovative development of artists. So far, the dictatorship has not reported the cost of executing this change. In the projects to be implemented in 2023 and 2024, there are no details about the new initiative. ‘Millions of córdobas were wasted on a museum that was never open and that people could not visit at their leisure,’ explained a source linked to the municipality

museo Juan Pablo II

The museum in honor of Pope John Paul II, inaugurated by the Ortega regime in the historic center of Managua on December 14, 2016, disappeared. The photos and relics left from the two visits made by the pontiff to Nicaragua in 1983 and 1996 vanished, with no one knowing where they are to this day. Of that tribute, which cost 56.4 million córdobas and was built under an illegal contracting scheme, only the infrastructure remains.

Today, in its place, operates the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center, a cultural space directed by the Municipality of Managua, the Rubén Darío National Theater, and the Incanto Foundation, directed by Laureano Ortega Murillo, son of the Sandinista dictator.

The museum, inaugurated by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo themselves and the Catholic Church hierarchy, was supposed to be a place open to the public and a “permanent symbol of the Church’s mission in the world.”

“I hope that the new generations can come, and they can learn a lot about his works, because in the parishes they talk a lot about the pope,” said Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes at the time. However, what was promised that night never happened. 

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“The day the museum received the most visitors was when they inaugurated it. The media, the president, politicians, priests, and even government  sympathizers arrived. I don’t remember any other day like that,” said a source linked to the municipality. “It’s just that later they put a guard who would tell you that to visit, you had to ask for permission from the Municipality,” they continued.

Closed to the public

Corruption and lack of transparency: from the millionaire construction of the Juan Pablo II Museum to the murky creation of the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center
The John Paul II Museum was inaugurated at the end of 2016. However, its doors were rarely opened to tourists. It was always guarded | DIVERGENTES.

For more than seven years, the museum remained closed to the general public most of the time. There was never a clear answer as to why the Municipality decided to hinder visits. They only gave excuses to requests from schools and tourist groups. The management of the space in honor of John Paul II and where his relics remained was irregular before, during, and after its construction.

When the construction of the museum was announced, both the contractor in charge of the work and Fidel Moreno, secretary-general of the Municipality of Managua, were pressured by Rosario Murillo to finish the space in record time. However, it was impossible because there were many stages that needed time for completion, explained the source.

The contract for the construction of the museum was signed on February 20, 2016, and its inauguration was scheduled for April 27, as part of the celebration of the canonization of Pope John Paul II.

What is strange is that, according to documents held by DIVERGENTES, the duration of the work was three months, meaning it should have been completed by May of that same year. However, the space dedicated to the pope was delayed by seven months without any sanctions imposed on the contractor in charge, according to a source linked to the municipality.

The “supercontractor,” a friend of Fidel Moreno

Corruption and lack of transparency: from the millionaire construction of the Juan Pablo II Museum to the murky creation of the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center
Santiago Chávez, Fidel Moreno’s favorite contractor, was in charge of building the museum in honor of Pope John Paul II. Although he had delays in the work, he was never sanctioned | DIVERGENTES.

The contractor in charge of the construction was Santiago Chávez, a businessman who at that time wasn’t well known by the media and the country’s  construction guild. When the delay in the work and the breach of the contract were announced, that low profile helped him not to be in the spotlight of the news and newspapers that could still circulate freely in Nicaragua.

Chávez is a contractor who has been one of the most favored by the Municipality of Managua with simplified contracts, a method contemplated in the Municipal Administrative Contracting Law (Law 801), which establishes that it should only be used in cases of emergency and other duly justified causes.

In three years, between 2016 and 2018, his companies executed 44 works and earned 16.3 million dollars. All contracts had the approval of Fidel Moreno, whose signature in practice carries more weight than that of Mayor Reyna Rueda or the capital’s vice mayor, propagandist Enrique Armas.

An investigation by DIVERGENTES revealed that concessions for works under simplified contracts are a common practice in the Municipality of Managua, the largest in Nicaragua. The case of businessman Chávez Sequeira illustrates this perfectly: out of the 96 works awarded to him between 2016 and 2018, 44 were granted under this contractual figure. Among these works is the construction of the Juan Pablo II museum.

According to information published by official and independent media at that time, the museum would have an approximate investment of 45 million córdobas. However, the contract in the possession of DIVERGENTES reveals that the ‘supercontractor’ of the Municipality of Managua was paid 56.3 million córdobas for the project.

The contract was awarded under the simplified contracting modality, a contractual figure that should only be used in cases of emergency.

Corruption and lack of transparency: from the millionaire construction of the Juan Pablo II Museum to the murky creation of the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center
Fidel Moreno, secretary of the Municipality of Managua, was supervising the progress of the John Paul II Museum. It was he who communicated to Rosario Murillo, vice president of Nicaragua, that the museum would not be ready on the scheduled dates | DIVERGENTES.

“Clearly, the construction of the museum was not an emergency and could have been planned with time and tendered like any other work, as mandated by Law 801, the Municipal Contracting Law,” explained an expert in municipal contracting consulted for this report, who added that this irregular or illegal practice is a gateway to corruption.

The expert explained that emergency situations cannot be simulated to deliver a project under the simplified contracting modality. By awarding a work under this contractual figure, they basically bypass Law 801, and it is demonstrated that all construction in this Government is given by political favoritism.

Despite delays, Fidel Moreno’s favorite contractor delivered the museum on December 14, 2016, amid a “celebration” attended by, in addition to the Ortega-Murillos, Cardinals Miguel Obando, Leopoldo Brenes, and then-apostolic nuncio Fortunatus Nwachukwu.

Among the things that could be observed that day in the museum were the papal seal, the book of homilies, clothes, shoes, and a commemorative medal of the pontiff’s stay in Nicaragua. Also, the replica of the pavilion where the holy father officiated the mass, and the popemobile used for his travels in the country.

During the tour, Fidel Moreno explained the museum’s features one by one in detail. He walked around the three galleries and the other environments, including a chapel, a dancing fountain, a monument, and a large garden.

On that occasion, according to the municipal source consulted for this report, there was a communion between the figures of the Catholic Church and the Sandinista regime. They all walked together with Moreno, observing the details and objects that would disappear seven years later, without the Managua Municipality explaining to this day what happened to these relics.

“We can call it a memorial of reconciliation and peace, which he, Pope John Paul II, preached,” said dictator Daniel Ortega to the official media on that occasion.

The new cultural center

Corruption and lack of transparency: from the millionaire construction of the Juan Pablo II Museum to the murky creation of the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center
The Tino López Guerra cultural center was inaugurated at the end of 2023. The authorities did not inform why it was set up in the same place where the John Paul II museum was located. So far it is a mystery where the Pope’s relics ended up. Divergentes : Taken from the Municipality of Managua.

The Juan Pablo II museum disappeared without anyone understanding why it happened. In its place, the regime decided to found the Tino López Guerra Cultural Center, in honor of the composer of the unofficial national anthem “Nicaragua Mía.” The inauguration of the new space was in December 2023, in the presence of members of the diplomatic corps accredited in the country, Laureano and Camila Ortega, children of the Sandinista dictators, municipal authorities, the Ruben Darío Theater, and the Incanto Foundation.

“Another achievement for our people, one more center to learn, a history center, especially full of creativity and culture, a recognition of Tino López Guerra and his family,” said Rueda, who did not detail the reason for the closure of the Juan Pablo II museum, nor the investment in this new space.

The source linked to the municipality consulted by DIVERGENTES explained that in the execution budgets of 2023 of the Municipality of Managua and in the projects carried out that year and those developed so far in 2024, the detail of the expense to transform the museum into the cultural center does not appear anywhere.

“The Municipality of Managua is not independent. If it is ordered from above to close the museum and put the center, those who lead it simply obey what is mandated from above,” said the source, who affirmed that the lack of transparency with this new space is a constant with which the capital municipality and the Sandinista regime carry out works in the country.

The Municipality, according to the expert in municipal matters, should inform what happened to the museum and why it decided to close it to open another space. The specialist indicated that by hiding this information, the municipality is mismanaging public resources and makes it clear to Managua’s residents that they are not interested in clarifying whether the money “goes down the drain or not.”

Starting in 2024, the cultural center has worked to promote cultural activities directed by the children of the dictatorial couple and authorities of the Rubén Darío National Theater, as well as allies of the Sandinista regime.

The sources consulted for this article expressed that the only thing Nicaraguans will know about the cultural center will be the activities they organize throughout the year. For example, on April 14, the “Theatre Festival Our Traditions” will be held, organized by the Sandinista Youth.

The information we publish in DIVERGENTES comes from contrasted sources. Due to the situation in the region, many times, we are forced to protect them under pseudonymity or anonymity. Unfortunately, some governments in the region, including the Nicaraguan regime, do not provide information or censor independent media. For this reason, despite requesting it, we cannot rely on official, authorized versions. We resort to data analysis, anonymous internal sources, or limited information from the official media. These are the conditions under which we exercise a profession that, in many cases, costs us our safety and our lives. We will continue to report.