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"Ira regis", Ortega-Murillo's medieval policy:

banishment for all, even the Sandinistas themselves

Repression under the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship in Nicaragua has reached "their own people" with particular cruelty; Sandinistas who have supported the abuses by the regime, such as those who were on the February 9, 2023 flight, banished by orders of the same leaders whom they so faithfully served

By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto (@PiruloAr)

8 de febrero 2024

Antonio used to believe that exile and banishment were the same thing. From his privileged position as a public official in a Nicaraguan public institution, he watched as his government, that of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, ostracized hundreds of people considered to be opponents. 

He saw no difference between a journalist going into exile on his own and an activist being banished. All in all, he recalls, it meant getting rid of one more coup plotter... he understood the subtle but very clear difference between exile and banishment in the early morning of February 9, 2023, when the guards took him out of his cell in El Chipote, put him on a bus and drove him to Managua's international airport, where a plane was waiting to fly him out of his homeland against his will. 

The feeling shook him to the core. The certainty of banishment materialized in a minute and he had no choice but to board the plane and cry. To cry for the entire flight. 

"The paper with my name on it said nothing about where we were being sent. And in less than a minute I had to accept that I was willingly leaving Nicaragua, even though that wasn't true. I accepted because if I didn't they would send me back alone to El Chipote, that immense and horrible prison. So I cried, because I knew at once that they were forcing me to abandon everything: my country, my family, my friends, my things... everything was left behind," says this former Sandinista official who, in reality, is not called Antonio. 

It is only a pseudonym to avoid further retaliation from the regime in which he strongly believed until his sudden fall from grace, the moment when he was arrested, the day he suffered the Ortega-Murillo's "ira regis". Or translated, according to the pre-Hispanic dictionary of legal spanish, the kings' rage when they expelled their vassals from their territories as a penalty imposed for "enmity, crime or treason"... all under the monarch's total discretion. In the case of Antonio, and that of the 221 political prisoners expelled, it was political persecution.


Banishment and exile are older than Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and Sandinismo. The ancient Greeks wrote on a piece of terracotta shaped like a shell the names of those they considered bad "for popular sovereignty", a threat to the State or a potential tyrant. Thus Athenians imposed ostracism. The Romans banished to the islands of the Italic Peninsula, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, those who committed " grave offenses" (of a moral nature, such as adultery). 

In the Middle Ages, in the Castilian cities of the 15th century, banishment was one of the worst humiliations. That is why El Cid always sought King Alfonso VI's forgiveness. Napoleon was exiled twice and, as centuries passed, exile took on a character, almost entirely, of political and ideological persecution.

During colonial times in Latin America, the Council of the Indies established the legal figure of banishment to expel those individuals that the ruling elites considered undesirable or a threat to the socio-political order. 

While it is true that exile is also a product of political persecution, it is voluntary or driven by circumstances. However, exile is an imposed penalty. That is the subtle, but very clear difference between exile and banishment that Antonio understood while crying that early morning in front of the plane. 

During the military dictatorships of the Southern Cone, especially Argentina and Chile, banishment was used as a punishment against opponents. The same happened in Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela and even in Honduras, where dictator Tiburcio Carías Andino gave his dissidents three alternatives: "imprisonment, banishment or cemetery". The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that banishment, on most occasions, is forced by the States. It is "based on the alleged perpetration of a crime" and the State decides "to take this action against a person on a temporary or permanent basis".

However, in the case of Nicaragua, the banishments respond to the wishes of the Ortega-Murillo family. The Sandinista regime developed a de facto policy of banishment, first from the General Directorate of Migration and Foreign Affairs, by denying the entry or return to the country to Nicaraguans that are critics of the regime. Then, the police started offering freedom to political prisoners with the condition that they leave Nicaragua, as happened to several artists and music producers. 

The following stage of this state policy was to strip the 222 political prisoners, including Antonio, of their Nicaraguan citizenship and immediately banish them. Another 94 Nicaraguans, most of whom were already in exile, were also denationalized. 

In the meantime, this past January 18, the National Assembly, controlled by the ruling party, institutionalized the loss of citizenship for those declared "traitors to the homeland", without mentioning banishment which, de facto, comes along with this political crime.

Little has mattered to the Sandinista regime what the American Convention on Human Rights says in its article 22, paragraph 5: "That no one may be expelled from the territory of the State of which they are citizen, nor be deprived of the right to enter the same". It is a policy proper to the Middle Ages. Journalist and political exile Sofia Montenegro has no doubt about it. 

"This is like time traveling to the pre-modern and pre-political era, because it is typical of the Middle Ages. It is absolutist and personalistic politics. They function as monarchs. Monarchs of absolutism. It is really a setback, of at least 300 years. That's what it means: that we have gone back to times before the French Revolution," Montenegro tells me. She is a feisty and committed scholar, persecuted by the Ortega-Murillo family since before 2018, the year of the social protests against the regime that triggered this repressive spiral in which crimes against humanity have been committed, according to United Nations experts.



There were 222 political prisoners on the February 9 flight. 222 stories intertwined by the opposition to the Ortega-Murillo regime, but also 222 different stories of uncertainty in the face of their banishment to Dulles, Washington, where they were received by the U.S. State Department. 

I remember that the day after the landing, outside the Westin Hotel, it was a clear winter day, with the wind making it even colder. Antonio would occasionally come out of his room for a smoke, wearing a coat he had found the night before in the donations set out for them by non-governmental and religious organizations. 

He did not speak to anyone, he looked around warily; he looked like an alert prey, a child abandoned to a new reality: banishment in a country that he had been taught in his youth, during his training as a Sandinista, was the enemy, the empire of the oppressive Yankee.

Almost a year after that morning, Antonio tells me that the three days in the hotel were very strange: he went from sleeping on a cement bed in the cell to a room in which he had hot water, a TV and a comfortable bed. 

"Despite the fact that it was a fancy room, I couldn't sleep any of the nights we were there. In El Chipote they had gotten us used to tranquilizers. That's what it was: everyone was awake. After those days when we left the hotel, the first thing was to look for support to buy medicines because I am chronically ill. I went to San Francisco and I had to learn to move around, use the map, find addresses and look for a job", says the man. 

It was difficult. Although Latinos make up nearly 15% of San Francisco's population, Spanish doesn't flow as much through its steep streets as Antonio wished it did. "I speak a little English, it helped me a little, but it was very difficult. For the first six months I was living on the help my family and friends gave me. The hardest part is being alone, being traumatized and spending time thinking, trying to figure out what happened to me, who did this to me... it's exhausting," he says. 

Antonio moved to Los Angeles and he had to relearn how to use public transportation, navigate the streets of L.A. and get a part-time job that has allowed him to survive.

He had to adapt to a life that, under Sandinismo, he was told was "savage capitalism". But after his banishment, that was a laughable thought when he recalled the first months of confinement that his captors, that is, his own sandinista "comrades", put him through: "I don't think that they were only cruel to me, I think that all of us in El Chipote were given standard treatment. In my case I was isolated in a nauseating dungeon for two months, smelling shit 24 hours a day, with no ventilation and no natural light," Antonio says. It is not difficult to detect annoyance and resentment in his tone. 

I ask him if after all this experience he questions his old Sandinista militancy. He remains silent for a minute. He takes a breath. He is honest: "Of course I do... one has to make an introspective reflection. But in a country like this and in the reality I am in, the need for survival imposes itself. And then, as you gradually move on in life, you have to start looking for a job, searching for ways to pay the rent and pay for food. Then you have less time to think about those things. But of course, I can no longer think of the government as I did before. I hope people will open their eyes. That the opposition unites. That gringos stop backing him (Ortega) up and that we can do something to get rid of them. Although I do tell you, with much regret, that there is no peaceful way out of this government. There has to be another popular rebellion, another bloodbath for people to wake up. I hope not, but I am not so optimistic about that".

- I would like to insist, Antonio, do you still feel like a Sandinista? 

- Well yes, because I dedicated 46 years of my life to Sandinismo. I consider myself a Sandinista on the verge of extinction. There is no generational replacement and I sincerely do not expect Sandinismo to survive as a political force after Ortega. If Sandinismo continues to exist, it would do another great harm to Nicaragua. What we lived through was the detour to a total tyranny, worse than that of Somoza. That can never lead you to anything good and sooner rather than later it will be reversed.


For this report we tried to talk to three more Sandinistas who were exiled. We established contact with them, but their fear was too much: even to speak anonymously, they agreed, would put their families in Nicaragua at risk. It is a time of totalitarianism and the Ortega-Murillo, apart from banishment, have another repressive State policy, the most recent one: to go after the relatives of the exiled and banished. To arrest them. 

Horror keeps not only the Sandinistas but also the opponents in general quiet. Last January I traveled to the United States and spoke with several banished people for a documentary that DIVERGENTES is producing for Race and Equality. 

I was surprised by this shared fear, but also by the resilience and ability of the banished to reinvent themselves and embrace a country they never wanted to come to, much less in such unexpected circumstances. Nearly a year later, the 222 political prisoners have scattered across most of the United States, primarily obeying one basic condition: they move to wherever they can find work. 

A DIVERGENTES database, last updated in October 2023, reveals that most of the banished political prisoners have settled in the state of Florida, specifically in Miami, where English is not as essential. 68 people live in Florida, 33 settled in Maryland, 21 in California and the rest are in North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Ohio, San Diego, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. 

Despite the exhausting working hours, some of them continue to engage in opposition activism. Others have joined the universal justice process as victims, and some, like student leader Miguel Flores, follow their dream: that of cooking and graduating as a chef.


"The first job I found was as a gardener. It wasn't bad at it but it was hard, because you work outdoors, either in very hot weather or in sub-zero temperatures. One day I heard about a scholarship in culinary training for refugees. I applied and was accepted. So from that moment on I said to myself: If I am going to do something in this country, I am going to do something I like. I'm not going to allow Ortega, in addition to having taken away my citizenship and everything around me, not to allow me to continue my dreams," Miguel tells me in the basement he rents in Washington D.C.

The small space is decorated with cookbooks, a paella pan hanging on the wall and on the refrigerator door a post it note that the young man was given in his culinary course: 

From across the seas,

Your passion follows with hope

A lovely kitchen. 

"My goal is to not let Ortega make me feel like a worm. I'm not going to let him rob me of everything, all my joy," insists the student, now a kitchen assistant at a hotel in Washington. 

In Miami, where he has been living since he was banished, Yubrank Suazo has found a job that has taken him by surprise. He says he feels good, doing everything he can not to waste time, but there are days when he feels broken. Days when he doesn't even want to get out of bed. 

It happens when he remembers his hometown of Masaya, the typical dances and his family. He misses his parents with whom, he says, he has decided not to attempt family reunification due to their advanced age. 

"Sometimes love makes you make sacrifices. We are not going to apply for reunification because my parents have chronic illnesses and I am not willing to subject my dad and mom to further separation from the family. It is enough with me being gone. I don't want to separate them from their environment, my other siblings, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am very happy for those who have achieved reunification, I celebrate it, but it is not my case", says Yubrank Suazo, who like most of the banished political prisoners has requested political asylum, since the humanitarian parole that allows them to live and work in the United States expires in a year. 

Banishment, not only for political prisoners living in the United States, has been complex. Allow me to speak as an exiled journalist: it makes every day longer and keeps us in permanent trials, clinging to that board that floats in the sea of totalitarianism so as not to sink, not to drown? In a constant, dichotomous battle, in which some days - as Yubrank Suazo says - the commitment feels shattered and in others renewed. 

Loves crumble, others are born. Families are destroyed by repression, others are formed abroad: the family of banished and exiled people who embrace each other and overcome what this emotional, economic and professional situation entails. Joint solidarity. And in the background, although it seems more and more remote, there is hope, beaten but determined. A hope sustained by that monumental effort that is the commitment to Nicaragua. A common hope that has not surrendered to the "Ira regis" of the tyrants.