At 20, Rosario Murillo began working as a secretary for Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, director of the newspaper La Prensa, bastion of resistance to the tyranny of Anastasio Somoza, in Nicaragua. In his free time he wrote poetry and attended literary evenings. She came from an aristocratic family, had studied in Europe and dreamed of being a writer.
Discreetly, the young employee of the opposing newspaper followed the scenes of the Sandinista revolution of 1979. In those years, she met important actors of the episode, like her future husband, Daniel Ortega, with whom she began an epistolary correspondence. while he was in prison. The two met in person in Caracas, later visiting Simón Bolívar’s home. And they got married in Costa Rica in 1978.
Also in La Prensa, Rosario Murillo, besides Pedro Joaquín Chamorro himself – assassinated by repression in 1978 – with his wife, Violeta, who presided over the country between 1990 and 1997, and their children Carlos Fernando, Cristiana and Pedro Joaquín.
Last Thursday (12), the newspaper La Prensa announced that it was no longer circulating due to the political and economic persecution of the Ortega dictatorship. The largest Nicaraguan daily is the latest victim of an advance against the media that has led to the imprisonment or exile of dozens of journalists.
In recent months, the persecution of political leaders has also intensified, leading to 30 of them being prosecuted or imprisoned. The list includes Cristiana and Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, who failed to stand in the presidential and legislative elections on November 7.
The crackdown on politicians and media opposing the dictatorial regime in Nicaragua prepares for what appears to be a fraudulent election. Behind her, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, the presidential couple. Alarmed, the international community reacts, with the United States and the European Union imposing economic sanctions at the highest levels of power for human rights violations.
Rosario Murillo, who holds the post of vice-president, is also the face and voice of the dictatorship. Every day, she speaks to the population through national radio and television with her tone of voice that can range from solemn and impersonal to silky and maternal and angry.
At such times, it presents information on the climate, security and services, as well as government propaganda messages, with slurs and name-calling against opponents. And his face and his signature are also used to accompany the billboards for the opening of the works.
Murillo’s costumes are eye-catching: he’s an over the top hippie, betting on flashy colors, and investing in scarves – even in a city with a climate as hot as Managua. Always full of rings and bracelets, she refers to her esoteric way of seeing the world.
Daniel Ortega appears so rarely in public that it is common for rumors of an alleged illness or even his death to emerge. Every now and then he reappears to refute them. But who is in the life of Nicaraguans every day is Murillo.
Her childhood friend, writer Gioconda Belli, says Murilo is also “very superstitious”. Now living in exile in the United States, Belli says he no longer recognizes her. “She has turned away from everyone. She claims to be passionate about Nicaraguan culture, but she persecutes intellectuals who criticize her husband,” she said.
One of those who felt Murillo’s persecution firsthand was priest and theologian Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua’s most prominent writer, who died in 2020.
“It is obvious that she resents those who rose to prominence at that time. Especially Cristiana Chamorro, because she is someone who knows her, knows that she is mediocre. Cristiana has received support to get her out of power, and which she cannot tolerate. “, explains sociologist Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, eldest daughter of number two in the regime and daughter-in-law of the dictator. “It’s not just a strategy for staying in charge, he also has a very strong component of personal revenge in his actions.”
In 1998, Zoilamérica accused Ortega of raping her for several years while she was still a minor living with the couple. Murillo turned his back on his daughter and urged the court to drop the case. Zoilamérica, 53, had to flee the country and lives in Costa Rica, where he works with human rights NGOs and opposes the regime.
It was after Ortega’s defeat to Violeta Chamorro in 1990 that Murillo changed the role of discreet companion for one more important in her husband’s public life. “He was losing friends and fellow activists for giving up his beliefs, for being more and more authoritarian, so she became his companion in everything. No one I know at that time has a relationship with him, he is very isolated, ”says the writer Sergio Ramírez, Ortega’s militant colleague in the 1980s.
Murillo’s presence in Ortega’s life intensified after 1994, when the dictator suffered a heart attack. Since then, she has taken control of her health and diet, as well as more influence in government, holding various positions including that of chancellor.
In this year’s election, Ortega will run for the presidency for the eighth time, the second in which he has his wife as running mate.
But it wasn’t until 2018, with anti-regime protests that claimed more than 300 lives, that Murillo began to take the lead in decisions. The Sandinista militias, formed by young militants, who played a central role in the acts of violence and vandalism at that time, with the Armed Forces respond to them.
When she was 11, Murillo was sent by her father, a wealthy cotton farmer, to study in Europe. She spent time in England and Switzerland, but ended up interrupting her plans to graduate abroad when she became pregnant, at the age of 15, from journalist Jorge Narváez, while she was in vacation with his family in Managua. He ends up getting married and returning to live in his country.
Murillo’s mother, Zoilamérica Zambrana Sandino, was the niece of Augusto César Sandino (1895-1934), the revolutionary and anti-imperialist leader who fought against the American presence in Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933, and who would become the inspirer of sandinismo.
Murillo married a second time before joining Ortega. In all, he had ten children. One of them, along with her second husband, journalist Hanuar Hassan, died as a baby in an earthquake that destroyed part of their home in 1972. Friends at the time say that Murillo, shaken by the tragedy , engaged in spiritual studies. It was at this time that he published his first collection of poems. She is also the author of “Amar Es Combatir” (1982), “Las Esperanzas Misteriosas” (1990) and “El País que Soñamos” (2001).
Today, the sons of Murillo and Ortega run public or government-related companies. The most powerful of them is Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, director of a television channel and leader of the Sandinista 4 de Maio Movement. Juan Carlos is also sanctioned for his involvement in the 2018 crackdown.