Daniel Ortega bans political references at concerts in Nicaragua

The Interior Ministry has created a registry of producers and warned them against ‘intervening, financing or promoting’ issues that concern internal or external politics

Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo
Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.Esteban Felix (AP)

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have added a new twist to their authoritarian regime in Nicaragua: on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry published a regulation to authorize, control and monitor any “activity, event or public spectacle” in the country. The new guidelines, published in the official state gazette, are seen as an attempt to prevent political references, particularly at the concerts of international artists.

The new rules — known as the Ministerial Agreement 05-2024 — will create a registry for the “producers, promoters and organizers of activities, events and public artistic performances.” The regulation applies to both Nicaraguans and foreign nationals. Nicaragua created a similar system for the few NGOs that have not been pushed out from the country. In the case of non-profits, the bureaucracy involved with registration and operational requirements is so complex and difficult to comply with, that dozens have decided to suspend their activities in the country.

The regime in Nicaragua — led by President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Murillo — argues that the registry of producers of national and international shows is intended to “guarantee citizen and state security and internal order in the national territory.”

The regulations give Nicaragua’s interior minister several new powers, principally the power to authorize any “activity, event or public spectacle that meets certain requirements.” According to the agreement, “failure to comply with the provisions of the regulations” would result in an infraction and punishment that has so far not been specified.

Political control even at concerts

Event producers consulted by EL PAÍS argue that the regulation ultimately seeks is to expand political control and the gag on freedom of thought, even at concerts. In the “obligations” chapter of the regulations, the Interior Ministry warns producers to “refrain from intervening, financing and promoting issues, activities or topics concerning internal and external politics, or activities that lead to political proselytism.”

Once registered, producers must give the Interior Ministry 30 days’ notice of the event they are planning to hold, specifying the number of people expected to attend, the type of equipment that will be used, among other details.

After the 2018 sociopolitical crisis, international artists practically stopped performing concerts in the country. But in recent years, the industry has been timidly bouncing back. In March 2023, Pandora, a female singing group from Mexico, gave a concert in Managua. The event was promoted and supported by official propaganda.

However, during the show, the singers sang the de facto anthem of Nicaragua: Nicaragua Nicaragüita by Carlos Mejía Godoy, the artist who composed many of the songs of the Sandinista revolution and 2018 protests, and who was exiled to the United States for his criticism of the Ortega-Murillo regime.

At the end of Mejía Godoy’s song, the audience shouted: “Long live a free Nicaragua!” — one of the protest chants banned by the regime. At the same time, Pandora raised the banned Nicaraguan flag. Among the spectators was Camila Ortega Murillo, the daughter of the presidential couple, who became very uncomfortable with the performance of the song and the chanting.

Pandora has a very strong connection with Nicaragua: the group launched to stardom the songs of Hernaldo Zúñiga, one of the country’s best-known singer-songwriters, who is a critic of the Sandinista regime. After the concert, Zúñiga, who lives in Mexico, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that the Pandoras had “left a sweet, clean, courteous and civil mark” on the country.

Other international artists have canceled their concerts in Nicaragua due to the sociopolitical situation, which has been celebrated by some members of the opposition.

National musicians censored and exiled

These new rules tighten the censorship on artists in Nicaragua. In April 2022, the regime began to go after Nicaraguan musicians and producers. Young, popular and alternative artists — who, since 2018, have been criticizing police repression and human rights violations in their music — were arrested, exiled and deported.

The police then notified bar owners that they were banned from holding concerts of “several bands,” leading many musicians to flee the country. Since then, Nicaragua — a country with a very lively history of musical, artistic and poetic production — has only hosted concerts by certain bands that support the regime.

The groups that have a “license” to perform work under the orders of Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, the son of Daniel Ortega and a guitarist who, using public resources, has established himself as a kind of “patron” of Nicaraguan rock. It was Ortega Murillo who, according to various artists consulted, led the crackdown on musicians in April 2022. “It was revenge and many of those artists were friends of Juan Carlos, but by criticizing the repression led by his parents he felt betrayed,” a singer-songwriter tells EL PAÍS on condition of anonymity.

Nicaraguan musicians and bands are currently trying to reinvent themselves in exile in Costa Rica and Spain, but face very difficult economic and working conditions. Meanwhile in Nicaragua, the music scene is dominated by bands that write songs in support of the government or without any criticism of it.

“The cultural scene inside Nicaragua basically no longer exists. With this regulation, they are now seeking to control even what international artists say on stage. It is a brutal blow against culture and only reminds me of the persecution of Pol Pot in Cambodia. The only culture allowed is the one that bows its head to the dictatorship,” said the singer-songwriter.

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