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The hijacking of Miss Nicaragua: A new hostage of the dictatorship

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo will never be able to confiscate the joy and hope of the people, nor freedom of conscience

Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios
Sheynnis Palacios, during the Miss Universe gala.JOSE CABEZAS (REUTERS)
Carlos F. Chamorro

The delirious accusations that the authorities of the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo regime have leveled against the director of the Miss Nicaragua organization, Karen Celebertti, who was banished last week, and her husband, Martín Argüello Leiva, and son, Bernardo Argüello Celebertti, kidnapped and disappeared, have provoked astonishment and resounding condemnation among Nicaraguans and international public opinion.

The three, who form part of the organization that promoted the coronation of Sheynnis Palacios at the Miss Universe contest in El Salvador and who are therefore co-participants in what was received as a great national triumph, have been charged without any evidence of crimes of “conspiracy, treason, terrorism, incitement to hatred, organized crime, and money laundering,” among other fabrications invented at the Casa Naranja.

In reality, the only thing they are guilty of is to have worked with impartiality and professionalism to organize the Miss Nicaragua contest, and to have supported Palacios in her preparation for the Miss Universe pageant, where her wealth of beauty, talent, and charisma saw her crowned two weeks ago in San Salvador.

Palacios is a beauty queen who also finds herself threatened by this string of insane accusations and whose only crime has been to restore joy and hope to the people of Nicaragua through her own efforts, and not “thanks to Commander Daniel and comrade Rosario,” as the official propaganda states.

The police communiqué, penned by Murillo in her own handwriting, is an act that dishonors the National Police and that, without being a criminal accusation, foretells a sentence of guilt by describing the accused as “stateless.” But, in the end, it serves to reveal the paranoia, fear, and desperation of a family dictatorship that pretends to control everything but cannot silence the explosion of joy that Palacios’ victory has provoked in the streets and on social networks, just as it has not been able to crush the freedom of conscience of Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa who for 10 months has been locked up in a maximum security cell in La Modelo prison.

Integrity, decency, solidarity and the capacity for indignation — the same values practiced and preached by the great jurist Dr. Roberto Argüello Hurtado, former president of the Supreme Court of Justice, father, grandfather, and father-in-law of the three victims — are their only shield against an infamous accusation in a lawless country.

We Nicaraguans have never lost our capacity for astonishment in condemning the dictatorship’s crimes against humanity, even though they are increasingly irrational. First, they massacred the people en masse in 2018. They imprisoned thousands and sent hundreds of thousands of families into exile. They stripped us of the right to elect and be elected in 2021. Then they eliminated all civic spaces and civil society organizations. They confiscated universities and independent media. They unleashed a ferocious persecution against the Catholic Church and religious freedom. And now they are trying to politicize a beauty pageant by presenting it as an alleged coup d’état.

The crazy assault against Miss Nicaragua and Miss Universe is part of the legacy of chaos and disaster that Ortega intends to bequeath to Nicaraguan society: a family dynasty with a more totalitarian dictatorship, although one without legitimacy or popular support. And all his accomplices know this perfectly well: the army and police generals, the brand new economic ministers, the political operators of the regime, and their frontmen and paramilitaries. They know that this dynasty is destined to fail because they will never be able to confiscate the joy and hope of the people, and freedom of conscience.

After living for five years under a de facto police state that has violated all freedoms, Nicaraguans continue to condemn the injustice, in silence. Civic resistance, in jail and in exile, is a democratic conquest more powerful than the rifles and slander of the dictatorship in its current state of total moral degradation.

It is possible that in the dictators’ mafia mentality, Martín and Bernardo Argüello are seen as mere bargaining chips, as hostages to try to silence Sheynnis Palacios. But that is a futile gamble because she has never been, nor pretends to be, a political actor. Instead, the explosion of joy that her triumph has unleashed is already part of a new wave of change that, sooner rather than later, will end up burying a decrepit dictatorship.

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