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Govt-Press Relations Take a Big Nosedive

January 4, 2008

MANAGUA – A year of souring relations between the government of President Daniel Ortega and the independent media escalated to outright aggression in late December, following a series of events that included a physical attack against a reporter for the opposition daily La Prensa.

On Dec. 19, journalist Jorge Loáisiga, who was covering an event with Ortega and U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli in a Managua neighborhood, was assaulted by members of a newly formed irregular presidential security force known as the “blue shirts.”

Loáisiga claims he was trying to approach Ambassador Trivelli, who was giving statements nearby to other reporters, when he was grabbed by the blue shirts and restrained, while several other journalists tried to come to his defense.

Loáisiga was then temporarily handcuffed by police, who later defended their actions by claiming that the journalist had suspiciously entered a restricted “security zone” and that they didn’t realize at the time that he was a reporter.

The incident sparked outrage by La Prensa and other independent media, who compared Ortega’s blue shirts to the former Nazi brownshirts and blackshirts of former Italian leader Benito Mussolini.

The press and several opposition political leaders also argued that the blue shirts were an example of the dangers of Ortega’s controversial Councils of Citizen Power

(CPCs), Sandinista party groups that being created across the country.

That accusation prompted several local CPC leaders to accuse La Prensa of defamation, which in turn led to La Prensa filing a complaint with the Inter-American Press Association about the worsening condition here.While religious leaders of the evangelic church have come out in defense of freedom of expression, the situation has continued to deteriorate.

On Dec. 27, Ortega gave a speech saying that he “was sure” that the opposition media wanted to see the death of his wife, Rosario Murillo, the architect of the government’s restrictive new press policies that are based on disseminating information only to official media, controlled by Ortega and Murillo’s children.

That allegation prompted the independent media to accuse the president of being “paranoid” and “schizophrenic.”

La Prensa, on Dec. 31, named the “independent media” as Nicaragua’s “Person of the Year in 2007.”

 

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