MANAGUA – The Sandinista government’s crackdown on women’s rights groups is starting to boomerang on President Daniel Ortega, who has become the target of a growing international feminist movement denouncing what they claim is “institutional misogynism” in Nicaragua.
Though Ortega’s estranged stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, recently asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to close the books on her longstanding allegations of sexual abuse against Ortega, the Sandinista leader’s problems with feminist leaders continues to grow at home and throughout the region.
Nicaraguan feminist leader Sofía Montenegro, a leader of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) and a central figure in the Ortega administration’s targeting of the feminist movement, says that Ortega’s “dirty campaign” against the women’s rights movement – which last week included a government raid on MAM’s central offices – has only served to “throw more wood on the fire.” Ortega’s problems with Latin American feminists is no longer just about his alleged sexual abuse of a minor, Montenegro said, adding that Narváez alone can’t make the issue go away now because “the case is out of her hands.”
Montenegro, who is being informally accused in the Sandinista media outlets of a slew of crimes including the promotion of pornography, money laundering and “illegally promoting abortion,” told The Nica Times in a recent interview that Ortega has become “emblematic of the impunity of power in Latin America.”
She says the allegations against her and MAM are “totally absurd.”
That’s also the consensus of a growing international movement against Ortega. El Salvador’s largest women’s movement, Cemujer, is petitioning the Salvadoran government to declare Ortega persona non grata there before a presidential summit scheduled in San Salvador next week. And Latin American women and feminist groups that participated in the Social Forum of the Americas last week in Guatemala City released a joint declaration condemning the Ortega government’s “policy of institutionalized misogynism and serious violations of human rights committed by the state of Nicaragua against those who defend women’s rights.”
The declaration denounced what it calls a “campaign to criminalize feminists for their struggle to reinstitute the right to therapeutic abortion, and particularly as reprisal for their denouncement of the sexual abuse of Zoilamérica.”
Feminists from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Puerto Rico last week sent an open letter to Ortega and Prosecutor General Centeno Gómez denouncing a “campaign to persecute and discredit feminists and women’s organizations that are defending the human rights of women and children.”
More than 750 activists had signed the online open letter at press time.
Women’s groups have also started protesting Ortega’s presence in other countries.
In Honduras, where the minister of the National Institute of Women already resigned her post last August in protest over Ortega’s visit, a small group of feminists protested Ortega’s arrival at a subsequent presidential summit earlier this month, forcing him to arrive two hours late and sneak in through the back door.
And in Paraguay, the minister of women’s affairs, Gloria Rubin, called Ortega a “rapist” in protest of his scheduled visit there last August.
The Sandinista government has responded by attacking and discrediting its critics, while at the same time trying to reinvent the feminist movement.
First Lady Rosario Murillo, who has long been at odds with Nicaraguan feminist leaders, issued her own “feminist” manifesto in August, criticizing women who question the government as “counterrevolutionaries.”
“They reject God, hate men, mock other women, despise their mothers and threaten families,” Murillo charged, adding that feminists “don’t live like women and don’t even know the female soul.”
“They would rather raise pets than children,” Murillo wrote.
The administration has also attempted to further legitimize itself among women by unveiling two new “feminist” movements in the past month: The Blanca Aráuz Movement for the Dignity of Women’s Rights, and the Sandinista Women’s Movement – both of which have pledged their loyalty to Murillo and Ortega.
“No more discrediting Rosario (Murillo) and no more discrediting the government of the poor; we are going to defend the poor,” said Isabel Aráuz, of the Sandinista Women’s Movement.
The Blanca Aráuz movement, meanwhile, has already attempted to meet with feminist leaders in El Salvador, presumably to get them to reconsider their protest of Ortega. But representatives of Cemujer said they weren’t interested in meeting with Murillo’s group.
Montenegro said the Ortega administration has shown “serious confusion by trying to control everything in Nicaragua,” but in trying to control international opinion, they crossed into “total madness.”