This article recounts the personal story of Miguel Mora, founder of the news program 100% Noticias [100% News] which originally was a very pro- government, privately owned channel, but in spite of government threats to stop, continued to cover the citizen protests of April 2018. It was definitively closed down by the government on Dec 21, 2018 and he and his news Director, Lucía Pineda were jailed for 172 days. The government continues to occupy the news station.
The history of Miguel Mora: from Sandinista to politician persecuted by the Ortega Murillo Regime
by Amalia del Cid, La Prensa, Oct 18, 2020
At one time Miguel Mora defended the policies of the Sandinista government for which he has asked pardon. Since 2018 he has been one of the principal targets of the attacks of the Ortega Murillo dictatorship. This is his evolution.
In the reception area of the Vivian Pellas Hospital is seated a man who appears to be incognito. He has a mask, glasses and hat, but the people who pass by his side recognize him anyway. Some stop for a second to take a better look at him, and then extend a fist to him. “Keep your chin up!”, they tell him. Or they ask him right away, “How is your wife?” “She is in a lot of pain, but she is fighting,” Miguel Mora responds to everyone.
On Sunday October 11 his wife, the journalist Veronica Chavez, was wounded in the head when Sandinista supporters stoned an opposition meeting held in the city of Masaya. The rock caused a fissure in her cranium and minor internal hemorrhaging. “She was between life and death”, Mora says, with wet eyes. Since that day he almost never leaves the hospital.
Before April 2018 Miguel Mora had no problem in being recognized as a Sandinista supporter, but things changed at that time. After the explosion of citizen protests, and the violent repression orchestrated by the State against the demonstrators, the journalist and political activist has become one of the principal targets of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Illegally they confiscated his channel, including the building and technical equipment; they jailed him for 172 days and since his liberation in June 2019 he has lived under constant police harassment.
Now he defines himself as a “democratic citizen.” “For me Sandinism represents death, imprisonment, confiscation, repression and dictatorship,” he states. “I believe that he has to be removed from power for our survival as a country.” In fact, in July of this year, when he announced in a public letter that he was leaving journalism to go into politics, he asked forgiveness for having been a defender of the Sandinista Front.
“On different occasions I admit that I made the mistake of believing and defending some policies of the Sandinista government; I ask forgiveness for that,” he wrote. “I ask forgiveness from you, I ask forgiveness of my own family, which has been greatly affected and personally experienced the brutal repression of this dictatorship.”
“The Word of God says that we should repent, ask forgiveness and remove ourselves from evil to achieve his mercy,” he added. “I give thanks to God that he opened my eyes, and all this came to its end on April 18, 2018.”
There are those who think that the cruelty that the Sandinista Front has exhibited against Mora and his family in some way is connected to his previous relationship. He thinks it has nothing to do with it, that it simply is the policy of a “terrorist State” and that the persecution that he has suffered is due to the “aggressive” attitude of 100% Noticias in the face of the massacre committed by the dictatorship in 2018.
Miguel de los Angeles Mora Barberena was born on August 20, 1965 in the Quinta Nina neighborhood, along the shores of lake Managua. His maternal family are from peasant origins and in the 1940s migrated from Santo Domingo, Chontales, to settle in what at that time was a private farm populated by dozens of families who were installed in shantytowns.
Miguel Mora was born and lived his childhood there. The farm was full of “mango trees”, he remembers, and he ate so many that now he can´t stand to look at them. His mother, Auxiliadora Barberena, washed other people´s clothes on the coast of Xolotlán, while he attended a private school in the settlement itself. There was not much of a relationship with his father, who was a boy a little more than 15 years old, and left when Miguel was a child.
Later on, the family moved to a home located close to Gancho de Caminos in the Eastern Market, and Miguel got a scholarship to study fourth grade of primary school in the Loyola Colegio, where he also did his secondary school. In the afternoons he would study, and in the mornings help his mother sell merchandize brought in from Panama. He graduated from high school at the age of 21, because his participation in activities of the Sandinista Front put him back.
First, he joined the National Literacy Crusade and then the Sandinista Youth; later he picked coffee, and in 1982 joined a reserve battalion, until in 1984 he was finally taken into Patriotic Military Service (SMP). They did not have to trap him in one of the typical raids of the SMP, because he arrived on his own to present himself in a health center of Managua. They put him on a truck and took him to Mulukukú, which in Sandinista propaganda was known as “paradise for the youth”, but in reality was only jungle.
In the following two years he participated in several firefights and saw many friends die. He had to wrap up their cadavers and carry them for up to a week through the jungle, or leave them buried in some site with a marking that would allow them to be found later on, he recounts. He continued having nightmares until a little while ago about the things that he saw in the war, but he has now gotten over them. He is convinced that “God” has helped him.
When he finished his service in 1986, he was then tired of the activities of Sandinism, he states. He took up his high school studies where he had left them, in third year, and did not leave school again. From his maternal grandfather, a peasant who passed the time reading newspapers and listening to the radio, he had acquired an affinity for the news, and in 1989 he registered in the Journalism School of the Central American University (UCA). There he met Veronica Chavez two years later.
At that time, he was a skinny young man with thick glasses who already had two children and who, after a lot of begging, had been able to join the news program Extravisión to do his professional practicum. On the other hand, she was a “highly desired” young woman who had “everything needed to be Miss Nicaragua”, he remembers about her. They did not like each another.
The young woman arrived at the news program to “seek to do her practicum” and the director, Manual Espinoza, assigned her to the intern.
“I don´t want to be saddled with an impediment,” protested Miguel.
“You came to me and begged me,” responded his boss. “besides, I am not asking your permission, I am ordering you to do it.”
Veronica was not happy either.
“Don Manuel,” she said, “I do not want to go around with him, send me with someone else who knows [the business].”
None of their requests were listened to, and they had to work together. Soon they became friends who gave one another advice about their respective love lives, and over time Miguel “like poverty” got more deeply involved in the family of his colleague, until one day she ended the relationship with her boyfriend and began to look on her skinny friend with new eyes. “They dated” for three years before getting married, and then had two children. The little girl died within forty days due to a heart problem, and the boy, Miguelito, was born with severe cerebral paralysis.
“She has been a woman who has suffered much,” said Miguel about his wife, seated in the reception area of the Vivian Pellas hospital.
The News program and Sandinism
He stayed at Extravisión for five years. There he specialized as an economic journalist and learned “the ins and outs” of a news program. One day he decided that he could put together his own program and came up with 100% Noticias, which he started in 1995 as a 15 minute report.
“Those were good times for reporting,” he says. “You could talk with Doña Violeta and with any minister, but they were also convulsive times, and everything was news. I went with three important stories every day. Within a year, Nicho Marenca called me to Channel 4.”
The Sandinistas wanted to have a news program and thought that 100% Noticias could be that program. But not much time passed before they expelled Mora from his own space. “The owner of Channel 4 is Daniel Ortega, when I said that I cannot be a Sandinista news program, they pulled me out and kept all the staff and the name, they simply did not allow me to enter the building,” he states. “That was the first censorship that Daniel Ortega imposed on me.”
He fought over the name of his news program for a year, through a lawsuit that he was able to win, because at that time the Sandinista Front was not in power, he recognizes. Meanwhile he led a news program on Radio Magic, that was called 100% Noticias, and when he finally recovered his television news program, he took it to Channel 8, where he stayed from 1998 to 2000. He left there over certain “economic conflicts” with the businessman Carlos Briceño.
He went out renting spaces on Channel 23 and Channel 37 until “cable came in.” In the beginning there were only a handful of channels, but when “Carlos Pellas brought in fiber optics, everyone wanted to be on cable,” he tells. He went to request a channel, and after a lot of insistence, they put him on Channel 63, where he remained for 13 years, until 2018 when the Sandinista regime took him off the air.
What type of relationship did Miguel Mora have with the Government before 2018? According to him, “it was very journalistic.” His closest relationship to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo happened in the 1990s, when 100% Noticias was on Channel 4, he maintains. They have never been friends nor has he been a member of the party, he states. “No one is ever going to show me a party identity card that says Miguel Mora, militant of the Sandinista Front.”
After 2013 when the church and human rights organizations were already denouncing human rights violations, and the word “dictatorship” began to be used in the country, with a certain amount of timidity, Mora still would express in some forums that there was freedom of expression and press in Nicaragua.
Recently he explained that at that time he was responding as the director of 100% Noticias, and that if he was saying that there was freedom of the press in Nicaragua it was because his channel was on the air and no one kept him from transmitting news about the Peasant Movement, for example.
Prior to that in 2012, he was photographed with Laureano Ortega Murillo in a Christmas cocktail party. Mora was there as a member of AMCHAM [American Chamber of Commerce] and the son of Daniel Ortega came up to talk with the business people, he explains. “Until 2018 I saw COSEP seated with the Government, I would see everyone, I found them at cocktail parties, in embassies. We had not reached this level of brutality.”
According to Mora, he began to sense that Ortega and Rosario Murillo were “evil” people when he saw the repression of the marches of the Peasant Movement, “but I thought that they could still manage the situation.”
He states that when the citizen revolt exploded in April 2018, and 100% Noticias began to cover it, Orlando Castillo (former director of Telcor, now deceased) called him to a meeting to ask him to not report on the protests, and to demand the head of two opponents who had spaces on the channel: the activist Jaime Arellano and the journalist Luis Galeano.
“What do you want? Whatever you want we will give you but stop reporting. Give us those two programs and if you don´t, you will have to face the consequences,” Castillo threatened him. “Tell the president that we are going to continue as he knows,”, responded Mora, and the Sandinista Front assumed that he was going to cede; but instead the channel took a frontal approach.
Mora quit playing “the devil´s advocate” in the debates on the program “IV Estate” and forgot about journalistic “balance”. “The situation no longer called for half measures,” he maintains. “Everyone turned against the massacre.”
With that Channel 63 became the target of censorship of the regime, and on December 21, 2018 it was raided by dozens of men with high powered weapons. The journalist and his wife had spent around 2 weeks sleeping in the installations of 100% Noticias to avoid the harassment on the route between their home and the station. Police entered by the main door and as they moved in “they upset everything.”
In the back on the second floor, Miguel Mora, Veronica Chavez and Lucía Pineda Ubau put into action the emergency plan that they had prepared. They closed down their emails and accounts of the company, turned off the computers, reported through Whatsapp groups that they were being invaded, and when the police entered the office, raised their hands. “They came in like they were going to trap Chapo Guzmán.”
Jail and politics
Accused of inciting hate and violence, in a process without evidence, Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau were jailed for 172 days. Before being transferred to La Modelo and La Esperanza [male and female penitenciaries, respectively], they coincided in the preventive jailcells of the Judicial Support Office, el Chipote.
In spite of everything, he remained “always optimistic”, stated Pineda Ubau, one of the journalists who had worked the longest with Mora. “He said to me, `don´t be concerned, Lucy, you are going to get out.´ The next day they took him to court. Maybe he thought that they would free me, and he was cheering me up as he tended to do, that in the midst of the storm stay calm and continue to have faith.”
According to the journalist, even though Mora had a Sandinista tendency he always asked that “it not influence” the agenda of 100% Noticias. He would say that “we report on what is happening and with balance”, she stated.
Currently Miguel Mora has distanced himself from the news agenda of the Channel, a responsibility that he left in the hands of Lucía. Politics and journalism are antagonistic powers, a journalist cannot be a politician and in no way can a politician do journalism. Mora knows it, and that is why he has distanced himself from his life project. He states that he is willing to continue the struggle as part of the opposition, even though this might mean more repression.
Suddenly a phone call comes in to his cell phone. It is the peasant leader, Medardo Mairena, another prominent opposition figure. “Medardo is my brother, we were prisoners together and we have developed a great friendship. He is concerned about Veronica, but I imagine that he is calling about something to do with the Coalition,” Mora explains. Now his world revolves around something larger than 100% Noticias.
For Lucía Pineda Ubau, the director of 100% Noticias, Miguel Mora “has always had a positive attitude” and has encouraged young journalists to learn different skills, like editing, being controlers, and managing social networks and cameras. “!00% Noticias is a school where many were trained and today are in other news programs,” states the director of the channel.
“As boss he always was asking, ¨What breaking news do we have today, Lucy? Let us call our sources, put a lot on economic issues which is what people want to know, how their economy will be every day, the social, political and judicial situation,” relates the journalist. For her, Mora “is a friend, he knows how to detect the talents of each person and give them opportunities.”
Nevertheless, several of his old workers describe him as an “authoritarian” and an “absentee” boss who did not watch out for the well-being of his employees. “He is a person who is not very close to the workers, he was almost never at the station, but he was into his things. For him the Channel was first, second and third. There was no harmony, he was the boss and what he said had to be done,” stated the journalist Matilde Sequeira, who worked in the Channel from April to December of 2018.
“He never treated me badly personally, he never showed lack of respect by shouting at me,” Sequeira says. “But that sense of lack of closeness did exist.”
His favorite food is indio Viejo.
When he was in high school they called him “Octopus”.
He does not like going to the woods because he got “tired of it” during military service.
He is afraid of spiders, bats, rats and cucarachas. All of those were in the jail cells.
He likes to watch TV series and films, and his favorite book is “La Cabaña”.
He is an evangelical and has three children. Two (boy and girl) from his first marriage and one with Veronica Chavez.
In 2019 he stated that if he won the lottery the first thing he would do is buy equipment for 100% Noticias.
In November 2019 Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau received the International Freedom of the Press Award in New York, granted by the International Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ for its acronym in English).
According to Miguel Mora, the last time that he voted for Daniel Ortega was in 1996.
Currently he lives “off the love and solidarity” of his family and friends, he says.