International media are now commenting on Ortega´s more than 30 day disappearance from public view, in full throes of the coronavirus. This article gives some background to his absences, and ends with speculation of a possible glorious reappearance on Easter, which did not happen.
Daniel Ortega breaks his previous record of absences in the post: 30 days
By Arlen Cerda, April 10, 2020 in Confidencial
Daniel Ortega this April 11 has broken his own record of absences from his post. At 30 days without any public appearances, which has made him the object of world news in full swing of the coronavirus pandemic, the president of Nicaragua has surpassed his longest period of absence in the last two years, as CONFIDENCIAL verified with the record of each one of his official activities since the crisis of April 2018, when hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans in the streets demanded his departure from power.
The news of Ortega absent for four weeks, while the rest of the presidents of the region have placed themselves in front of the response to the pandemic, in these days reached the pages of the New York Times, but the 74 year old president is accustomed in reality to long periods of unexplained absences, as the record shows of his limited agenda of 84 official activities in a period of 729 total days (nearly two years).
This April 9th Ortega tied the 28 days of absence that he had accumulated in 2019, when he appeared on February 21st for the traditional event in commemoration of the killing of the National Hero Augusto C. Sandino, and disappeared until March 21, when he came out to inaugurate the Nejapa overpass in Managua.
Ortega´s silence in the face of the emergency
CONFIDENCIAL took notice of Ortega´s silence in full threat of the coronavirus on March 18th. That day his Government confirmed the first positive case of COVID-19 in Nicaragua, through a phone call from his spouse and Vice President, Rosario Murillo, to official media.
Ortega was seen for the last time on March 12th, from his bunker in El Carmen where he resides and attends to both official and party events. That Thursday he appeared in the company of authorities from the Ministry of Health and representatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to participate in a virtual meeting with members of the Central American Integration System (SICA).
Ortega had practically not said a word about the pandemic, and in his short intervention of 1:13 minutes to SICA he did not mention at any time “COVID-19” nor “coronavirus”, even though he did admit facing an “emergency situation”, one in which health experts and citizens are criticizing the lack of official measures to prevent the spread, while Murillo – delegate for public Administration and official spokesperson – convened gatherings and encouraged outings during Holy Week.
The “absent ruler”
The long absence of Ortega takes on more importance for occurring in the midst of the pandemic, which up until the morning of April 10th had infected more than 1.6 million people around the world (with 96,783 deaths and 361,235 people who recovered), according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) of John Hopkins University.
But the prolonged absences of Ortega are so habitual, that he has earned the title the “absent ruler”. In all of 2020, for example, the president only has been reported in nine official activities, according to his speeches and photo galleries recorded by the governing party´s El 19 Digital, whose publications – which have to be reviewed one by one – are the only form of knowing about his appearances, in the absence of a public agenda or presidential logbook.
Since December 16, 2019, when he attended the graduation of cadets of the National Police, till January 2020, when he received the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Keisuke Suzuki, Ortega had a total of 30 days without any activity in his post. Nevertheless, he did have a non-official appearance that, even so, was enough to deploy in Managua a guard of more than a thousand police for 12 hours: the civil wedding of his daughter Camila Ortega Murillo, in the exclusive Hotel Pueblo Viejo on December 12 of last year.
84 “outings” in two years
In addition to not leaving much, Ortega does not go far from his residence. A prior investigation of CONFIDENTIAL on Ortega´s absences, published in 2017, revealed that in more than five years (from January 2012 to April 2017), Ortega only had 296 public acts or interventions, and on no more than 18 times did he leave Managua.
“Ortega no longer goes to the municipalities to find out what is going on, because, among other reasons, there is a latticework of relationships from top down, where the mayors are at the bottom of the pot, without being able to act”, Silvio Prado commented on that occasion, an expert in Political Science and municipal issues.
The data of this new investigation shows that of his 84 official appearances in the last two years, Ortega has only left the capital on six occasions. In 2018: on the late commemoration of the anniversary of the Repliegue to Masaya, when the citizen insurrection was in full swing, he was only able to get to the police station on July 13, and on December 14th when he traveled to La Habana, Cuba for an ALBA summit.
In 2019 his other outings from Managua were: January 9, the inauguration of Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela; May 18, for the 124th anniversary of the birth of Sandino in Niquinohomo; July 6, for another anniversary of the Repliegue in Masaya; and September 13th, to the San Jacinto Hacienda in Tipitapa, for the commemoration of the 163rd anniversary of the battle against the filibusters.
On 20 occasions of his other 78 public appearances, the president received diplomatic, business delegations and ministers from El Carmen. And he also had eight meetings with international journalists (between July 24 and September 10, 2018), in an unprecedented round that he granted with the intention of justifying the repression against the civic protests of that year and promoting his version of a failed coup attempt.
The absence of Ortega in the 2018 crisis
With the record of each one of his outings or public appearances between April 2018 and April 2020, CONFIDENCIAL verified that Ortega is accustomed to disappearing from public view for long periods, even in the midst of crises. In these two years he has never been seen on two occasions or events on the same day, and only on 12 dates has he appeared on consecutive days.
During the social explosion of April 2018 Ortega appeared on the third day of the protests to pronounce, from his residence, a monologue for world peace, dedicating not one word to the 44 deaths that the official repression then totaled. On the following day he had to appear again, lamenting “the acts of violence that have been happening”, he said, and to announce a dialogue under his own terms, which was immediately rejected.
Less than 48 hours later, with another 11 Nicaraguans murdered, Ortega saw himself forced to accept the mediation of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua.
From there he “stowed away” another 16 days to go to the Our Lady of Fatima National Seminary for the installation of the failed attempt at a National Dialogue, and it took him another 16 days to go to a plaza to “embrace” Nicaraguan mothers. That same day, some kilometers away, police and paramilitaries shot at a civic march in solidarity with the mothers of those killed, leaving at least another 17 dead in Managua.
Sixteen days later, Ortega reappeared to receive in El Carmen the credential papers of the Apostolic Nuncio Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag. And again disappeared for 19 days until July 7, to conclude with an event, “Walk for Safety and Peace” on Bolivar Avenue.
In July 2018 Ortega had seven outings. The month in which the anniversary of the triumph of the insurrection against Somoza is commemorated is one of the most active months for Ortega, only matched by September, when the Independence Days come together with the anniversaries of the Army and the Police, and he can be seen watching the variety of parades from the flowered stages which Murillo institutionalized.
The prolonged absences of Daniel Ortega
The “outings” of Ortega also are reduced to a list of common spaces. In addition to his 20 public appearances from the Secretariat of the FSLN, residence and presidential office, the president on 19 occasions has been in the renovated Olaf Palme convention center, close to the center of old Managua, be it to close official or party events, commemorate anniversaries of births or deaths, or attend the graduation of cadets of the Nicaraguan Police or Army.
On another 13 occasions, he has been on Bolivar Avenue to watch patriotic parades of police and soldiers, or for closing events of the “walks” convened by Murillo, which do not include the last one on March 14, baptized “Love in times of COVID-19” where Sandinista Front supporters, public employees and Health workers participated, in the absence of the presidential couple.
With the record of 28 days of absence, that Ortega surpassed April 10, the president had broken a previous record of 27 days, when after attending the inauguration of Nicolás Maduro in January 2019, he reappeared in the old Presidential building, rebaptized by his Government as the “House of the Peoples”. On February 6 Ortega received there the credential letters of a group of 19 ambassadors, most of them concurrent [non-resident], with preliminary forms of credential letters in waiting since November 2015.
Since 2012 Ortega´s outings have been significantly reduced to protocolary events and party commemorations. On 27 occasions the reason for his public interventions have been anniversaries, like the deaths of Sandino, Carlos Fonseca, Benjamín Zeledón, Alexis Argüello or Tomás Borge. On other occasions he has also attended funerals, the last of them in January of this year, to say good-by to the historical combatant Juan Ramón Ramos, known as “the Indian Emilio” from Estelí, a city in northern Nicaragua.
On that outing a video of Ortega went viral on social media of him stumbling on the steps of the old National Palace, known today as the Palace of Culture.
But even though he has attended at least three funerals in less than a year, Ortega did not attend the funeral of the Sandinista Front deputy, responsible for the International Relations of the party, but above all one of his few friends: Jacinto Suárez, with whom he spent seven years in prison during the Somoza dictatorship in the 60s.
Among the public this April 3rd was a decisive day for the reappearance of Ortega. It was expected that he would show up for Suárez´s funeral, and even the night before, the National Assembly published on their web site a program that mentioned his participation, but it was removed minutes later.
Almost seven days later, national and international press speculated about where Ortega was, and there were many who mentioned some deterioration of his health and even death. This past April 6th the European Deputy José Ramón Bauzá, who has requested sanctions from the European Union for Ortega´s officials, commented on Twitter: “There are rumors about the possible death of Daniel Ortega, dictator of Nicaragua. I hope that they are not true, because he has many crimes that he has to answer for with the Nicaraguan people. The atrocities of his mandate cannot end without him being held accountable.”
And more recently, this past April 9th, the interim Subsecretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs of the US State Department, Michael G. Kozak, published, “While the pandemic is hitting Nicaragua and the country is facing COVID-19, Daniel Ortega stands out for his absence,” with the hashtag #WhereisOrtega, which has begun to be repeated in other tweets.
On social networks the seclusion of Ortega has not gone unnoticed by Nicaraguans, and it even has been the object of ridicule. “Be like Ortega: stay at home,” is read on dozens of memes. In the public imagination this new absence of Ortega has been the principal proof of the necessity for sheltering in the face of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, others accustomed to the prolonged absences of the president, comment that the strong man is preparing a “glorious reappearance”, maybe on Easter .
 Refers to a “strategic retreat” from eastern neighborhoods of Managua in late June 1979 when hundreds walked overnight to then already liberated Masaya to save the people from Somoza´s aerial bombing of their homes.