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La escritora Giaconda Belli, presidenta de PEN Nicaragua. Photo: IP Nicaragua.
Writer Giaconda Belli, president of PEN Nicaragua. Photo: IP Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan literature loses footing amid Ortega regime conspiracy

PEN International's Nicaragua branch was forced to suspend its work to support writers because the government considers them to be engaged in "political…

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Bureaucratization is a rather euphemistic form of "censorship." It operates sibylline and wearily by enveloping those involved in a tangle of "red tape" that is impossible to deal with. It doesn't release itself until an organization with good aims and a necessary role in the culture of a country eventually throws in the towel.

In a nutshell, this is what has happened in Nicaragua following the rise of so-called "external agents law," which obliges organizations operating in the country to register with the authorities and account for how they spend the money and donations they receive, as well as prohibiting — take note — external funding to organizations that, according to the authorities, carry out political activities.

Political activities, yes. Such as those that President Ortega's regime considers the Nicaraguan branch of the PEN Club, the world writers' association, which has been forced to cease its activities, stifled by the "infinite" requirements imposed by the government to receive foreign funding.

This was announced on Thursday, Feb. 4 by Gioconda Belli, the writer and president of the institution, in a statement. 

"We have decided to suspend indefinitely the PEN center in Nicaragua and informed PEN International of our decision to suspend affiliation," Belli said, explaining that in 2018, the Ministry of the Interior had refused to grant them certification to continue operating as an NGO, despite the fact that all the documents were in order.

For this reason, "we lost the possibility to apply for projects and our bank account was canceled," said the writer, who added that despite the impediments, a great effort was made to continue promoting activities during the past year.

The Foreign Agents Regulation Act, passed last October by Parliament, was the final blow to the organization. 

"The Foreign Agents Act, with its endless requirements, which would require staff that we lack, only applies to us because we subscribe to the ideals and ethical propositions of International PEN," Belli said.

"On the other hand, none of us consider ourselves foreign agents. We are Nicaraguans who have only wanted the cultural development of our country."

Culture is dangerous

Because it underpins democracy. 

And it becomes essential in a presidential election year where, according to a Gallup poll, Ortega could win his fourth consecutive term in a country that is immersed in a serious socio-political crisis and that since 2018, has left more than 300 people dead — although, according to other sources, this could rise to more than 600.

Meanwhile, social justice organizations, such as the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (Cenidh), continue to denounce the deliberate attacks against journalists, non-government media and anyone who contravenes the government.

Such as the destruction last weekend of a headquarters of the digital media Confidencial, critical of President Ortega, which was already occupied in 2018 after denouncing the government's armed attacks that left hundreds of victims, and will now be turned, say the authorities, into a maternity center. 

"None of us consider ourselves foreign agents. We are Nicaraguans who have only wanted the cultural development of our country," said Giaconda Belli.

While Ortega seems to want to dazzle the world with the creation of a Nicaraguan space agency and faces, on the other hand, UN demands to amend recent and abusive laws, such as the reform of the penal code that lengthens a suspect's jail time before sentencing him to trial, the closure of PEN Nicaragua is far from anecdotal in this year of campaigning.

The international organization, which brings together more than 40,000 writers in 140 countries around the world, has as its principles "the promotion and dissemination of literature and the defense of freedom of expression and solidarity with persecuted or harassed writers."

In Nicaragua, PEN was dedicated to promoting culture and reading, organizing literary forums and denouncing violations of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the country.

This brings to two the number of NGOs that have suspended activities in the Latin American nation because of the aforementioned law on external agents — in December, the Swedish organization We Effect, which promoted anti-poverty projects for more than three decades, withdrew.

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