If you think we have it bad here in the Philippines with nepotism and political dynasties, wait till you hear about Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega and wife Rosario Murillo. These two just had a back-to-back win in the Nicaraguan elections as president and vice president, respectively.
It’s the third straight term for Ortega who obtained 72.5 percent of the total votes cast, and the first for Murillo. Critics, however, condemned the elections as a farce, with the US calling the elections “flawed” and neighboring Costa Rica questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process because there were no international observers.
The “historic” win will allow the couple to consolidate their power—which is rather ironic since they were both revolutionaries who met during the Sandinista revolution that fought the dictatorship of Anastacio Somoza. The 70-year old Ortega ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 but a shock defeat at the polls must have firmed his resolve to get back into power, and he did so in 2007 with the help of Murillo, who soon increasingly emerged as the real power behind the throne.
Ortega praised his choice of Murillo as running mate, saying it is clear proof that he is upholding equality. Describing her as a “colleague,” he said they (him and the Sandinista National Liberation Front party) agreed that a woman like Rosario Murillo with her “efficiency, discipline, dedication and commitment” will be able to carry on the good work of his government if she is elected as vice president.
Murillo, who is a poet of moderate fame, had herself appointed as Minister of Communication and is the only one who does all the talking, and is heard every lunchtime during her radio broadcast. She is the de facto chief of staff and is perceived to be more powerful than her husband who rumors say is ailing.
Visitors to the capital city of Managua could not help but notice the huge metal trees (reportedly costing $20,000 apiece) adorning the streets and public parks. These “Trees of Life” reportedly reflect the First Lady’s and now vice president’s New Age leanings and display the extent of her omniscience, power and influence over the Nicaraguans’ way of life. After all, she’s the one who designed these trees that have been described as quirky, eerie and annoying with their garishly bright lights especially at night. (By the way, the upkeep for these trees is estimated at $10,000 a month for electricity).
Ortega and Murillo practically decimated the opposition and installed minor league presidential candidates prior to the elections by having all 28 opposition members from Congress removed, with help from the Nicaraguan Supreme Court.
In what could only look like the plot of a telenovela, Murillo’s daughter Zoilamerica Narvaez Murillo (living in exile in Costa Rica) is one of the staunchest critics of the power couple (who have eight children). Several years ago, Zoilamerica accused Ortega, her stepfather, of sexual abuse when she was 11 but her mother repudiated her as cuckoo and supported Ortega. The daughter claims she was the sacrificial lamb in Murillo’s greed for power because pretty soon, the president’s wife started flexing her political muscles more and more.
The other children though have become well entrenched (and rich), having prominent positions in media, the tourist industry and business, appointed as presidential advisers or occupying ministerial posts. Critics have denounced this practice, saying it is a violation of the constitution, but the president and his VP couldn’t care less. As the saying goes, it’s all in the family.
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