Daniel Ortega Out of Sight as Nicaraguan Government Defies Virus Logic

In times of emergency and national crisis, world leaders typically use the opportunities to reassure their citizens, console them, and lead them through the turmoil. Covid-19 is no different. Leaders from practically every nation have played a role in convincing their peoples to stay home. Even Queen Elizabeth II delivered a formal address, only the fifth in her reign. This isn’t the case for all nations, however. As heads of state thrust themselves into the limelight, why is Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega missing in action?

Why is Ortega Gone?

Ortega’s was last seen in public on March 12 during a virtual meeting, the New York Times reported. Although he is accustomed to vanishing from the public eye without reason, the coronavirus pandemic is different. In her report for the New York Times, Frances Robles noted Ortega is rumored to have chronic health problems, but the timing of his most recent absence is too much of a coincidence to be easily believed.

Some would argue the pandemic warrants a presence of leadership. After all, if a president disappears when his nation and the world are in turmoil, what does it say about his ability to lead?

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, leader of the Civic Alliance opposition party, contends taht Ortega is using the crisis as part of an act. Law 16 of Robert Green’s “48 Laws of Power” commands, “Use absence to increase respect and honor.” Perhaps Ortega is simply applying a basic tenant of Green’s philosophy.

“I think it is in preparation for his glorious reappearance,” Chamorro said. “He has done similarly in the past. He will resurrect on Easter.”

When asked, the Nicaraguan government refused to comment on Ortega’s condition. However, on Saturday, April 4 his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, said he was “here, working, directing, coordinating all the efforts.”

What is Nicaragua Doing to Fight Covid-19?

The anti-coronavirus efforts mentioned by Murillo naturally beg the question of “What is Nicaragua doing to prevent the spread of the virus?” In short, the government is doing very little compared with virtually any other nation.

Ortega’s government launched a public hygiene campaign and monitors visitors from states with high numbers of Covid-19, as CNN reported. That is the extent of the government’s actions, aside from Murillo’s pushes to turn to God for relief.

“We can move forward serenely…responsibly, and above all believing in the Lord, knowing that this faith defends and saves us,” Murillo said, as reported by state-run news outlet Digital 19.

In a television appearance April 1, she told Nicaraguans, “Only God is enough.”

The state refused to cancel school until 98% of students stayed home on their own accord. Murillo organized a public march of prayer known as “Love in the time of COVID-19.” The health minister was fired and Murillo became the only government official with permission to comment on the crisis, the Miami Herald reported.

Most-concerning, the government is advocating against the use of face masks.

“They are doing all they can to project the idea that everything is normal in Nicaragua. Policemen and medical personnel are being told not to wear masks,” said activist Kenia Gutierrez, general secretary of Nicaragua’s Campesino Movement.

Nicaraguan Doctors Plead for Government Action

Doctors have begun to plead with the government to do something, anything, that would logically help avert Covid-19 from sweeping across the state.

“They are doing the opposite of what needs to be done,” said neurosurgeon Josmar Ulises Briones. “The government has not taken a single preventive action to stop the spread of the virus.”

A group of doctors organized into what they call the Multidisciplinary Scientific Committee. The group urged the government to close borders, increases testing, and take preventative social measures such as banning public events. So far, their cries have fallen on deaf ears.

As of Wednesday, April 8, the government continues to report only six cases of Covid-19 and one death. Experts, however, doubt the credibility of the reported numbers and believe hospitals could be masking the virus as pneumonia. 

“The odd thing is that we are in the middle of the dry season and Nicaragua is really a very hot country and it really doesn’t make sense to be seeing these numbers of pneumonia cases at this time of year,” said a doctor who had 20 cases of pneumonia last week.

He spoke under condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by Ortega’s government.