Nicaragua’s Collapse into Dictatorship


Tuesday, September 7, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:20pm

For a recording of this event, please click here.

In the months prior to the 2021 presidential election, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrested or barred all his main rivals, establishing a level of autocracy not seen since the 1970s. How did Nicaragua plunge this far into dictatorship? What are the prospects for re-democratization?

Speakers: Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan author, novelist and poet; Mateo Jarquin, Assistant Professor of History, Chapman University; Emilia Yang, PhD Candidate in Media Arts + Practice, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Carlos Fernando Chamorro, independent investigative journalist; founder and editor of Confidencial.
Guest Moderator: Kai Thaler, Assistant Professor of Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Gioconda Belli is a Nicaraguan author, novelist and poet. She was an active participant in the Sandinista struggle against the Somoza dictatorship, and her work for the movement led to her being forced into exile in Mexico in 1975. Returning in 1979 just before the Sandinista victory, she became FSLN's international press liaison in 1982 and the director of State Communications in 1984. In 1988, Belli's book La Mujer Habitada (The Inhabited Woman), a semi-autobiographical novel that raised gender issues for the first time in the Nicaraguan revolutionary narratives, brought her increased attention; this book has been published in several languages and was on the reading list at four universities in the United States. In 2000, she published her autobiography, emphasizing her involvement in the revolutionary movement, El país bajo mi piel. Belli was the recipient of the Premio de Poesía Mariano Fiallos Gil in 1972 and of the Premio Casa de las Américas in 1978. In 2008 Belli received the Biblioteca Breve Award for her book El infinito en la palma de la mano (Infinity in the Palm of The Hand), an allegory about Adam and Eve in paradise.

Mateo Jarquín is Assistant Professor of History at Chapman University in Southern California. He earned a History PhD in 2019 from from Harvard, where he was a Graduate Student Associate at DRCLAS. His forthcoming book explores the rise and fall of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution (1979-1990) in the context of the global Cold War. His research more generally asks how revolutions in the so-called Third World shaped global debates about democracy, development, and international relations. He also written about contemporary Nicaraguan politics in publications such as Nueva Sociedad, Política Exterior, and The Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog.

Emilia Yang is an artist, organizer and scholar. Her art practice utilizes digital media, archives, film, games, performance, and urban interventions for the creation of transnational and speculative feminist media, and transformative justice projects. Yang is completing her PhD in Media Arts + Practice at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Her more recent project, “AMA y No Olvida, Memory Museum Against Impunity” is a transmedia memory museum that explores participatory forms of mediation for remembering victims of state violence in her home country Nicaragua. Emilia’s theory-practice work has been published in Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination: Case Studies of Creative Social Change (NYU Press, 2020), Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, and The Additivist Cookbook (Institute of Network Cultures, 2015). Her artworks have been shown at international venues such as the Jade Museum in Costa Rica, Resistance Biennale in Guatemala, Casa America in Spain, Le Commun in Geneva, IndieCade Independent Games Festival, Games for Change, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and the Games and the New Media Summit at Tribeca Film Festival. 

Carlos Fernando Chamorro is a Nicaraguan independent investigative journalist. He is the founder and editor of Confidencial, a weekly publication combining investigative journalism and analyses of current affairs. He also directs and hosts the Sunday night television program Esta Semana. During the first Sandinista regime and through 1994, Chamorro was editor in chief of the government newspaper Barricada.
In 2010, Chamorro won a Maria Moors Cabot Prize, administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The award citation said Chamorro "serves as an outstanding example of courage in standing up to abuse by an authoritarian regime."  In 2021, Chamorro won a Ortega y Gasset Award for lifetime achievement in Spanish-language journalism, awarded by El País. The jury for the prize commended him as "an emblem of the defense of freedom of expression.

Kai Thaler is Assistant Professor of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and works on conflict and security, authoritarianism and democratization, and protest and repression, focused on Latin America and Africa. His work on Nicaragua has been published or is forthcoming in Comparative Politics and the Journal of Democracy and in public venues including Foreign Policy, Latinoamérica 21, and the Washington Post. He received his PhD in Government from Harvard, with a Certificate in Latin American Studies from DRCLAS.

Presented in collaboration with Weatherhead Center for International Affairs