Nicaragua’s President Ortega picks wife as his running mate

Rosario Murillo’s influence is already seen in the huge metal “trees of life” she had erected around the capital, and her rousing daily messages mixing new age philosophy with the glorification of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution.
August 3, 2016, 8:30pm
De gauche à droite, la Première dame du Nicaragua Rosario Murillo et le président Daniel Ortega. (Photo de Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters)

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, who has so far governed the country for two decades, has chosen his controversial wife as his running mate for the country's next elections in November.

Rosario Murillo is already the government's spokeswoman, and the announcement that the also avid promoter of new age spirituality is now set to become vice president brought widespread accusations that the couple is trying to perpetuate itself in power.


The president, who is currently the only candidate in the election, has insisted that putting his wife on the ticket is proof of his commitment to equal rights.

"There was a discussion about who should be the vice president so that we can continue the good government in this country," he told reporters and adoring crowds on Tuesday. "It had to be a woman and who better than comrade Rosario Murillo, who has carried out her duties, working at all hours of the day with efficiency, discipline, and dedication."

Ortega first governed Nicaragua after he led the Sandinista guerrillas to victory over the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, weathering a US-backed war against him for most of the next decade until he lost elections in 1990. The former guerrilla later staged a spectacular comeback and won two consecutive presidential elections in 2006 and 2011.

But in recent years Nicaraguans have probably seen more of Murillo than of her husband, whose days as a romantic cult figure of the international left are long over.

As government spokeswoman she delivers a daily round up of news typically framed with a mixture of references to spiritual harmony and the Sandinista Revolution.

"This revolution in which women have participated shoulder to shoulder with men," Murillo told reporters after she was named as vice presidential candidate. "This revolution that has opened the door to the full participation of women in all spaces, whether political, social or economic."


According to a biography of Ortega written by Kenneth E. Morris and titled Unfinished Revolution, Murillo's influence stretches far beyond politics and has become the real power behind the diminished and detached Ortega.

Her leverage in government is seen in the huge illuminated metal "trees of life" that Murillo designed and which now cover the capital Managua. The first lady has also ordered the installation of bright-neon lights to her specifications in other cities around the country. She even reportedly sought to transform the iconic red and black Sandinista flag with pastel colors more fitting with her sensibilities.

Several "trees of life" in Managua. (Photo by: Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Murillo's now probable transformation into Nicaragua's next vice president has inevitably added fuel to critics of her already considerable power who also argue that the constitution makes her candidacy illegal on the grounds of nepotism.

"This is absolutist and totalitarian," opposition leader Carlos Legrand told local newspaper La Prensa. "It shows no respect for the law." Legrand was recently kicked out of congress by a controversial ruling by the supreme court that many accuse of being controlled by Ortega.

Murillo's new role was also criticized her biological daughter who, in 1998, accused Ortega of sexually abusing her for years.

"The road to this dual candidacy begins with complicity in the face of sexual crimes," Zoilamérica Ortega, who lives in Costa Rica, wrote on her Facebook page. "Its perverse evolution transformed into a political alliance."

Despite all the controversy, an enthusiastic crowd of Sandinista youth greeted Ortega and Murillo after they registered the ticket on Tuesday. They cheered and sang songs surrounded by posters and banners featuring the couple.

Related: Violent Land Invasions on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast — 'Just Like the Spaniards

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten