Feminists Sofía Montenegro and Azahálea Solís fled Nicaragua 17 days ago. The swamp and the paths through which they entered preceded their arrival in exile in Costa Rica, after the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo stripped them of their Nicaraguan nationality and confiscated their assets, including the apartment in which they lived in Managua. They were left with nothing, literally what they were wearing. The house is occupied by police who, little by little, have been looting their belongings; many of them of high sentimental value: hundreds of books, family furniture, mermaids from different countries and that thick collection of vinyl records, with Joan Manuel Serrat and his white city in avant-garde, Janice Joplin, María Jiménez, Elton Jhon, Maria Dolores Pradera, Pablo Milanés and more outstanding artists from these two women who live their first International Women’s Day in exile, already disconnected from “the material”, but with a smile shared that this March 8th can no longer contain.

“Well, I’m very emotional, because we couldn’t take to the streets in Nicaragua for about five years to march”, says Montenegro, a journalist by profession. Since before 2018, the year of the social protests that shook this Central American country, the Ortega y Murillo regime has boycotted all activities called for by feminists. Police and Sandinista mobs first chased the women off the streets, then forced them to celebrate in private spaces, until persecution crossed that threshold, and several were arrested, forced into hiding, and forced into exile.

“I look forward to hugging a crowd of friends who will certainly be there. Let’s go free. The feeling of freedom is priceless; as Ho Chi Minh would say: ‘There is nothing more precious than independence and freedom’. We spent years unable to leave our homes in Managua. It is an inexpressible emotion”, says Montenegro.

Montenegro thus joins the 170 Nicaraguan feminists forcibly displaced since 2018. Of all of them, according to the organization IM-Defensoras, 60 were exiled; although there is underreporting because many have not publicly reported it.

Mural in San José (Costa Rica) to honor the story of three prisoners and former political prisoners: Mailene Noguera (Cuba), Emirlendris Benítez (Venezuela) and Samantha Jirón (Nicaragua). Carlos Herrera

“The truth is that we were exiled in Nicaragua. We haven’t celebrated March 8 for many years. Let’s remember that the gender approach in the dictatorship was to put us in shock troops to repress the marches since Ortega came to power”, says Azahálea Solís. The constitutionalist agrees with other feminists interviewed for this article: the Ortega-Murillo regime was cruel to women, especially organized ones.

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“We saw the situation of exiled political prisoners: they went through long periods of isolation and torture in El Chipote prison. It really is a misogynistic government, it is a government that attacks women. And, in fact, I think that deep down or on the surface they are afraid of women’s power,” says Solís.

an old grudge

María Teresa Blandón is another feminist intellectual who lives her first March 8 in exile. The Sandinista immigration authorities did not allow her to enter their country in July 2022, when she was returning from a work trip. Since then, she has settled in San José, one of the Nicaraguan exile capitals. “This is probably the worst moment that the Nicaraguan feminist movement is going through”, she says with aplomb. “More than 200 feminist and women’s organizations were shut down by the regime.”

“Almost all organizations that had houses and other types of assets were confiscated absolutely illegally. Now it is no longer possible to carry out any type of activity inside the country because there is a permanent surveillance system against feminists and human rights defenders. And, of course, we on the outside have had to dedicate all our energies to being spokespersons of solidarity for the women, but also for the men who are inside Nicaragua suffering this level of institutionalized violence. But we are also in readjustment in exile with all the difficulties and tensions that this entails, ”she explains.

Montenegro, Solís and Blandón have a point of convergence: Ortega and Murillo harbor an old resentment against feminists for having been one of the movements to permanently denounce authoritarianism since the Sandinista revolution. But cruelty takes on special edges against organized women, because in 1997 they supported Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo’s report of rape against her stepfather. “We were the first to call Daniel Ortega a rapist and a dictator,” they all observe.

Blandón guarantees that all Sandinista governments have never been interested in women. “The Frente Sandinista in general has an old macho, misogynistic, authoritarian and utilitarian brand (of women) from the 1980s to the present day,” she asserts, and rejects government propaganda that insists they achieved gender equality in the Nicaragua.

“They increased the number of women in elected office, but there is a brutal system of co-option. We feminists never said we wanted to be in power to exercise domination, control and violence against citizens,” says Blandón, director of the NGO Programa Feminista La Corriente, whose legal status was canceled and its headquarters in Managua confiscated. “Having more women in authoritarian powers was never part of the feminist demand. There are more women in power nominally, but they do not have autonomy and, above all, they are women who do not in any way represent the defense of the rights of Nicaraguan women”.

Never before have so many feminists been exiled and banned. Montenegro and Solís were, for the time being, the last renowned feminists to speak out in a context of totalitarian entrenchment of the Ortega-Murillos, which included the tenacious persecution of all critical voices. They accused the Catholic Church, journalists, civil society, social leaders, opponents and this March 6th, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), the main employers’ association in Nicaragua.

María Terensa Blandón, Nicaraguan feminist activist.Carlos Herrera

“We’ve always said that the worst thing that could happen to Nicaragua would be for Daniel Ortega to win. I must say that unfortunately we were right, although we did not measure such a level”, maintains feminist Solís. While Montenegro adds: “It is absurd to have taken away our nationality. They confiscated all our goods, our homeland, they exiled us and also took away our pensions… And on top of that they devastated Cosep, they devastated the Church, everybody. I don’t know what they are really playing. Looks like they hired an advisor to do stupid things.”

On the morning of March 8, feminists inaugurated in downtown San José, near the Plaza de la Democracia, a mural demanding the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua and Latin America. It was a meeting prior to the march where these women met again, embraced, complained and expressed nostalgia for exile. “Rosario Murillo is a misogynist and her husband too. And there is hatred against women, because women represent, especially feminists, what Rosario Murillo never managed to be in her life”, says Montenegro. “I will march with my flag. I will march on behalf of my fellow feminists, who are still in Nicaragua and cannot march. I’m going to march with the certainty that Nicaraguan feminists will have better times for women’s rights to be recognized”, promises Blandón. And Solís will do it for the “girls”, because “they should never live anything like we live. They have to develop in a country in democracy and freedom. That will be our reason.”

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