Friends and family of slain newspaper publisher Pedro Joaquin Chamorro are decrying the Sandinista government’s unexplained efforts to transform the park dedicated in his honor into a monument celebrating ALBA, the Venezuelan-led “Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas.”
“They are trying to erase the memory of my father,” opposition congressman Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Jr. told The Nicaragua Dispatch today. “My father was a man who fought and gave his life for principles such as free press, civil rights, and no reelection— values that are totally contrary to what ALBA stands for today.”
Several months ago, the Sandinista government began building what has since taken shape as a nine-pillared walled monument around the Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Park in front of the National Assembly. The original park, dedicated by the first Sandinista government in 1980, marks the spot where the former publisher of La Prensa was assassinated by Somoza’s gunmen on Jan. 10, 1978—a crime that sparked national outrage and helped galvanize the popular insurrection against the dictatorship a year later.
At the original park dedication 32 years ago, Chamorro was dubbed Nicaragua’s “martyr of civil liberties” for his years of outspoken criticism against the abuses of the Somoza dictatorship. Some think the symbolism of what Chamorro stood for has become uncomfortable for the current government.
“The government is trying to erase all historic memory of those who have had different opinions than Daniel Ortega,” says Edmundo Jarquín, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro’s former friend and biographer. “The ALBA park is just another manifestation of the totalitarian culture that President Ortega has created—one that doesn’t allow any difference of opinion or different version of history.
“The presidential couple has already tried to privatize Sandino, and now they are trying to do the same with the rest of the country’s history,” Jarquín charges.
A mysterious park for a mysterious pact
The ALBA park, appropriately enough, is shrouded in the same government secrecy and lack of financial transparency as ALBA itself.
The new park, like its Bolivarian namesake, was apparently conjured into being by the presidential couple without any discussion, announcement, or explanation. Even Managua’s city councilmen—folks who are supposed to approve the construction of parks and public works in the capital—claim they have no idea who ordered the park built, how much it costs, or where the money is coming from. Opposition councilman Luciano García has asked the Comptroller General’s Office to investigate.
The mysterious concrete stonehenge offered its first clue last week, when workers put up a iron gate announcing the masterpiece as the “Parque del ALBA.” Now the public is left to speculate about its content—nine unfinished concrete columns—what it means, who will benefit, and what’s the point?
The park—right in the middle of the historic downtown center— is also closed to the public, raising the familiar question: Is this ALBA thingamajig public or private?
No one from the government has commented on the ALBA eyesore, or hinted when it will be inaugurated.
Under the shadow of ALBA
Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who has followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the 2010 Maria Moors Cabot prize, one of the most coveted journalism awards in the hemisphere, says the “Parque ALBA” is an affront to the memory of his father and the intelligence of Nicaraguans.
“Now the monument to Pedro Joaquín Chamorro is surrounded by another monument with nine giant columns, which we suppose will be dedicated in tribute to each of the governments of ALBA: Chávez from Venezuela, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Raúl Castro from Cuba, and Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua,” Chamorro said on his Sunday evening TV news program, Esta Semana. “Are they trying to erase the historic memory of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro?”
Chamorro says it’s clear the moment is being built on direct orders from the presidential pair. Therefore, he says, it’s up to them to “rectify this abuse against the memory of my father.”
In any case, Chamorro says, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro’s legacy is “everlasting” and won’t be eclipsed by a concrete curiosity.
“The legacy of his values—freedom of the press, no reelection, democracy with social justice—will continue to be present in the struggle to restore democracy,” Chamorro said. “It can never be erased. Meanwhile, Ortega’s cult of personality, as occurred with Somoza, will one day be buried in the past.”