First lady bewitches Nicaraguans

The powerful first lady has surpassed her husband in the polls and is now the second-most popular public figure in the country

Nicaragua’s first lady and self-styled spiritual guru Rosario Murillo has charmed her way into second place in the national public opinion polls. Once an unpopular figure, the ubiquitous government spokeswoman has risen from obscurity to assume second place in Nicaragua’s popularity polls in just five years.

According to two polls released this week, Murillo has surpassed her husband in popularity and is now behind National Police Chief Aminta Granera, Nicaraguans’ perennial favorite public figure. The M&R Consultants poll shows 76.8% of the population has a favorable opinion of Murillo, compared to 89.8% for Granera. A CID Gallup poll released this week also shows Murillo in second place to Granera, albeit at a greater distance.

Rosario Murillo

Rosario Murillo (GRAPHOS / Producciones)

Regardless of the amount of daylight between Murillo and Granera—two strong, non-traditional women recognized for their own styles of leadership and protagonism—the first lady’s rise through the polls has been remarkable.

Murillo’s fame is related to her visibility, power and influence over the Sandinista Front; she even determines the party’s dress code, lexicon and music repertoire (the first lady writes the lyrics to all the Sandinistas’ campaign songs). Indeed, Murillo’s influence over the Sandinista Youth is like that of the hip-hop and rap stars of the early 1980s who influenced the way a whole generation of urban-dwelling teens dressed, spoke and loitered. Murillo, however, drops lyrics about peace, love, fraternity and unity.

The first lady is virtually unavoidable in Nicaragua. A pleonastic usageaster who speaks in breathless incantations and palindromes, Murillo’s prolix verbiage is broadcast for 10 minutes every day at noon on the various media outlets controlled by her children. Murillo has fondly dubbed her family’s media empire the “media of citizen power.” The first lady has denied interviews to all other media outlets.

Murillo calls her government role “Coordinator of the Council of Communication and Citizenship,” but it’s still unclear what that is or if anyone else is on the council. If there are other members of the board, no one has heard from them in six years.

Murillo’s daily soliloquies are an unscripted anacoluthon of loosely associated thoughts related to peace, love, happiness, and the Virgin Mary, tied in with a barrage of statics related to the government’s social programs. While her utterances may be confusing to the unanointed, they apparently have a soothing and hypnotic effect on three-quarters of the population.

The first lady is also politically astute and agile. In less than six years, she has maneuvered to wrest power away from several internal party factions that were decades in the making, marginalizing once powerful party figures such as Lenín Cerna and Nicho Marenco, and cornering historic comandantes such as Tomás Borge (q.e.p.d.) and Bayardo Arce.

Murillo’s power play prompted a pushback this year from traditional Sandinista community leaders who rebelled against her designations for mayoral candidates in nearly 30 municipalities. Murillo stood her ground.

Preparing for solo career? (photo/ Tim Rogers)

Her power is also perceived outside the party’s rank and file. When M&R Consultants polled Nicaraguans on “who has the real power in Nicaragua?,” 41% answered either “the presidential couple” or “Rosario Murillo.” In comparison, 44% of the population said “Daniel Ortega.” (Curiously, only 3.8% said “the people,” suggesting that even the Sandinistas don’t put much stock in the government’s main slogan, “the people are president!”)

Murillo is proud of her prominence. Following the release of the M&R and CID Gallup polls this week, her government website published an article celebrating her popularity under the subhead “Rosario has no equal in Central America.”

“The work of compañera Rosario Murillo has been vital to this government,” said Deputy Ombudsman Adolfo Jarquín. “I am one of the people who follows everything that she has been doing and I have found it has a logic and she has an incredible control over the situation. It’s not demagoguery…every day she is in contact with the people.”

Political analyst Cairo Amador noted that Murillo is the most popular first lady in Central America, and must be envied by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who is very unpopular.

“Doña Laura is probably paying very close attention because doña Rosario has an excess of what (Chinchilla) doesn’t have: communication skills,” Amador said.

Murillo’s popularity has spawned a whole generation of young Sandinista followers, many of whom were born in the 1980s. Her rise in power and support from the younger generation has many speculating that she might someday outgrow the role as first lady and launch her own solo career.

  • I heart Nicaragua Dispatch

    You sure do write pretty, boy.

  • Nospam Sonny


  • Kelvin

    There are many leaders (never mind first ladies or first men) from other country’s that would love to have her Power and Control. Especially those countries that claim to be the voice of democracy.

  • Car

    Nicas have become a truly pathetic bunch.

  • AguaMan

    There is no doubt the Chayito is still the boss. Back in the time when Mr. Daniel Ortega won the presidential elections to Dr. Montealegreo. The Nicaraguans thought that Ms. Murillo would have the opportunity to manipulate her husband. Just because the happy outcome between them in the event of an accusation of the daughter of Mrs. Murillo against his father by the law on sexual abuse. It was a general opinion that after the silence of a public case. Ms. Murillo began to manage the internal affairs in Nicaragua. It is a say popular who is caught in the queue is handled by the person who holds it. So it is easy to understand why she is the person who removes and puts officials and was promoted to the summit of the command and does not hide his presidential aspirations.

  • Nena

    Despite pronouncements that she loves the Nicaraguan people, it is clear that Rosario Murillo loves only one Nicaraguan and that is Rosario Murillo. She is a narcissist.

    • Nicagringo

      Steve Jobs was a narcissist…he got things done just like she is

      • Car

        This is perhaps the most ridiculous comparison I’ve read in a while.

  • Manolito

    I think Chayito (Rosario Murillo) will be a colourful president she will make significant contributions against poverty’s eradication. She is a visionary person and loves to help Nicaraguan to make progress in education, health and gain personal goals. At present, the nation is well aware about democracy and freedom we are doing well. But most important is to make sure that we select the best candidate “La Chayito” as the candidate to run the country for 2017. You know ‘better the devil you know’ than the one you don’t , others political figures are dishonest, we all know them especially in their fast pulling business and political activities, they are weak and inclined to make alliances with corrupt leaders.

  • Kelvin
  • Jaime

    Best title Ever :)

  • Juan

    As a Nicaraguan I have a hard time believing 76.8% of the general population has a Favorable opinion of Rosario. That perhaps would be the case among hard core Sandinistas.

  • Free Nicaragua

    No more Dictadors !! Free Nicaragua Freedom !! No more Dictadorships !! No mas Dictadores, Abajo la Dictadura, Por una Nicaragua Libre !!