14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, September 26, 2018 — In the middle of the acute political crisis that is happening in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan journalist and writer Fabián Medina Sánchez has released the book Prisoner 198, a biography of Daniel Ortega where the author has set out to speak about the facts without trying to convince anyone of whether the character is a good or bad person.
Despite having been one of the most influential politicians in the Central American country in the last fifty years, including four terms as president, Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media. A notable exception is an interview that he gave in 1987 to Playboy magazine where he confessed: “It was like the cell was always with me.”
In the portrait of the controversial commander-become-president, sketched in this book it seems like Ortega has not managed to get rid of the overwhelming sensation of being incarcerated. According to Fabián Medina, this condition “has marked his whole life, from family and romantic relations, to his vices, manias, and form of exercising power.”
For five years the author undertook an investigation that not only included checking journalistic texts, books, and historical documents, but also interviews with hundreds of people close to Daniel Ortega who shared with him prison, war, conspiracies, and power.
Among these testimonies one that stands out is that of Carlos Guadamuz, a childhood friend who later was murdered in still-unclear circumstances. The author also relied on a pair of interviews that he was able to carry out with Ortega during the years that he was away from power, but he never received a response to a request for a new exchange by the time he had plans to write this biography.
The number 198 identified Daniel Ortega when he entered the Modelo prison at the beginning of 1968, where he remained for seven years after being found guilty of robbing a bank. He remained there until he traveled to Cuba as the result of a rescue operation carried out by a commando group of the Sandinista Front.
The first murder that he committed, the tortures he was subjected to, his quarrels with other leaders of the Sandinista Front, his maneuvers to remain in power, and his relationships with diverse women are narrated in this work with a journalistic, pleasant, and precise style.
The figure of his wife Rosario Murillo accompanies Ortega in these pages with the full weight of her influence. Perhaps a character of great complexity who deserves a separate book.
The milestones in which the reader can immerse himself most deeply in the life of Daniel Ortega are the electoral defeat of 1990, the heart attack he suffered four years later, the charge of sexual abuse made by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica, and finally the popular rebellion initiated in April of 2018.
Among the situations in Daniel Ortega’s life that are not investigated deeply in Prisoner 198, his relationship with Cuba deserves mention. In this country he not only received military training, as mentioned in the book, but he also found support to oust Somoza and become the key figure of the Sandinistas because he was Fidel Castro’s favorite in that movement.
Obviously the final destiny of Daniel Ortega does not appear in this biography because in real life it still remains a matter to be decided. Many in Nicaragua would like to see him subjected to a judicial process and finally imprisoned, but justice sometimes comes late. At least in these pages he will remain locked up to be judged by readers.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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