The Zoilamérica Case: Some Protagonists Speak
We offer translations of the various texts for purposes of reflection: First, the letter from Zoilamérica Narváez that so unexpectedly appeared in Bolsa de Noticias on March 3. Second, the communiqué read publicly that same day by her mother, Rosario Murillo. Third, the expansion by Zoilamérica on her letter as well as extracts from an interview with her, both of which appeared in the weekly Confidencial of March 8. And last, the letter her estranged husband Alejandro Bendaña sent to her that same day International Women Day.
Zoilamérica: "A prolonged aggression"My very dear friends:
I'm writing this letter for those of you whose company, esteem and solidarity are with me every day, not only in the tasks of my professional and political life, but also in my personal life. I am doing it with the complete confidence that the things that have brought us together will continue to keep us close. One way or another I have been sharing with you my reflection process and the decisions I have been making about facts and situations in my life that, though personal, go beyond the sphere of one person, crossing aspects of principles, ethical values that could end up affecting multiple aspects of the life of the nation.
The process I've been going through has been neither short nor simple. Although I have counted on the appreciation and the wise council of my good friends, my decisions, in the end, are mine and mine alone. I have analyzed and reflected deeply on the whole implicit aspect, the possible outcomes, the human, political and ideological effects that it could cause. As a result, I take personal responsibility for all the implications.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, I begin a new stage of my life, which I also hope to share with you. Perhaps the most important aspect of this has to do with recovering my name, with everything that this signifies. On the one hand, I will stop using the surname Ortega, which doesn't belong to me and with which, for ethical reasons, I do not identify. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted for many years starting when I was eleven by a person who, despite his position as head of the family, abused his power, sowed fears and uncertainties in me (at that time a child) and emotionally affected the development of my childhood and adolescence. Overcoming the effects of that prolonged aggression, with the abuse, the threats, the pressure and the blackmail that have accompanied it, has not been easy.
On the other hand, I affirm my right to be the owner of my own future, as I have not been of my own past. I claim my right, as a citizen, a woman and a Sandinista militant, to proceed according to the dictates of my own conscience. In my condition as a human being, I have gone through an internal process of healing wounds, which is allowing me to move from pain, fear and powerlessness toward dignity, faith and strength. Today I am raising my vision toward the future, definitively a future of love and commitment.
I will very sincerely respect the positions that each person takes. The process of developing one's consciousness is distinct for each of us and is determined by the experiences each has had. I have no protagonist aspirations in this, but in the difficult moments that could come in the near future, I hope that ethics and humanism are what guide each of us. This will allow us to come together again in the search for truth.
Rosario: "The chains of pain" It is unfortunate that we have to come before you with a declaration about a theme that I never imagined we would be addressing, explaining, presenting. Life is truly full of surprises. Life is full of apparently inexplicable events, but there is always a lesson in everything, a reason that will be brought to light, which will present itself clearly over time and will help one comprehend and learn.
With great pain but also with the utmost dignity, with much pride and also with a great deal of love, we are together here as a family facing this extremely hard test. This is another test that life is presenting us with. As a family we have known good times and very hard times. As we say in Nicaragua, ”las duras y las maduras”. Thanks to God and his infinite love, we have been blessed in each moment with the internal resources necessary to cope with those times, the good ones and the not so good ones, and to extract lessons and growth from them. This time we're faced with a very hard blow, harder even because it comes from a loved one. We're all here, Daniel my companion, my children, everyone. We are invoking God to find the reason, the sign here.
What motives could a loved one have to aspire to the loss of respect for a man who has given himself to the people without ever backing down? What motives to try to destroy him as a symbol of the values and commitments that have ratified each day of his life with unblemished moral quality? We believe, friends, compañeros, that time, by the will of God without whose breath nothing moves, will reveal the motives and reasons for all this.
I only want to say that for us it is a family affair, one of pain and family convulsion, which has a political aspect because we are a family whose father has assumed an unbending and unyielding commitment in this country's political life since he was fourteen—I repeat, without bending and without truce—and this has its compensations and its costs. I believe that we are paying the costs today.
We are hit hard, we are moved, we are pained. But we are also, thank God, in a position to learn. And we are learning. Sincerely, we have no rancor, we harbor no resentment. For that reason we want to respond only with love. I send Zoilamérica, we send Zoilamérica, and her children, much light and much love. We love her very much. We're with her in prayers and in the hope that she will return to us and we can go to her on these roads of love and light that the universe creates for all beings and that we so often refuse to see or to travel on.
May God continue giving us all strength, a lot of strength, to be able to love and to pardon, to be able to evolve. To be able to evolve. Because the chains of pain do break, but not with more pain. They are broken with compassion and love.
We want to make clear to our people that this is a falsehood, that it's a blow to our family. We want to keep it as a family affair. And we want this right to see it as a family affair to be respected. This is our declaration. I repeat that we are moved and pained. We are going to say no more, we are not going to enter into the fray, into speaking and having to speak again. We're not going to attack anyone, or go against anyone. We have a heart full of love and of the need to understand. I want to thank all the demonstrations of affection, of solidarity, of friendship and of faith in us that we have received and that are helping us find more strength and more reasons to love.
Zoilamérica: "This is my history" I would like to reiterate this afternoon all the concepts poured into the letter published this morning. I claim my right to defend my identity. I have been abused and assaulted in all dimensions. I have been psychologically, physically and sexually assaulted. I have also been assaulted from a position of power. And that is why this case has a connotation that transcends the sphere of my personal life.
Intrafamily violence and abuse and sexual aggression—and this is my case, my situation, my truth—transcends family life and the private sphere. Many women and men who have lived through this situation know about its difficult aftermath and damage and know that to face them implies a process that goes far beyond the family. This society has recognized in a law precisely that intrafamily violence is a problem that goes beyond the private sphere.
I defend my right to have my identity, to recover my own last name and to say my truth, independent of whether this reverses positions of power. This process of overcoming has been long and very difficult. I began it a long time ago. And with a great deal of strength of will and the help of God, I have reached this point, in which I've decided to break the silence. I remained quiet for a long time due to political concerns. And for a long time I was quiet for a different kind of reason. But coming out with hope and facing my truth—I insist: my truth—also allows other men and women to face their truths. I want to make a call to men and women to come out of the darkness and assume their histories with fortitude and firmness.
This is my history. What this letter says is my history. It is the history of a 30-year-old woman who is today embarking on a new life, with a new identity, divesting herself of the fears that are one of the principle damages produced by sexual abuse and the abuse of power.
First of all, I give thanks to God today because he has allowed me to claim myself. I have lived through a process and today, from powerlessness, it has allowed me the right to speak. Therefore, to think that I am being manipulated, managed, also wounds my integrity, in that it is my consciousness, my consciousness as a woman and my political consciousness, but above all my consciousness as a human being, that has allowed me to stop being my own accomplice and the accomplice of my own silence.
I am not initiating legal actions against Daniel Ortega. I have pardoned him. I trust in people's capacity to pardon. I think that those with political stature and the great esteem of their people, knowing that they are in the hearts of their people, must also be capable of pardoning, of assuming the damage they did and asking forgiveness in the way that, as leaders, they can do.
This is a personal act, an act of my consciousness as a woman, by which I am freeing myself today. Today I am liberating myself from fear and from all that has bound me. My first step has been to recover my surname, to recover my identity, and this for me is to recover my truth, my history. Why only now? Overcoming fear is a process, a process that one begins by conquering its results. Only very recently did I allow myself psychological treatment. Because I didn't even have the right to be treated. Because of the secret. I have gone through the process of overcoming the physical and biological consequences of all this damage. In the second place, it has been a process of my own reconciliation with myself due to the effects this had on me.
Now I need to fully reintegrate myself as a woman with my truth, to emerge as the true Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo and close a stage of my life. Why only now? Why so late? I would have preferred not to be initiating my new life at 30. I would have liked to be acknowledging this, putting a stop to this, much sooner so as not to suffer so much, not to be so affected, not only in my condition as an adolescent and a child, but also in my condition as part of a couple.
It is a very difficult moment for my mother and I don't want to issue criteria about her. I have pardoned her, she knows that I love her very much. I trust in people's capacity to ask forgiveness. This is an issue that a lot of people knew about. Many people know of my process. There are many people who are not astonished by this. I don't want to mention them. I'm not going to say who knows, with whom I shared my pain in the most difficult moments and those who provided me a lot of solidarity. Many people know, they know me and know that I would have no reason to lie.
I don't believe that anyone takes the risk I'm taking to lie. I don't think anyone would lie with such a high cost. I should say that when I shared with my men and women friends this letter that got to the media, I told them: I'm not afraid, I am entering upon my life and to face it I have to take this step.
Zoilamérica: An FSLN with heart I am not accusing the FSLN, but Daniel Ortega. I think they are two different things, although some don't seem to know how to establish the indispensible and necessary difference between individuals and parties. But negative private behavior obviously hurts the party, particularly when it has to do with its highest authorities and when we deify leaders to the point of refusing to see their human weaknesses. I am not the one who did harm to the Frente Sandinista; it was Daniel Ortega.
My conscience has no price. In fact, I'm going to get rid not only of a last name and of goods that do not belong to me, but also of a lifestyle very different from that of my childhood. My greatest aspiration is to live with my son and my daughter, of 5 and 3 years old, in a house acquired according to my own possibilities. That will also be part of my new identity, which I will develop in a more communal framework.
It is difficult to appraise the role that Daniel Ortega is playing within the FSLN without considering his moral conduct. In my condition as a militant, I always lived with that contradiction. How do I understand his harmful behavior toward me as a woman without losing respect for him in the political sphere? In the current context, his position as a leader imposes on him the obligation to recognize the injustice and the abuse of power expressed in the sexual aggression committed against me between 1978, at age 11, and 1990; and the harassment during all the years of my marriage until January 1998.
Given how sensitive the case is, I turned to a member of the National Directorate, to whom I laid out my personal situation and he listened to me with a great deal of humanism. I also presented my protest for the last time in December and asked for respect for my personal integrity and that of my family, as well as respect for my position as a Sandinista militant. Very painfully I received hurtful responses, calling into question my emotional stability, and suggesting that I had "existential" problems.
I am not irresponsibly presenting a charge that I would be unable to sustain in court with evidence, testimonies and witnesses. I already said that I am not interested in seeking a legal decision; I am more interested in my personal process and in sparking a moral reflection around intrafamily violence in our society and party.
It is regrettable that women instinctively identify with the man's version and, with no further analysis, repudiate the statement of a woman. It is also sad to see how cohesion and political intimidation are being applied to force criteria against me, which shows the existence of masculine aggressiveness in the political relations and forms of communication among FSLN members, particularly between men and women. That does serious damage to Nicaraguan society inasmuch as Sandinismo is seen reacting with hostility to the detriment of the cause of women who suffer violence. Serious danger is also shown by the fact that male militants in positions of power can, as a consequence, abuse women and enjoy impunity. Having a post does not give license to go above the law and the most elemental moral norms of any society.
This is not an accusation against the Frente Sandinista but against Daniel Ortega. The Frente Sandinista is not technically an involved party; morally and politically it is, because we are now going to see if Sandinismo is capable of demanding and practicing congruence between the public and private life of anyone, male or female, who claims to be a revolutionary.
I never agreed with the proposals of the MRS. I am still a Sandinista and I love the Frente Sandinista. I want an FSLN with a place for the heart, with a human and organic capacity to listen to each member, each oppressed person. A party where power is not an instrument of aggression, a party built upon the truth, how ever painful it is, but not on lies. Because to maintain a lie, as I had to do for so long in silence, means protecting that lie. Maintaining a lie is to suffer. Let's break the accomplice of silence, because as the Bible says, "The truth shall make us free."
Alejandro: "I ask forgiveness as a man and as a Sandinista" I want personally to establish the disrespect and humiliation that I suffered as a human being, as a man, as the father of a family, as a husband and as a Sandinist militant. Today I ask your forgiveness, Zoilamérica, for not having done enough to stop Daniel Ortega in his aggression against you, aggression that I came to witness years before our marriage. I ask forgiveness for all the men and women who also knew about this situation and did not have the courage either then or now to speak up and take a stand on the side of justice.
To my Sandinista brothers and sisters I ask you to reflect before condemning. The pain you feel now I have been carrying personally for a long time. By accusing Daniel Ortega of violating ethical, social and party codes, I do so based on my 22 years of belonging to the Frente Sandinista, including some 15 of collaborating closely with it.
I was also a victim of Daniel Ortega until today. I'm not breaking with the Frente Sandinista, I am publicly breaking with Daniel Ortega, as I did in private in January of this year. I only regret having participated, with so many of you, in the creation of an idol and of depositing so much power in him, in effect granting him impunity.
We sinned as men and Sandinistas for not having faced up to our own machista culture, for not having distinguished before now between party discipline and our own respect, between unity and passivity, I for not having sufficiently realized that ethics and values cannot be defended, in the name of the party, through passivity and indifference, much less by allowances for impunity.
I cannot feel respect for someone who did not respect me as a human being, as the father of a family. He abused my Sandinista militancy, he abused his position as Secretary General. How many times did he call me in the morning asking for political collaboration, and at night dial the same number to communicate to me all kinds of insinuations against my wife?
The moment comes when the pain of silence is more oppressive than the pain of denunciation. So much more painful when the search for justice that seals our political commitment clashes with a figure who for many symbolizes justice in Nicaragua.
I am convinced that making this accusation public was and is the only way to end the harassment, the disrespect and the regimen of lies and intimidation that our family suffered. It is also for me the way to recover my self-respect. It wasn't easy. I had to choose between public truth and Daniel Ortega, and as a man and a Sandinista I choose truth.
I have belonged to the Frente Sandinista for 22 years. It is difficult for me to even conceive of a life away from it. But come what may, I reaffirm my faith in the principles that guided Augusto Sandino and Carlos Fonseca. My faith is in that humanist Sandino who did not vacillate in sending off to the firing squad any of his soldiers who abused a woman. Sexual violence is condemnable wherever it comes from, and a position of authority does not give license to abuse legal and moral norms. Quite the contrary.
I ask forgiveness of my eternal friend Zoilamérica for my moments of doubt and for not having been more at her side. As a man and as a Sandinista, I want to ask forgiveness of my compañeros and compañeras in and outside of the Frente Sandinista for having been an accomplice of this silence. I ask of the men that we free ourselves from the machista bindings that have done us so much damage and that do so much damage to women and to boys and girls. I feel liberated, and feel that I have recovered my true condition as a man, as a sufficiently human and brotherly man to be able to put himself at the side of a woman, of all women, to accompany her in the struggle against her oppression. Let's end this culture of violence and abuse of power that victimizes all of society. And let us begin by attacking the silence that covers up impunity.