Over the past month, world leaders have been to the forefront, rallying their nations to battle the spread of coronavirus. But there’s been one notable exception – President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, who has not been seen in public for over 40 days.
The last time the 74-year-old leader was seen in person was during a televised military event on February 21. He was seen virtually on March 12, when he participated in an online conference call with heads of state from Central America’s System of Integration (SICA) to discuss the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Nicaragua has come under fire for its casual approach to the crisis. The border, public schools and universities remain open and the strict preventative measures seen in neighboring countries are not in place.
The government has not imposed any rules to enforce social distancing, though some in Nicaragua have taken it upon themselves to self-quarantine and otherwise avoid spreading the virus.
This past weekend, a market festival with tasting events in Managua and Easter celebrations such as a summer festival in Matagalpa organized by the local tourism institute took place. The government state-run Digital 19 summarized the nationwide events as ways to, “celebrate in family and community our religious and cultural traditions.”
“We have concerns for the lack of social distancing, the convening of mass gatherings,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO Regional Director of the Americas. “We have concerns about the testing, contact tracing, about the reporting of cases. We also are concerned about what we see as inadequate infection prevention and control.”
Dr. Etienne, speaking Friday, said the concerns had been raised “both informally and formally” with Nicaragua’s authorities. PAHO, she said, was ready to work with the nation to “ensure they are indeed responding to Covid-19 in a matter that will save lives and avoid too much illness.”
Human Rights Watch on Friday described Nicaragua’s Covid-19 response as “reckless,” with “tactics that blatantly contradict global health experts’ advice and put people’s health and lives at risk.”
“Ortega is the only Latin American leader who has not made a single public announcement on how his government would address the pandemic,” HRW said. Instead, “Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is married to Ortega, told Nicaraguans to remain calm and continue working,” the statement noted.
According to the government Monday, there are nine confirmed cases, 12 cases under observation and one death from Covid-19 in Nicaragua. The Health Ministry’s General Secretary Dr. Carlos Sáenz added that all cases have been imported and none are community spread, “infinite thanks to God.”
Meanwhile, the government remains silent about Ortega’s public absence. “Our commander Daniel is here, working and directing, coordinating all the efforts we make, that we are and will continue to make because we have a firm compromise with the country,” Vice President Murillo said earlier this month. The government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
And during her 22-minute daily telephone message on Sunday, Murillo hardly mentioned the coronavirus crisis. “Everything is calm, families celebrating in union at home and the places they visit this Sunday of resurrection, enjoying our traditions, our traditional gastronomy,” she said.
“The hug of our commander Daniel to each home, to each family. Let’s go forward because we are a nation of hope, of faith,” Murillo added.
Natalie Gallón reported and wrote from Mexico City. CNNE’s Mario Medrano in Managua, Nicaragua contributed to this report.