Communist Dictators Tremble When Their Subjects Lose Their Fear

(p. 13) It all began with a beauty pageant. There were multiple outfit changes, from evening gowns to bathing suits to national costumes. There were behind-the-scenes looks at the contestants’ lives. There were question-and-answer periods. And by the end of the 2023 Miss Universe competition last month, Sheynnis Palacios of Nicaragua emerged victorious.

People celebrated in Nicaragua’s streets, singing the national anthem and waving the country’s blue and white flag. It was the first time a contestant from the Central American nation of nearly seven million people had claimed the Miss Universe crown.

“It was as if someone had won the World Cup,” said Gioconda Belli, a well-known Nicaraguan poet and novelist.

Then came the government crackdown.

In what has felt like a script from a television drama, the authoritarian government claimed that the director of the Miss Nicaragua contest, which had chosen Ms. Palacios to represent the country at the global competition, was part of an “anti-patriotic conspiracy” to overthrow President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

. . .

“Ortega has a problem,” said Arturo McFields Yescas, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States who resigned and denounced the Ortegas last year.

“What he can’t control, he robs or destroys,’’ he said. “The baseball or boxing champions, for example, have to pay tribute to the regime. If they don’t, they become targets. Sheynnis has something — she came from the bottom, she doesn’t owe anything to the dictatorship — and that makes her someone dangerous.”

Ms. Palacios, who grew up roughly an hour south of Managua, the capital, was raised by a single mother. While at college — which was closed by the Ortega government this year — she helped her mother make buñuelos, fried dough treats, to sell to help pay for school.

The day after Ms. Palacios won Miss Universe, the Nicaraguan government said the country was celebrating “its queen” with “legitimate pride and joy.”

But the authorities shifted their tone soon after large numbers of people took to the streets, waving the Nicaraguan flag. Public demonstrations are effectively prohibited and the government promotes the red and black Sandinista flag over the blue and white national one.

“People lost the fear,” Mr. McFields said, “and that’s the part that scared the dictatorship the most.”

For the full story, see:

James Wagner. “Once She Won Crown, Nicaragua Saw Her as a Threat.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 17, 2023): 13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2023, and has the title “She Was Crowned Miss Universe. Then Her Government Cracked Down.” The online version says that the title of the print version is “Nicaragua Sees a Threat Behind a Beauty Pageant” but my national edition of the print version had the title “Once She Won Crown, Nicaragua Saw Her as a Threat.”)

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