Treason, revolution, dynasty, incest, murder, insanity, a pact with the devil, a cruel lead character, delirious and unbalanced. A screenplay of the drama that has enveloped Nicaragua has it all. The challenge would be how to combine so many genres: surrealism, satire, farce and tragedy, in a single opus.
I’m ready to take on the challenge. I lived in Nicaragua and know some of the real personalities well. The title I’d suggest would be “Taboo”. Here’s an outline.
The story would cover over a half century, up to the present. It would begin during the era of dictator Anastasio Somoza. The opening scene would be 1966, with the seduction of our protagonist – a young girl of 15 – by a much older man. The girl is from the Nicaraguan middle classes, and her name is Rosario Murillo. Next scene: 1967. Murillo gives birth to a daughter, who she names Zoilamerica. She also has son with the same man.
1972: Devastating earthquake hits Managua, the Nicaraguan capital. Her third child is killed under falling rubble. Murillo is traumatized.
1973: Newsroom of a major paper: Murillo sits before a typewriter. She has a job as Pedro Joaquin Chamorro’s secretary. Chamorro directs La Prensa, the country’s chief opposition newspaper, and she pens articles critical of the Somoza regime. Meanwhile, in one of the dictator’s jail cells, a Sandinista leader named Daniel Ortega reads them with relish.
1977: Luggage, motorcoach: Ortega has been freed, and goes into exile in Costa Rica. Murillo also flees to that neighboring country. They fall in love. Ortega formally adopts Zoilamerica.
1978: The bloody body of a man in a car is seen: the Somoza regime murders Pedro Joaquin Chamorro.
1979: Insurrection [flags, arms, crowds]. as the Sandinistas rise to power. Ortega is triumphant. His participation in the military conflict was minimal, but he’s an astute politician. He becomes the revolution’s maximum leader. Murillo doesn’t leave his side. Together, they have seven more children.
1980: Young Europeans land in the Managua airport, heading to the Nicaraguan mountains to participate in the National Literacy Campaign. The ideas of the Sandinista government dazzle the international left.
1981: Television image of US president Ronald Reagan. The United States government declares war on Nicaragua. They finance the counterrevolution.
1990: Multitudes come out to vote. Sick of the war, the growing Sandinista authoritarianism, and the permanent confrontation between the government and the Catholic Church, the electorate votes Ortega out of power. An image of a beaming, grey-haired woman from the bourgeoise: the new president, friendly towards the United States. This is Violeta Chamorro, widow of the murdered journalist. Alone, Murillo and Ortega embrace each other, disconsolate. She experiences her second traumatic loss.
1998: Image of a young, dark-skinned woman speaking to the press. Zoilamerica, Murillo’s daughter, accuses her stepfather of sexual abuse beginning when she was eleven, and of repeated rape after she turned fifteen. The Ortega-Murillo family is shaken by their own earthquake. Alone in her room, Murillo smokes one cigarette after another. Her husband’s fate lies in her hands. Whom should she defend – Daniel or her first-born? She opts for a pact with the devil. She puts ambition for power ahead of maternal love. She sells her soul. Murillo denounces her daughter. She says she’s lying, she’s crazy. The legal case against Ortega collapses. Zoilamerica leaves Nicaragua. Ortega, crying, kneels before his wife and kisses her feet. She smiles. She knows that her husband has become her hostage for the rest of their lives.
2000: Murillo is seated behind Ortega, in his office. She’s become his advisor, mentor, strategist, her husband’s Svengali, transforming his public image. He’s her puppet.
2007: Inside of a Church. Ortega and Murillo kneel, a Bishop says Mass. Elections are being held, and Ortega presents himself as a fervent devotee of the Catholic Church, of private property, of the press and of peace. He recovers the presidency. The only one of his promises he ends up keeping is the religious one.
2011: Murillo prays during a public meeting. She repeatedly invokes God and the Virgin, presenting herself as an illuminated saint, a little St, Bernadette of Lourdes, complete with promises of miracles. There are new elections, and Ortega wins once more.
2017: Amid cries of fraud, Ortega and Murillo celebrate their third consecutive electoral victory. Ortega now proclaims her vice president of the nation. She has stopped being the power in the shadows. Image of him sick in bed, old and decrepit, while she screams orders in the presidential residence.
2018: Placards blanket the university: the students pour out onto the streets to protest. Murillo and her husband, now merely a mouthpiece, declare it a “yankee imperialist” attempt at a Coup d’etat. Barricades, shots, young people fall dead. The security forces kill 328 people.
June 3, 2021: The police raid the house of a furiously indignant woman. They detain Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of Violeta and Pedro Joaquin, the principal opposition candidate in the presidential elections to be held in November of that year. Camera pans to a meeting at the home of a dissident: there’s a rumor that Ortega has died. This kind of impulsivity clashes with the parleying pragmatism that previously characterized him, they agree. These actions all appear linked to the paranoia, urge for revenge, and hatred that Rosario embodies. More raids. The police detain fourteen more political figures, including former Sandinista guerrilla leaders.
June 22, 2021: A man tucks a hard disk into his suitcase and flees. Under cover of night, he leaves his house and crosses the border. It’s opposition journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Cristiana’s brother and the son of the journalist murdered by Somoza. The Chamorro family knows Murillo’s secrets, and her vendetta against them won’t cease.
June 23, 2021: Ortega, who’s barely been seen for months, appears in public. The puppeteer puts the words in his month. They’re no longer even trying to feign the principle of presumed innocence. “We’re judging criminals here,” he declares. Murillo directs a grimace of complicity to a high police official. A caricature of the romantic figure he once was, Ortega now plays a merely supporting role in this sordid operetta.
Last scene: clip of a real interview that Zoilamerica gave the BBC in 2019, from her home in Costa Rica. Does she fear Ortega? “No. But I do fear my mother. A woman with that kind of obsession for power is capable of anything.”
That’s where the outline of my screenplay would end. I’d merely add an idea that the director could keep in mind. This proposed film would be about the ambition for power, certainly. But at its core there’s something darker. It’s an exploration of hatred, the most implacable hatred, which Rosario Murillo breathes: the hatred of oneself.