Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro will accept the second annual Leopoldo Lopez Freedom and Democracy Award at a ceremony on May 5. Chamorro will receive the prize on behalf of Nicaraguan political prisoners — particularly the seven presidential candidates who were imprisoned by authoritarian leader Daniel Ortega after they challenged him in Nicaragua’s 2021 presidential election. Chamorro will receive a $10,000 honorarium.
Developed in 2019, the award is intended to illustrate the courage and personal sacrifice of individuals who fight to uphold principles of democracy. The award is named after prominent Venezuelan human rights activist Leopoldo Lopez ’93, who has devoted his life toward restoring democracy in Venezuela and resisting authoritarian political regimes. Last year, Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng became the first recipient of the award.
Chamorro, who is known for his thorough investigative reporting, founded the independent Nicaraguan news outlet Confidencial as well as the popular nightly Sunday television program Esta Semana and the Onda Local podcast. He has twice been exiled by state authorities — once in 2018 and most recently in June of 2021, fleeing to Costa Rica both times.
“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of many Nicaraguans that are currently in prison or in exile as a result of the political persecution launched by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship,” Chamorro said in the press release. “The Nicaraguan struggle for democracy and justice has faced indiscriminate state repression against a wide variety of ordinary citizens and leaders. As a journalist I have tried to document the civic resistance since the April 2018 rebellion and repression, maintaining my commitment to the truth, without accepting censorship or self-censorship. While I might not be capable of representing the plurality and diversity of the whole of Nicaraguan civic resistance, I will do my best to speak for all those who are silent in prison.”
Nicaragua has had a long and troubled history in its fight for democracy. Ortega, who was sworn in for his fourth consecutive term in January, has served as president of the country since 2006, making him the longest-serving leader in the Americas. His rise to power, however, has been far from democratic: Only one in five eligible Nicaraguan voters cast ballots for the 2021 election, and Ortega detained any and all opposing candidates — including Chamorro’s sister Cristiana — citing various treason charges.
Since 2006, Ortega and his regime — which includes his wife, Rosario María Murillo Zambrana, who has served as his vice president since 2017 — have repeatedly silenced individuals fighting for a free and fair election process. In 2018, pro-government paramilitary groups killed 300 protestors, and in 2020, Ortega laid the groundwork for harsh laws that eliminated any opposition to his presidency through judicial persecution.
As such, the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) felt it necessary to strongly condemn the actions of Ortega, and to honor those in prison for fighting for what they deserve through this award.
“It’s really important for us to be able to give an award like this,” Director of CSAD David Rowe said. “Kenyon is a small College; we’re not powerful enough to free these people from the grip of a brutal regime. But we are important enough to say, ‘No, this is not right.’ We give witness, and by giving witness, we give hope.”