Where Is Daniel Ortega? Nicaragua’s Leader Drops From View

The Nicaraguan government has promoted big public events, despite the coronavirus. But the president himself has been conspicuously absent from view for 25 days.

President Daniel Ortega in February. His absence from public life has led to speculation that he is in quarantine.
Credit...Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Nicaragua, an outlier in the battle against the coronavirus, has kept its schools and shops open and its streets lively. But there is one person who has not been seen in public since the outbreak began there last month: the president.

Daniel Ortega, the head of the country’s socialist government, has been conspicuously absent from public view since March 12, when he attended a virtual meeting. He has failed to attend the funeral of a friend, government functions, and even the rallies promoted by his administration.

His absence has led to a social media meme. “Be like Ortega: Stay Home,” it says, contrasting what the Nicaraguan leader appears to be doing with what his administration is recommending to the population.

Mr. Ortega, 74, is widely believed to suffer chronic illnesses and is known for spending stretches of time out of the public eye without explanation from his government.

But the timing, and the fact that neither he nor any member of his family attended the funeral over the weekend of Jacinto Suárez, an ally of Mr. Ortega’s from his days as a guerrilla, has led to widespread speculation that he is in quarantine.

Others guessed that the president might be up to something else.

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, executive director of the Civic Alliance, an opposition group, suggested that the extended absence was a deliberate move to manipulate the public.

“I think it is in preparation for his glorious reappearance,” Mr. Chamorro said. “He has done similarly in the past. He will resurrect on Easter.”

Credit...Jorge Torres/EPA, via Shutterstock

The government did not respond to requests for comment. In her daily briefing on Saturday, Mr. Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, said the president was “here, working, directing, coordinating all the efforts.”

The government claims that the country has only four confirmed cases of Covid-19, plus one death.

But it has been widely criticized for its cavalier approach to the public health crisis. Public schools remained open, although this week and next, they are closed for Holy Week. The borders, too, are still open.

Instead of canceling large events, the government has organized and promoted them. The official government news site is filled with mentions of fairs, marches, religious processions and even a food festival held on Saturday.

Private schools were denied government authorization to close even as 98 percent of the children stayed home, said a private school educator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because speaking publicly could get him arrested. Eventually, the schools were allowed to conduct distance learning, with the parents coming to school to pick up academic materials, he said.

The public, he said, is deeply dubious about government claims that the outbreak in Nicaragua is under control.