She’s a First Lady, a Poet, a Politician, a Mother, but Don’t Call Her Mrs. Ortega

Associated Press

Rosario Murillo is a revolutionary, politician, poet and the first lady of Nicaragua. But don’t call her Mrs. Ortega.

“It’s not that I’m against marriage,” said Murillo, known in Nicaragua as the companera, or comrade and unwed partner of President Daniel Ortega.

“If you have respect, cooperation, love and something truthful, it’s beyond reproach,” Murillo, a mother of seven, said of her relationship with the Sandinista leader.

Murillo is the author of five works of poetry, filled with her feelings on love, hope, birth, death, her nation, revolution and war.


Above all, she wants to show that “the spirit of our people is unbeatable,” she said in a recent interview in her office at the Sandinista Assn. of Cultural Workers, a room filled with plants, pottery and Nicaraguan paintings.

Was a Child Poet

“I began my poetry when I was 5 or 6,” said the 35-year-old first lady, a slim, dark, attractive woman. “But after the 1972 earthquake I really got serious about it.”

About 10,000 people were killed in the quake, which prompted many Nicaraguans to turn against President Anastasio Somoza, whose government squandered millions of dollars in disaster aid. The Somoza government was widely perceived as corrupt and authoritarian.

“I lost a baby son in the earthquake,” Murillo said. “We lost practically everything, our city, our history. I didn’t know what to do with the pain and grief I had inside.”

In one of her books, “To Love Is to Fight,” she dedicates a poem to her lost son.

Murillo said she exchanged letters and poetry with Ortega, a childhood friend six years her senior, when he was jailed for revolutionary activities from 1967 to 1974.

“I never visited him, and perhaps I still feel bad about that. But I was involved in the underground movement then and would have run a risk,” she said. She said their paths crossed inadvertently in 1977.


Educated at Convent

Murillo, educated at the Franciscan Greenway convent in Devon, England, worked with the leftist Sandinista underground from 1969 until it ousted Somoza and took power in 1979.

During part of that time, she lived in exile in Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica. From 1967 to 1977 she also worked as a secretary and later as an art columnist at the anti-Somoza newspaper La Prensa. The paper turned against the Sandinistas after they came to power and was ordered closed by Ortega’s government in June.

In 1984, when Ortega was elected president, Murillo was elected to the National Assembly.

As first lady, she has helped arrange cultural events for her impoverished country, which is off the usual international arts-and-entertainment circuit. This year the events ranged from a Bolshoi Ballet performance to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert.

In between her political and cultural activities, she spends time with her children who range in age from 1 to 18. The two eldest, a 17-year-old son serving in the army and an 18-year-old daughter, are children of a marriage that ended in divorce.

Wants Another Child

“I’m trying to have another one,” she said. She suffered a miscarriage last July.

How does she find time to be with her companero? “With imagination,” said Murillo.

She said she views her work as a way of contributing to the nation and of expressing her innermost thoughts.

“I want to create a continuing artistic offensive,” she said.

“We want to prove to ourselves, the people, that the spirit of our people is unbeatable. In a country under attack such as ours, we have this obligation,” she said, referring to the U.S.-aided contras’ rebellion against the Sandinistas.

Her most cherished activity for quiet time is listening to music. Bob Dylan, Lionel Richie and John Denver are favorites.

“And I love to dance. I get all the children to do it with me,” she said.

Murillo said she wishes she had the time to write longer works, perhaps a novel.

“When we achieve peace, when the war is over, I would like to dedicate myself to writing about culture, art and then maybe take a long vacation in Nicaragua.”