When Román “Chocolatito” González faces Moisés Fuentes on September 15, he’ll do so without the support of many of his compatriots. While the accomplished young boxer has brought pride to his native Nicaragua through his sport, people across the Central American country have turned against him because of his ties to President Daniel Ortega.
To understand the indignation, we have to look back to what’s taken place in Nicaragua in the last few months. In April, Ortega increased pension contributions from employers and reduced the pensions of retirees by 5 percent. This set off a wave of protests across the country, which forced Ortega to reverse the pension reforms. But it did nothing to stop demonstrators from criticizing the government and protesting. Though the pension reforms sparked the initial unrest, the truth is that for many Nicaraguans, the government had long failed its people.
As their dissent grew, Ortega’s government responded by repressing its people. Paramilitary officers and police officers violently attacked protesters – many of whom didn’t have weapons. In early August, the Organization of American States placed the death toll at 317. About four months since the first protests took place, Nicaraguans are still fighting Ortega’s government and demanding that he and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to step down.
In the midst of all this, people have accused Chocolatito of siding with the government, and even joining pro-government rallies. The boxer has long had a positive relationship with the president. In 2017, for example, Chocolatito had a private meeting with Ortega after losing a fight. He signed a pair of gloves for the president. They were reportedly inscribed, reading: “Having friends like the great Ortega Murillo family is looking at the sky and seeing a star shine. You are the special star in my life.”
According to El Nuevo Diario, Nicoyas had supported the boxer up until recently, but on April 18 – the day the protests began – they started speaking up against the boxer, who has supposedly joined pro-government rallies in the past. Just last month, however, Román refused to answer questions about his ties to Ortega. During an interview with Miguel Ángel Cebreros, Chocolatito shut down the journalist who asked him if, as social media stated, he supported Ortega. “No, none of that,” he said, ending the conversation.
But as more people actively root for his opponent – who has criticized Chocolatito for turning his back on his own people – the topic isn’t going anywhere. In an interview last week, he briefly talked about the backlash and said he has not paid it any attention. “I don’t give that any weight,” he said. “The important thing is that the fight is near. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
September 15 is an important day for Chocolatito, but also for Nicaraguans. As the country celebrates its independence day amidst these turbulent times, the boxer will get back in the ring for the first time in nearly a year. After his undefeated record came to an end at the hands of Thai Srisaket Sor Rungvisai – who then went on to beat him again during a re-match – González almost retired. But now as his return to the ring nears, he’ll do it without his country backing him.