Sapos vs Puchos: the story behind the pejorative nicknames that divide politics in Nicaragua

Sandinista sympathizers in one of their party celebrations, claiming the nickname with which the opposition calls them. (Photo social networks)

For a supporter of the Daniel Ortega regime, an opponent is a “fag” and, for an opponent, a supporter of the regime is a “toad”. This is how things are going in Nicaragua.

“Puchos” and “sapos” are the pejorative nicknames used by the “Blue and White” (opposition) and “Sandinista” (official) political factions, respectively, since the April 2018 citizen rebellion. They have a curious origin and come from that inveterate Latin American custom of disqualifying opponents with words.

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) defines “toad” in its first meaning as: “Anuran amphibian with a stocky and robust body, bulging eyes, short limbs and warty-looking skin.” Another very widespread meaning in Latin America, however, is “snitch” or “informer”.

In Nicaragua, a person who is a informer or informer is called a “sapa”, but also someone who uses servility to gain the favor of their superiors or authority. Bootlickers, sycophants, balls, They are called in other countries. Or both meanings together, because often the “toad” betrays other people to win favors from their bosses.

Nicaraguans began calling the Sandinistas “sapos” because since 2007, when Daniel Ortega returned to power, the ruling Sandinista Front party organized structures and networks of its members that were in charge of spying on and ratting out their neighbors and co-workers. The term was finally designated to all sympathizers of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

“The Sandinista Toad”, by Gustavo Leyton

“It is a feeling of servility against oneself in pejorative terms and it is an ugly epithet that sounds in the current situation”, analyzes David Pérez in a article titled “The toads in Nicaragua… hey toad”, from the digital platform Round Table. “This word toad, is labeled to official sympathizers, public officials and state workers in different powers.”

To the opponents, the officialists call them “puchos”. Baptism comes from the mouth of Rosario Murillo, when in a radio address on August 13, 2018, he added the nickname “puchitos” to the adjectives with which he usually insults opponents. “What happened (in April 2018) was unexpected, but also the recovery is miraculous and it is true, and what is even more incredible is that that little bunch of coup plotters and criminal terrorists, be insistent,” he said then.

At other times, Murillo has called “vampires”, “bloodsucker”, “tiny”, “fuckaste”, “vandalism”, “coup plotters”, “diabolical”, “termites”, “mushrooms” or “bacteria”, among others, to opponents. But he has been “puchos” either “puchitos” the most used by his sympathizers to refer to the opposing political side.

“Only the indifferent, the insensitive, those who do not have love in their hearts, those who continually express, and they are a few, everyone knows how I call them, the ‘puchos’, those ‘puchos’, those insignificant ´puchos´They are the ones who have hatred in their hearts,” Murillo insisted in September 2020, during the celebration of the 41 years of the Police.

The word “pucho”, explains the RAE, comes from the Quechua “puchu”, which means residue or leftover, which in Nicaragua receives the peculiar denomination of “chingaste”. Pucho is also a “small portion”, “what reaches in a fist”.

Rosario Murillo baptized as "butts" either "pouts" to opponents.  At other times, Murillo has called
Rosario Murillo baptized the opponents as “puchos” or “puchitos”. At other times, Murillo has called “vampires”, “bloodsucker”, “minuscule”, “fuckaste”, “vandalism”, “coup plotters”, “diabolical”, “termites”, “mushrooms” or “bacteria”, among others. (Photo The Press)

The OAS group of experts (GIEI) that came to investigate the crisis in Nicaragua recorded in its report submitted in December 2018 that “the adjectives used by the authority to define the opposition: tiny, vandals, vandals, gang members, terrorists, plague, vampires (among others), with a deep negative connotation, are reproduced in social communication spaces. When reproduced in this way, its diffusion and scope are amplified and it generates the social space for the acceptance of ‘corrective’ actions from power against dissidence”.

Nicaraguan Guillermo Rothschuh Villanueva, an expert in Communication, recalls that following independence the conservatives were called “timbucos” and the liberals “calandracas”, when analyzing in an article published on the Confidencial platform, the book by Abelardo Baldizón, “From the timbucos and calandracas to the parties of politicians”.

“It shows that politicians have had a particular penchant for using eschatological language. They used (they use) derogatory nicknames, timbucos (fat pigs) and calandracas (skinny dogs, ridiculous and despicable people) and they called the lower strata (uneducated, ignorant, savage, lazy, malicious) Indians,” he says.

And he adds: “I dissent de Baldizón believes that the use of this offensive language disappeared when the two traditional political parties were labeled as liberals and conservatives. Today they call them puchitos, termites, fungi, bacteria, chingaste, toxic, wimps, etc. In the Nicaragua of the 21st century, politicians use the same resource as a strategic element to defame the adversary. Is it in your DNA?

Dehumanizing is perhaps the best discursive strategy to collectively justify, as a social project, the physical and violent elimination of an adversary”, he explains for his part Miguel González, in another article in the same medium. “Since the beginning of the April crisis in Nicaragua, the ability to degrade to a sub-human condition was effectively exercised by Rosario Murillo, vice president and wife of Ortega, to legitimize the murders of young students who were civically protesting the abuses of the regime” .

In the 1980s, counterrevolutionary guerrillas used a particularly offensive nickname for Sandinista soldiers: “piricuacos.” The word of Miskito origin was commonly translated as “mad dog” or “bloodthirsty dog.” But González clarifies that when analyzing the roots that make up the word, he found a very different meaning.

In Miskito, he says, “pir translates as “alien/strange”, while unclean or evil, “translates as pirit tâski; saura pirit. And the word beetle, like kwakwa; kwakwa tara. Thus, the compound word Piri-kuakua or Piri-kuaku (in Nicaraguan, ‘Piricuaco’), is revealed in all its meaning as: “the beetle that is foreign or stupid” or the “evil, strange beetle”

Although derogatory in origin, “sapos” and “puchos” seek ways to turn around the nicknames that they are foisted on, and use them to make fun of their adversaries, integrating them into their discursive repertoire, which reaches slogans, symbols, and songs.

Los Puchitos, Sings: Uriel Flores and the Vandals

The Nicaraguan singer, Gustavo Leytón, declared a supporter of Daniel Ortega, composed for the ill-fated 2021 presidential elections, a song titled “El sapo Sandinista” and reads in part: “The traitors say that we are toads, because the Sandinistas do have address….”

On the other side, opposition singer Uriel Flores and his group Los Vandálicos sing “Los Puchitos”, where Rosario Murillo is complained: “If we are puchitos, there is never a problem, we are puchitos that torture your head (…) How is it possible that being a minority in your news let’s be the headline…”

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Sapos vs Puchos: the story behind the pejorative nicknames that divide politics in Nicaragua