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  Number 426 | Marzo 2017
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Nicaragua

Under pressure, the government is buying time

Negotiating with the Organization of American States was a way for the Ortega-Murillo government to buy time. But time to do what? To learn the fate of the Nica Act and Donald Trump’s plans for Nicaragua? How long can Ortega drag out this tactic given his slim maneuvering room?

Envío team

The Ortega-Murillo government is under political pressure on at least two counts: the weight Daniel Ortega’s illegitimate reelection last November 6 is still bringing to bear domestically; and the inter¬national attention the political and electoral crisis he created has rekindled in both the United States and Europe.

The authoritarian conception of power the governing couple has imposed on the country has helped keep organized and mobilized domestic pressure to a manageable minimum, allowing them to buy time without taking any visible measures, hoping that in the end nothing will happen on any of these fronts, particularly Washington. “For now we only need to be observant,” said Bayardo Arce, Ortega’s adviser on economic issues. “No one knows where Trump’s measures are heading or what their consequences will be.” Arce is also Ortega’s liaison with the leaders of the big business associations in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), which also seems to favor the tactic of buying time.

Little wiggle room


The crumbling of the favorable oil deal with Venezuela and the departure or scaling back of international cooperation with Latin America, including Nicaragua, are leaving Daniel Ortega with very little economic room for maneuver. He has no opportunities to try out other tactics, a situation much like that of his erstwhile Venezuelan sponsor, whose only financial oxygen line is coming from China. However, Ortega’s geopolitical gamble on Chinese godfathering for the fanciful interoceanic canal project seems to have failed, as China has yet to offer him anything.

Ortega, who still appears to live mentally in the revolutionary 1980s, may have thought China would play the role the USSR played back then. Perhaps he’s forgotten that while the USSR supported Nicaragua, it never put itself on the line for our country. Propping up Venezuela makes economic sense, since it is believed to have the world’s largest oil reserves, but what can Nicaragua offer? Did Ortega not realize that China has already set its sights on Costa Rica in Central America?

Ortega may also be hoping that Russia could act as a shield against Trump’s furies. But apart from being a vain illusion to think that Vladimir Putin would take any risks for Nicaragua, the rising wave of anti-Russia sentiment in the United States makes shards of such a shield.

In short, the Ortega government is under both political and economic pressure. And worse yet, it’s isolated internationally. Its only local allies are the business elite and its last hope is one shared by Cuba, Venezuela and Russia: that oil prices will go back up, although that would have a double edge for oil-importing, godfatherless Nicaragua…

Ortega’s 2016 state of the State report


On February 20, one month after being sworn in for a third consecutive five-year term, President Ortega presented his report on his government’s 2016 administration to the National Assembly. It was only the second time in ten years that he has personally appeared to fulfill this constitutional duty. The other occasion was in 2008, following his first year back in government. Subsequently he has always sent the report to the legislative body in writing.

This year, after the political reversal of the massive voter abstention last November 6, he needed to give the National Assembly a higher profile. So he went in person, but not to the plenary hall, preferring another, more reliable site. The police prevented the entry of any journalists not from the official or at least pro-government media, and no legislator, even from his party’s own loyal bench, was permitted to ask questions. As Ortega’s words bore little relationship to a report, or even a report outline, the prominence he wanted to give the National Assembly in the TV coverage of his appearance fell rather flat.

Where’s the beef?


The report followed the customary script of his communication policy for the last 10 years, announcing only the good things he’s doing or is going to do, and never mentioning any of the thorny or controversial topics that reveal the profound contradictions in both the country and society. Ortega mentioned none of the great concerns of the moment that could let us see what he’s thinking or doing, how he sees things, or what course we’re on…

For example, he said not a word about the negotiation with the Organization of American States (OAS), and made no comment to his Nicaraguan compatriots in the United States who are in danger of being affected by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policy. In fact there was no allusion whatever to either the new US President or to Venezuela, now so clearly “under siege by the empire.” There was no mention of the Nica Act or of what it would mean for Nicaragua if Trump were to demand renegotiation of the US free trade agreement with Central America. And he said nothing about the violence raging in the Caribbean Coast or any of the other pressing daily problems affecting so many people, such as rising electricity rates or the water shortages some rural and urban sectors are again experiencing as they wait for the rainy season…

“We only have a Plan A!”


Ortega had only superficial and confusing words for all the country’s uncertainties, which are being further aggravated in the Trump era, and for the feared probability that the US Congress will pass the Nica Act, which conditions loans to Nicaragua from the international financing institutions on Ortega holding free and fair elections. “I believe the most important thing for Nicaraguans, for the Nicaraguan state institutions and for the government is to not be making economic policies based on speculations,” rambled Ortega, “because the world is and always has been full of speculations. Those speculations suddenly become global tragedies when great crises occur at a world level that drag down the entire planet, which has always reemerged anew in the end.”

After floating the “planetary sovereignty” concept he says he plans to work for and referring to Noah’s ark as an initiative that must make us view the future with optimism, he concluded with this triumphalist rhetoric: “We in Nicaragua are quite clear that there is no Plan B or Plan C or Plan D here. There is only a Plan A: Forward, forward for new victories!”

The Roof Plan’s reduction and rectification


Plan A notwithstanding, Ortega and his team know that even though the economy is continuing on a stable course, with cheap land and labor still attracting foreign investment and no signs of an imminent crisis, the comfortable margin of economic, political and social maneuver provided by Venezuela’s oil cooperation no longer exists. That generous cooperation allowed the group in power to accumulate capital, hand out perks to their buddies and finance programs that alleviated the poverty of their marginalized beneficiaries. Venezuela’s terminal crisis, which has meant the slashing of that cooperation, has even forced reductions in the Roof Plan, perhaps the government’s most visible and sought-after social program.

As a result, those hoping to roof their houses can no longer expect free zinc sheets given out in a proselytizing publicity act in their barrio or rural community. They will now have to pay the equivalent of US$50 to hardware stores with which the government has agreements for the 10 sheets and bag of nails in the Roof Plan package after presenting an endorsement from the governing party leaders in their urban neighborhood or rural district.

Considering the real price of the those same 10 sheets, $50 is still a partial subsidy but it is a rectification, as total gratuity should have been avoided from the outset to make people value the materials more and reduce the political corruption surrounding this sensitive social program.

The European Parliament speaks out


The Ortega-Murillo government isn’t just under economic pressure from the drop in Venezuelan cooperation. Political pressures are also heating up, as a resolution issued by the European Parliament in February demonstrates.

In a plenary session on February 16, the members of parliament issued a resolution addressing issues in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as others related to terrorism. In the section on Nicaragua, the third since Ortega took office in 2007, the resolution expressed concern about an extensive list of issues ranging from the deterioration of democracy and the rule of law and the safeguarding of human rights to environmental and legal concerns about the possible construction of an interoceanic canal, curiously singling out the fact that the canal guaranteed no criminal punishment for HKND if it breaches the contract. With regard to human rights, it explicitly “deplores the attacks and acts of harassment to which human rights organizations and their members and independent journalists have been subjected by individuals, political forces and bodies linked to the State.”

They specifically urged the government to “refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal” against recognized leader Francisca Ramírez, coordinator of the Council in Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, the peasant movement that for the past three years has so determinedly opposed the construction of the interoceanic canal and demanded annulment of the canal law and concession. Among other things, they mentioned violent attacks on her family in retaliation to her activism.

The parliamentarians also called on the government to fulfill its international commitments to its indigenous peoples, taking into account both the canal’s proposed route through indigenous lands that “would displace between 30,000 and 120,000 indigenous people” and the violence over land rights currently battering the Caribbean Coast. Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) directors discuss the latter issue in the Speaking Out section of this issue of envío.

In its mention of the general political deterioration, the resolution charged that “public sector corruption, including by family members of the President, remains one of the biggest challenges,” specifying that “bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities are very common.” It also criticized the “illegal steps taken in violation of the judicial system that resulted in constitutional changes to remove presidential term limits.” Among the strongest language was the parliamentarians’ “extreme concern” about the dismissal of elected opposition members from the National Assembly and the ruling that changed the leadership structure of the Independent Liberal Party, which had come in second in the 2011 elections.

What measures might the EU take?


In 2012 the 28 European Union (EU) countries and those of Central America signed an Association Agreement that includes both trade agreements and political commitments. Alluding to this, the European Parliament resolution reminded the Ortega government “of the need to respect the principles of the rule of law, democracy and human rights” and “urges the EU to monitor the situation and, if necessary, to assess the potential measures to be taken.”

Those measures would most likely be economic, as the European Parliament approves the EU’s international cooperation budget for the countries with which it has relations. In 2008, after the first major fraud perpetrated in that year’s municipal elections by the Supreme Electoral Council, by then already fully controlled by Ortega, the EU cancelled the aid it had agreed to provide the Nicaraguan government as budgetary support to guarantee different programs. It was a relatively new support modality, trusting the government to use the money well rather than tying it to specific donor country projects, but the aid was cancelled due to growing concern about the country’s political evolution, specifying that it did not refer only to the electoral issue.

The gap the EU’s decision left in the 2009 budget was equivalent to US$109 million ($40 million in loans and $69 million in donations), but the EU and individual European countries continued cooperating with Nicaragua outside of that budget support. With international cooperation with Latin America dropping over the years, it is calculated that the EU will only provide some 200 million euros (just under US$214 million) in already programmed cooperation over the next three years.

So while the effect of any punitive economic reduction measures wouldn’t be all that drastic, the political effect of any declaration to this effect is undeniable. Such a critical position by the European Parliament could bolster those in the US Congress who share its analysis of Nicaragua’s political deterioration.

We’re all “Mexicans” to Trump


The first signs of the Trump government’s policy toward Latin America have so far only targeted Mexico and Venezuela. But while Nicaragua hasn’t been named, it’s present in both cases.

When Trump lashes out against Mexican immigrants, threatening to tax their remittances and deport them, demeaning them as delinquents, he’s also talking about Central Americans. Nicaraguans are just Mexicans by another name for Trump, those who voted for him, those who support him and those who execute his orders.

By the same token, Ortega’s Nicaragua is effectively alluded to in Trump’s declarations about Maduro’s Venezuela, because the same US congress people who are speaking out increasingly strongly against Maduro and the Venezuelan crisis and demanding that President Trump be firmer with the Caracas government also see Nicaragua in the same looking glass.

A clear political message or just a drug bust?


All this makes what happened on February 13 very significant: the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) accused Venezuelan politician Tareck El Aissami, appointed in January as Vene¬zuela’s Vice President after having served as minister of justice and the interior, of playing a “significant role in international narcotics trafficking.” The fingering of El Aissami came after what it defined as “a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela.” El Aissami’s associate, Venezuelan businessman Samark Lopez Bello, was named as his “key frontman” for laundering drug proceeds and purchasing assets. OFAC’s sanctions under this act include prohibiting anyone in the United States from doing business with them, revoking their US entry visas, freezing their assets in the US and blocking all their US-based companies and properties, which in this case includes property in Miami that one US administration official estimated as worth “tens of millions of dollars.”

Less than a week earlier, 34 Congress members, both Republicans and Democrats, sent Trump a letter asking his administration to sanction Venezuelan officials. They referred specifically to El Aissami, whose alleged ties to drug trafficking and terrorist organizations were by then public knowledge. They noted that his recent appointment as executive vice president put him in line to become Venezuela’s next leader. Some US officials denied that the OFAC accusations—the most serious to date against anyone in Nicolás Maduro’s close circle and extremely rare for such a high-ranking official of any country—had anything to do with El Aissami’s prominent political role, but Trump responded that he wants to send “a clear message to the people of Venezuela that America stands with them.”

Is there also some message for Nicaragua’s government? Former Liberal foreign minister and Nicaraguan ambassador to the US Francisco Aguirre Sacasa had this reading: “This sanction is a scaling-up against the Maduro government. While the Trump government has demonstrated confusion in its first weeks, the group of Cuban-American senators and representatives is organized and belligerent. The same legislators who pushed the Nica Act through the House, among them Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bob Menéndez, joined forces to promote this action against Maduro, which shows their influence in the Trump govern-ment’s future policy toward Latin America. Those governing Nicaragua are in the sights of all those legislators.”

Venezuela through the looking glass


Will those same legislators decide to promote something similar against those close to Daniel Ortega? It shouldn’t be forgotten that the text of the Nica Act, approved by the US House of Representatives in September 2016, not only addresses the issue of electoral democracy, but also calls for investigations into the possible corruption of top officials of the different branches of the Ortega government. Moreover, in the September 15, 2016, hearing in the House a week before the vote on that legislation, the attending congresspeople showed particular attention to corruption, transparency, money laundering, links with drug trafficking and the like.

Days later, the US Senate unanimously approved an extremely firm resolution expressing “profound concern” regarding Venezuela’s political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis. Among its sponsors were Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menéndez, both of whom are in that organized and belligerent group of Cuban-American congresspeople Aguirre Sacasa referred to.

“Up to then...”


Even though US ambassador Laura Dogo acknowledged in late February that “up to now President Trump and his team have not mentioned Nicaragua,” Washington is nonetheless putting pressure on its government. In early March the US State Department released two of its customary annual reports within 24 hours of each other, one on human rights and the other on money laundering. They don’t focus exclusively on Nicaragua, but it is mentioned in both of them. While they were surely researched and prepared by Obama’s team, they carry the signature of Rex Tillersen, Trump’s secretary of state.

Report on money laundering: On March 2 the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs released Volume II of its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, titled “Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.” Nicaragua is one of 89 countries Washington believes to be laundering illicit money. While recognizing progress due to new regulations introduced by Nicaragua’s Financial Analysis Unit, , the report notes institutional weakness, failure to comply with the laws and corruption “at all levels” as elements that make Nicaragua vulnerable to the laundering of money from the sale of illegal narcotics, mainly cocaine, controlled mostly by the international organized crime groups active in Central America’s three Northern Triangle countries.

Acknowledging that Nicaragua isn’t a regional financial center, it mentions the country’s courts as particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation and other forms of corruption. It also notes that the National Assembly’s April 2016 reform of Law 735 on prevention and prosecution of organized crime and administration of the resulting confiscated and abandoned goods, could end up reducing transparency, especially regarding the administration of seized assets, as it gives the President direct control over the National Council against Organized Crime.

The report notes that the ability of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans to cross their respective borders without a visa following the signing of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement makes it easier to move contraband and criminal proceeds, which in Nicaragua’s case is further facilitated by its geography and limited border control in remote regions. In addition to traditional money laundering activities such as land purchases, cattle trafficking, vehicle trafficking in used car lots and shell companies, the report adds that “the existence of multiple, nontransparent quasi-public businesses with ties to the ruling party that manage large cash transactions as well as the proliferation of subsidiary companies with unclear ownership increases the country’s vulnerability to money laundering.”

While the report on Nicaragua is relatively bland compared to some other countries, it could be used as raw material by the groups in the US Congress that have Nicaragua on their radar.

Report on human rights: On March 3, the very next day, the State Department released its annual appraisal of the human rights situation around the world.

The executive summary of the section on Nicaragua gets straight to the beef. This is its first sentence: “Nicaragua is a multiparty constitutional republic, but actions by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party resulted in de facto concentration of power in a single party, with an authoritarian executive branch exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial and electoral functions.” Because Ortega’s reelection last November 6 did not permit independent observers, the report relied on unnamed “domestic organizations and the international community” to characterize that election process as “deeply flawed.”

The report’s executive summary defined Nicaragua’s principal human rights abuses as “restrictions on citizens’ right to vote, biased policies to realize single-party dominance, and increased government harassment and intimidation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations,” but capsuled additional abuses as “arbitrary police arrest and detention of suspects, including abuse during detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions with arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention; obstacles to freedom of speech and press, including government intimidation and harassment of journalists and independent media, as well as increased restriction of access to public information, including national statistics from public offices. There was also widespread corruption, including in the police, CSE, Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and other government organs; societal violence, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous persons and communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and violations of trade union rights.”

Vilma Núñez Escorcia, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) told envío that “regrettably, everything the report includes—and it must be said that it didn’t include everything—faithfully reflects the reality. It is neither subjective nor tendentious. It is persuasive, and visibly the product of an investigation directly conducted by the Embassy team.”

It must be borne in mind that among the most significant contents of the Nica Act is the following order by the representatives who approved it: “Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the intelligence community… shall submit to Congress a report on the involvement of senior Nicaraguan government officials, including members of the Supreme Electoral Council, the National Assembly, and the judicial system, in acts of public corruption or human rights violations in Nicaragua.”

Will this annual human rights report also encourage resurgence of the Nica Act and will the order to prepare the report “on the involvement of senior Nicaraguan government officials” remain in the final version?

“I speak for historical Sandinismo”


The internal disputes within what remains of the FSLN are also keeping the Ortega-Murillo government under pressure. They are undeniable, date back some years, were expressed in the massive abstention of voters from last year’s elections and will surely be further aggravated in November’s municipal elections.

That’s why President Ortega’s brother, General Humberto Ortega, who headed the Sandinista Popular Army throughout the eighties and until his retirement in 1995, appeared on Channel 15 on February 27 in a second television interview with Jaime Arellano in three months. He did so, he explained, because “I feel I have the moral authority and an ethical obligation to appeal on behalf of the historical Sandinismo for which Carlos Fonseca, Daniel Ortega, Lenín Cerna, Edén Pastora, Sergio Ramírez, Dora María Téllez and Ernesto Cardenal fought…. We all struggled to bring about the 1979 triumph and then to deal with the critical situation of 1990, when we entered into profound contradictions as a consequence of the war.” In referring to historical Sandinismo, he is speaking precisely of the FSLN’s “historical” militants, a good number of whom have either left the party or have been relegated and humiliated by the Ortega-Murillo circle in recent years.

“Society is sick”


While denying that there are “splits” in the governing party, General Ortega acknowledged “contradictions.” Contrary to his brother’s derogatory attitude toward the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), which resulted from a significant split within the FSLN in 1995, he referred to its best-known figures as “outstanding.”

He admitted that he has privately “insisted” to his brother and other leaders that “they must structure the FSLN so it will depend less on the weight of one individual…. It is extremely important for Nicaragua that the FSLN continue developing itself as an increasingly coherent democratic party where collective debate and discussion weighs more than the individual, however brilliant that individual may be.”

Recognizing that Nicaraguan society is currently “sick,” that our most serious crisis is political-institutional” and that the Police “has a more serious problem than the Army,” the general put the greatest emphasis on what he knows best: the party-linked army he led throughout the eighties then succeeded in institutionalizing as a national army in the nineties, even resigning his long militancy in the FSLN to do so. With a concern he could not conceal, he warned that “if the Army falls into crisis during these changes and begins to accept the red and black flag in its barracks again, identifying with the party Daniel Ortega is heading now, we could put in grave danger what has been a historic conquest: an army of the nation.”

The OAS Memorandum: Ambiguous, fragile and abstract


That interview came only a day before the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the OAS to provide continuity to the first, exceedingly ambiguous report on January 20 after a series of negotiations between the two parties. General Ortega said he expected the memorandum to provide “a three-year roadmap with very clear steps,” something everyone else also expected, or at least hoped for. But ambiguity continues to reign.

The only thing that exceeded expectations was the number of documents: not one but three. The first, signed by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) President Roberto Rivas, was a commitment to “observe” the November 5, 2017, municipal elections before, during and after the voting. Two important details about that document were 1) that it used the word “observe” rather than the recent euphemism “accompany,” and 2) that having Rivas sign was a way of legitimizing him and letting everyone know he will remain in his post despite overwhelming demands that he be the first top CSE official to be replaced.

A second document contains an agreement on the “privileges and immunities” that OAS observation mission members will enjoy. And the third, which it was hoped would be the roadmap with dates and concrete tasks, was the most abstract. It refers to the setting up of a “cooperation mission” in our country that must offer a “project proposal” that will define its “objectives,” identify its “work areas” and describe its “activities.” It was clear evidence that there is as yet no consensus on the mission’s “content.”

José Pallais, the Liberal coordinating the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), gave the best description of the negotiation’s insipid results: “In December they told us we would have a document with the agreement in January. In January an agreement came out saying we would have a memorandum in February that would specify the agreement. And now the memorandum is telling us we will have a mission that will prepare another document who knows when that will specify who knows what agreements…”

Underscoring its insignificance, the memorandum specifies that either party may terminate the memorandum with 30 days advance notice.

So will there be observed municipal elections?


The most concrete point in the memorandum is the observation of the municipal elections that the OAS has pledged to conduct and the CSE to permit. Although the evolution of the political scenario remains to be seen, this announcement immediately marked a dividing line between Citizens for Liberty (CxL) and the FAD, the two groups that grew out of the National Coalition for Democracy. Ortega prevented that coalition from competing in last November’s elections by ordering that the legal status of the Independent Liberal Party, its one remaining political party that had not yet lost that status, be adjudicated to a fragment of the party headed by Pedro Reyes, known at the time to answer to Ortega.

The CxL declared that the OAS observation guaranteed in the memorandum is another “positive” step, and while it insists it is waiting to see the “conditions” before deciding whether or not to run candidates, it is evident it will participate. The FAD, in contrast, considers that the memorandum’s “technical solutions” are totally insufficient for Nicaragua’s “political problem,” leaving its strategy for the upcoming elections unclear.

By law, candidates must be registered six months before elections, which this time means May 5.

Is Almagro also buying time?


All analysts are in agreement that President Ortega is negotiating with the OAS secretary general only to save himself from the Nica Act, which if approved would affect one of the main pillars of his model: the alliance with the national business elite.

It is also widely believed that Ortega is using this negotiation and its minimum results to buy time, waiting to see how Trump will treat him and his government, and whether or not Congress will remove the Damocles sword of the Nica Act from over his head.

But might the amorphousness of the memorandum, its imprecisions and the fragility of an agreement that either signer could cancel at any time also express Almagro’s desire to get clearer signs of Washington’s plan for Ortega’s Nicaragua, like the ones it already has for Maduro’s Venezuela? The strategy in Venezuela’s case is a short-term one. Will it be a more medium-term one for Nicaragua?

“Criminal behavior”


Roberto Courtney, director of the 21-year-old Nicaraguan election observation organization Ethics & Transparency, spoke with envío in late November, weeks after the general elections that were flawed from start to finish. He sees the OAS’ appearance on our country’s political stage as positive given that “the criminal behavior of Nicaragua’s electoral apparatus has been making such an impression internationally that it is finally triggering responses.”

While he predicted what the OAS would offer and some of its limitations well before any information was available about the negotitions with the OAS, and before either the January 20 agreement or the February 28 memorandum, he hit the nail on the head.

One of the limitations he mentioned was that what’s acting here isn’t the OAS, which he defined as an “ineffective regime of foreign ministers,” or the OAS General Assembly. “Only the OAS General Secretariat is acting, in the person of its secretary general, Luis Almagro.” It must be remembered that the small Caribbean countries benefitting from Petrocaribe’s preferential financial agreements for Venezuelan oil are influencing the current correlation of forces in the OAS General Assembly enough to affect any resolution on both Venezuela and Nicaragua.

“Electoral observation financing is ever harder to come by”


Courtney also envisioned what the OAS might do given the complexity of the challenge it is up against in Nicaragua, and the “mission” the memorandum itself is now talking about: “The government will try to cede as little as possible. But for its own survival and its importance as an institution, the OAS will try to do something more. As in 1990—when it capitalized on ‘electoral observation’ of Nicaragua’s elections, whose only similar precedent at that stage had been in the 1950s with the division of the two Koreas—it will now invent a new model for countries like ours, in which the electoral apparatus is deficient, provides no guarantees and needs counterweights. What will that model be? It will no longer be just observation of the last stretch of the electoral process, but rather a more permanent accompaniment, with a fixed mission set up in the country. The problem is who will finance something that costly.”

Courtney, who knows whereof he speaks, warned that “financing for electoral observation is increasingly hard to come by in the world,” He predicted that it will be enormously difficult to get enough funding to make that “fixed mission” efficient.

Three years seems like a very, very long term


Given the complex international, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan contexts right now, it’s very hard to imagine what will unfold in Nicaragua in the next three years, the period during which the OAS mission would be here. The current horizons simply don’t offer enough clues to foresee what will happen in what now feels like such a very long time.

The only things that do seem probable, in fact even certain, are that the government will continue to feel pressure, and that the poorest segment of the population will pay the price of the government’s refusal to back down and agree to free, clean and transparent elections.


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