|Central American University - UCA
Number 433 | Agosto 2017
“The world has to learn what’s happening in Nicaragua”
Granera, the National Coalition for Democracy’s vice presidential candidate
for last year’s elections until Daniel Ortega annulled that option,
shares her reflections and experiences as an activist
of the recently-formed Broad Front for Democracy (FAD)
implementing the international strategy to democratize Nicaragua
and her perspective on the upcoming municipal elections.
In an interview in August 2015, Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal said something we’ve quoted repeatedly here at home and in our tours abroad: “The world has to learn what’s happening in Nicaragua.” That plea came from the bottom of his heart, and reflects not only the compelling need to inform the world about what has happened and is happening here but also our absolute right to do so.
“The end of this regime is inevitable”
Daniel Ortega’s regime has lost legitimacy despite its efforts to mask this with electoral frauds and polls no one believes any longer. It has lost the capacity to dupe us, not only because it violates our civil and political rights but also because we’ve come to the end of the abundant Venezuelan aid that allowed it to exercise power for a decade, showering a part of the population with perks and bonuses to buy their loyalty, generating clientelism and only temporarily ameliorating their poverty.
Convinced the Ortega regime is weak, we’re sure there’s now an opportunity to generate the change we want in Nicaragua, which we’ll try to make as untraumatic as possible. We’re already seeing signs of implosion, which is how all dictatorships begin and end. We have only to listen to Daniel’s brother, retired General Humberto Ortega, to understand that the internal conflict is now getting intense.
The end of this regime is inevitable; it’s just a matter of time, and they know it. We also all know that at the end we’ll need a negotiated solution that will lead to free and transparent elections.
Power blinds those who exercise it and absolute power makes it impossible for them to see reality. Moreover, if power is exercised as the governing couple is doing it I’m afraid it also desensitizes. I think they’ve deluded themselves. They seem to have swallowed the story cooked up in their own communication policy that constantly tells us we’re living a “nice” life, that the country is living “in faith, family and community,” in “Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”
We’re through playing by Ortega’s rules
We in the FAD have decided to stop playing by Ortega’s rules. We have no reason to believe that trying to fight him through elections that have been evidently fraudulent since 2008 will get us anywhere. That strategy has only contributed to the population’s frustration with, disinterest in and disparagement of electoral political activity.
Instead, we’re struggling to refound the democratic system. We’re going to force Ortega to play by democratic rules, defending our right to truly free and credible municipal and national elections. Since that’s our goal, our position regarding the upcoming elections is to say what we see and let the whole world know there are no conditions for these elections to reflect the people’s will. We’ll get back in contact with the local leaders who decided to participate once the time comes for the genuine struggle, because we’re convinced the regime will come out of these “nuisance” elections with even less legitimacy.
The universality of human rights
Those who defend Daniel Ortega’s regime call us “traitors” and “Nicaragua’s bad children” because we’ve combined our national organizing and mobilizing strategies to democratize Nicaragua with an international strategy that has the same objective. The hate campaigns against us have been threatening, slanderous and out of all proportion. It’s a pity the dictatorship uses youths for this type of aggression in the social networks, as it denigrates their own human dignity. They’re grossly manipulated, but they don’t intimidate us. Say what they will, we just ignore them because we know Nicaragua’s citizens have both the right and the duty to use international instruments and advocate with their signatories to defend the human rights being violated in our country.
As a matter of fact, the greatest human rights advance in the 20th century was the consolidation of human beings as subjects of international law, giving them the international juridical capacity to sue their own State. The objective of all modern human rights treaties is to protect people’s fundamental rights, independent of their nationality, with regard not only to their own State but any State that’s part of the international human rights system. The “universality” of human rights means they have no borders, giving me the right to sue the Honduran State if it violates my rights.
This concept of the universality of human rights and the centrality of the human person has been evolving and improving ever since the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. That international instrument has subjected States to a legal order in which they assume responsibility for the common good in relation not to other States but to the individuals under the jurisdiction of those States.
The concept of sovereignty
The concept of sovereignty has also been evolving. Given that all human beings are subjects of international law and can sue any State that violates their rights, no State can wield its sovereignty to oppress its own people, because it’s the people who are sovereign. We in the FAD have made ourselves heard by the international community not only because we’ve taken on that right, but also because the American Convention on Human Rights obliges the States of this continent to organize their entire governmental apparatus and all its institutional structures to assure people’s free and full exercise of their human rights, a condition the Nicaraguan State is violating.
To clearly explain these changes in the hackneyed and poorly used concept of sovereignty and self-determination of peoples, I want to mention that article 27 of the Vienna Convention establishes that a State “may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.” It’s also important to recall that all international human rights regulations are complementary to each State’s internal law because the assumption is that its internal law must guarantee the human rights of its own people. But since reality has shown that some States, particularly those governed by arbitrary power, don’t protect their population’s rights, it became necessary to establish international instruments and regulations that give individuals the opportunity to turn to international authorities to defend themselves
At the same time, however, international norms are also subsidiary to national law, meaning we can only turn to international authorities once the national ones have been exhausted without receiving a response.
We need to bear in mind that Nicaragua didn’t recognize a number of international treaties because of an attempt to impose them on us. Our support has expressed the evolution both in Nicaragua and in a large part of the world to assure human rights protection. Article 5 of our own Constitution thus adheres to the principles of “sovereignly ratified and recognized” American International Law, establishing that sovereignty resides in the people, empowering any Nicaraguan to turn to international authorities. That’s what we’ve done and will keep on doing.
It’s important to say at the outset, even if it’s a truism, that we in the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) are clear that our international strategy is both complementary and subsidiary to our national strategy, and that the latter is the most important. In any event, the two must be developed simultaneously.
What is our international strategy?
All national and international experiences indicate that the international community isn’t about saving a single country. The main effort has to be made inside each country, and that’s what we’re doing in Nicaragua. I believe there’s very little the international community and its authorities can do for us unless we can convince the Nicaraguan people to push past their mistrust and fear, and unless we’re all willing to fight to defend our rights with greater determination.
That said, our international strategy has two prongs: to get the international community’s support for the democratizing of Nicaragua; and to promote respect for our human rights, which, as we’ve seen, are universal and to which all countries are committed.
How are we doing that? First by denouncing the Ortega family dictatorship and its human rights violations to the world, transparently and systematically explaining everything that’s happening. Currently more than 500 organizations around the world receive ongoing information about what’s happening in Nicaragua, which has helped raise the international community’s awareness of the nature of the Ortega regime.
It needs to be pointed out that, particularly since mid-2016, Daniel Ortega himself has helped us greatly in this task. He has been a major contributor to the progress we’ve made due to his regime’s increasing toughness and the authoritarian radicalization of his exercise of power.
We’ve also been engaged in ongoing lobbying with the entities of the Inter-American Human Rights System and in the Organization of American States (OAS) itself. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, unanimously adopted by all countries of the continent in 2001, is one of the centerpieces of that system. We continuously appeal to its contents, which are explicit about the characteristics and processes of a democratic system and, by default, of the system we currently have in Nicaragua, which we catalog as a dictatorship. This international lobbying has also included various rounds with representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited in our country.
Our lobbying with the OAS?
To explain our lobbying better, we have to keep in mind the composition of the entities in the Inter-American Human Rights System. They start with the General Secretariat, which produces the initiatives and drafts reports. The final decisions, however, are made by the country members of the General Assembly, to which the Permanent Council answers as a consultant body.
The lobbying we’ve done with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has been strategic. In July of last year, shortly after he had been named, we went to see him at the OAS General Assembly, held that year in the Dominican Republic. It was a time of major tension in Nicaragua because only weeks earlier, in mid-June, Ortega had excluded the opposition and was setting up November’s electoral farce. We spoke in great detail with him on that occasion, which opened the doors for us.
I have a lot of appreciation for Mr. Almagro after meeting him because he gave the impression of being committed to his major responsibility and I have no reason to doubt that commitment. We’ve seen his positions regarding Maduro’s regime in Venezuela. Even though the OAS priority was Venezuela the first time we met him, he told us to wait for him in the hotel, and he received us at nearly midnight. From that moment he was very clear about how difficult his work in Nicaragua was going to be. I understand him to be clear that such regimes aren’t held together by ideologies, but by money, which they will defend by all means possible. Despite everything, he let us know we could count on the Secretariat. Since then, we’ve maintained fluid communication with him and his team, sometimes by email and at others in personal meetings.
We’ve also reached out to the other bodies in the OAS. It’s sometimes thought we only need to work with Mr. Almagro, so we erroneously focus on what he says or doesn’t say and what he does or doesn’t do. Without diminishing the importance of his office, as we value very highly the role he plays as secretary general, those who make the final decisions in the OAS are the member countries. We can see, for example, how difficult it has been for the secretary general to get the 23 General Assembly votes for a resolution on the Venezuelan crisis. So we’ve also been lobbying Permanent Council members and representatives of the General Assembly’s member countries in preparation for the moment Nicaragua’s case is presented, because we’re convinced that moment will come sooner or later. We have to be ready ahead of time with the broadest possible consensus about a way out of the crisis of legality and legitimacy affecting Nicaragua’s current governing authorities.
The Central American Integration System
We need to make a greater lobbying effort in the Central American Integration System and the Central American Parliament, which are important arenas because they are our most immediate regional system bodies with the obligation to respond for democracy in their member countries. Democracy is a fundamental aspect of regional integration, as stipulated in the Tegucigalpa protocol and the Framework Treaty for the Democratic Security of Central America. We mustn’t forget that the concept of “firm and lasting peace” in those texts was a response to the regional conflicts and presupposes countries with a rule of law and free elections.
There are two groups of different ideological tendencies in the Central American Parliament, both headed by Nicaraguans: the Parliamentary Group for Center Democratic Integration, coordinated by retired General Hugo Torres; and the Democratic Integration Group, which includes those in the original Independent Liberal Party (PLI) [deprived of its legal status in June last year after running second in the 2011 presidential elections]. In the wake of all the anti-democratic excesses committed by Daniel Ortega in the run-up to last year’s elections, both groups categorically demanded that Ortega restore Nicaragua’s democratic institutionality, a reaction we see as indicating that there are forces willing to participate in the international effort for democratization in Nicaragua, keeping in mind that the correlation of political forces has changed in Central America.
We’re not alone in this work
Although we’ve focused particularly on electoral issues in our recent international work, various Nicaraguan civil society organizations have been engaged in ongoing efforts with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), presenting reports, filing suits and denouncing the human rights violations in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, the Permanent Human Rights Commission, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Association, the Autonomous Women’s Movement and other national organizations have been making their voices heard with the regional system’s protection authorities for decades.
An important case related to the defense of political rights that the IACHR submitted to the Inter-American Court on Human rights, another OAS authority, was that of the regional Miskitu party Yatama, which was excluded from participating in the 2000 elections. The Court finally ruled five years later that the Nicaraguan State had violated the Yatama candidates’ political rights by imposing a form of political organization alien to their customs. The Nicaraguan State, however, has refused to comply with that sentence and has boycotted the Court’s hearings on the case. It is now in full rebellion against the Inter-American Human Rights System in general, refusing even to send representatives to IACHR hearings on any human rights-related topic. If my memory serves, the last time we saw a Nicaraguan government delegation at any IACHR hearing was during the first one on Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal law. The civil society organizations arrived well prepared and the government played a pathetic role, which was perhaps inevitable as it had no arguments to defend either the approval or the obscenity of that unconsulted law.
Years of international resistance
We’ve made advances thanks to the cumulative work of many people dedicating a lot of time to sending information and lobbying. The most important one is having put Nicaragua’s crisis on the international agenda. There’s now greater international clarity and consensus about the Ortega regime’s authoritarian nature. There’s also more awareness of its high levels of corruption and flagrant human rights violations.
This progress has taken a great deal of effort, and I say this as someone who has participated for years with other civil society organizations in exposing what’s happening in Nicaragua. Until recently it was very difficult because we encountered a lot of international reticence to admitting that Daniel Ortega was exercising power dictatorially. One reason for that was the tendency of countries to try to sidestep the problems of small countries like Nicaragua. Another was the supposed economic growth in Nicaragua compared with the rest of the region, combined with the concerted propaganda by both the government and big business to show that this growth was also development and that it was benefiting the entire population. Still another was the absence of massive expressions of rebellion or deaths in city streets, and I specify cities because the repression of peasants in rural zones, although known, wasn’t making anyone uncomfortable enough. And of course, there are also the polls that reflect positive results for the government, even though they’re manipulated by the regime.
For all these reasons the international community settled into a certain acceptance of what was going on here. For years almost all countries reasoned that while the Nicaraguan government may not be fully respecting human rights, the country’s on the move. It was really hard to open the international community’s eyes to a different way of seeing what we’ve been living through. And that has been regrettable, because the combined indifference of the international sphere and some sectors inside the country gave the dictatorial regime time to consolidate, although it’s now falling into its own traps.
We also need to recall another reason for the international indifference, or disinterest. As soon as Ortega returned to government in 2007 he began isolating himself, rudely cutting himself off from European cooperation in what has seemed to us consummate political insanity. Even though the European international community continued to cooperate with his revolutionary government throughout the 1980s, refusing to join the US economic blockade, he now expresses significant disdain for it. The latest example of this crudeness was when he insulted the United Nations Development Programme in Nicaragua, leading Silvia Rucks, the UNDP’s resident representative at the time, to leave the country in October 2015. The resulting request of donor countries to immediately close 13 development projects being run by UNDP reduced its US$22 million project budget by 76% and left a skeleton staff in its offices. This scorn for the international community has surely been a result of the excess power Ortega has accumulated.
The strongest statement so far this year
But that reticence or indifference has changed. I think the most forceful statement we’ve seen so far this year is the European Parliament’s February 16 resolution, drafted as a policy guide for the 28 countries in the European Parliament that represent some 500 million European citizens. It’s particularly important because that body has authority over the European Commission, determining not only policies but also the distribution of European funds, in our case through the Association Agreement between the European Union and the Central American countries.
The resolution is worth reviewing, as it summarized some of the Ortega government’s main actions to keep itself illegally in power. It listed 13 worrying situations, following them up with 11 recommendations to the Nicaraguan government. Referring to the politicizing of justice, it stated that “…President Daniel Ortega has politicized the Nicaraguan Supreme Court in order to maximize his power, which seriously endangered the separation of powers and the pluralistic character of the Nicaraguan democracy.” It specifically referred to “the illegal steps taken in violation of the judicial system that resulted in constitutional changes to remove presidential term limits,” describing those steps as “bypassing the law in a non-transparent manner.” In other words, Europe judges what we’ve now come to accept as normal to be against the law, making this government not only illegitimate but also illegal, as we in the FAD argue. In a further suggestion of illegality, it mentioned that “Article 147 of the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits those related to the President either by blood or affinity from being presidential or vice-presidential candidates.” It also stated that one of the biggest challenges is still public sector corruption, which it describes as “very common” and including “family members of the President.”
The resolution said “the severe exclusion of opposition candidates [in last year’s general elections] demonstrates that conditions for free and fair elections were clearly lacking and that freedom of association, political competition and pluralism are being seriously undermined.” It expressed “extreme concern” about the ruling that changed the PLI’s leadership structure and about the dismissal of opposition parliamentarians elected in 2011 from the National Assembly months before the coming elections.
EU defended the rights of anti-canal movement leader Francisca Ramírez
The European Parliament also expressed concern at Nicaragua’s steadily deteriorating human rights situation in general and more specifically the attacks and acts of harassment to which human rights organizations, their members and independent journalists have been subjected by “individuals, political forces and bodies linked to the State.” The space it gave to the canal issue was second only to that referring to the electoral deterioration, especially referring to the government’s repressive response to the peasant movement opposing the canal’s construction and the canal law itself. It specifically urged the government “to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez and other human rights defenders for carrying out their legitimate work.”
I want to throw in a parenthesis here about the difference between the EU resolution and Luis Almagro’s response to the charges Francisca personally presented to him last December 1 in Managua, which left her quite resentful. That day she had been forced to take hidden paths and even swim a river to avoid being detected by the Army on her journey from Nueva Guinea to Managua to personally talk to Almagro in a meeting with civil society organizations. I recall that they bought her clothes because she arrived covered in mud. Every time I think about that it brings tears to my eyes. When she told Almagro and his team what the peasants living along the canal route were suffering, the emotion and crying in the room drowned her out. What became of her testimony? Nothing. He didn’t say a single word about the canal issue or about those peasants during his visit to Nicaragua. We were all expecting at least a report to related to that visit, but there has been no mention of any of the human rights violations committed that year and that continue to be committed.
The only other individual specifically named in the European Parliament resolution was Michael Forst, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. We had to drive to Tegucigalpa with Edipcia Dubón and Carlos Langrand, two of the Nicaraguan legislators who had just been expelled, to meet with Forst in August 2016 because his visit to Nicaragua was cancelled. At the time he didn’t want to state publicly why he hadn’t come to Nicaragua after all, but the resolution says it for him: the Ortega government prevented it.
While the document had nothing good to say about Nicaragua’s government, all these and still other “concerns” were couched in typically diplomatic language, as was the document’s concluding point, but it was no less a warning for its subtlety: “In the light of the Association Agreement between the European Union and the countries of Central America, Nicaragua must be reminded of the need to respect the principles of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, as upheld and promoted by the EU; [the European Parliament] urges the EU to monitor the situation and, if necessary, to assess the potential measures to be taken.”
Not surprisingly, the Ortega government did not react publicly to the document. Acknowledging none of the criticisms of it is precisely one of this regime’s strategies. It hears nothing, sees nothing and says nothing. Ortega and his team just keep plodding forward like blindered coach horses with their objective of staying in power, letting nothing stand in their way.
At the OAS General Assembly in Cancun, Amnesty International released a letter describing Nicaragua as a State that ignores charges of human rights violations and persecutes activists who defend those rights. It stresses the violation of the rights of both women and indigenous peoples.
Such behavior by the government is extremely irresponsible toward the Nicaraguan people. We don’t think the resolution has been given the importance it merits as it opens the door for the governments of EU countries to make their own decisions in their bilateral relations with Nicaragua and could thus have economic repercussions for our country at some point. The resolution will unquestionably influence the perception of the regime, not only among European countries, but in the entire international community.
Other international criticisms
Political parties around the world that support the objective of democratizing Nicaragua have also made critical statements about its situation. We’ve received them from the Progressive Alliance, the Liberal International, the Democratic Center International, the French Socialist Party and the Organization of Former Presidents of Ibero-America, among others.
Similar criticisms to those of AI have also been made by other international human rights organizations. For example, a recent report by the Washington DC-based Freedom House defined Nicaragua as one of the countries in which “modern authori¬tarianism” has been installed, noting as one of its characteristics ensuring success at the polls through methods that include intimidation, marginalization of the opposition, tolerance of a pseudo-opposition and criminali¬zation of the right to protest. Like Michael Forst, Freedom House director Carlos Ponce was also prevented from coming into Nicaragua.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has also expressed concern about the institutional and electoral dismantling since the 2008 municipal elections, while the Carter Center published a critical report on the 2011 elections and has since been very clear about this regime’s trajectory, as has the Inter-American Dialogue and other US think tanks. And no international news medium has failed to mention the institutional dismantling the Ortega regime has engaged in.
We’ve met with representatives of all these organizations, and with others that are investigating organized crime rings. The latter have confirmed to us that in addition to talking about corruption in Nicaragua, organized crime also needs to be mentioned now, which came as no surprise to us.
Then there’s the US government…
Although the Trump administration hasn’t yet defined a clear policy with respect to the Ortega government, the latest State Department global reports on human rights, drug trafficking, financial crimes, human trafficking and even the business climate, all presumably drafted by the previous administration, mention Ortega’s authoritarianism, the corruption in the state institutions, the absence of a rule of law and Nicaragua’s vulnerability to money laundering.
We understand Ortega has been buoyed by the fact that for the moment Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left Latin American relations in the hands of Thomas Shannon, who has been in the State Department for many years and has argued that the Ortega regime needed to be worked with despite its authoritarianism as long as it maintains stability in Nicaragua. Shannon seems to be forgetting that the two houses of Congress are defining policy toward Nicaragua right now. It may be that he’s waiting to see what happens in November’s elections before making any new recommendations, but we already know what’s going to happen: 153 electoral farces, one for each of the country’s municipalities, which won’t deceive either the Nicaraguan people or the international community.
“The Nica Act is a reaction to Ortega’s excesses”
It’s absurd to think that the US congressional bill known as the Nica Act is a result of our lobbying, as Ortega and his followers charge. It’s illogical to believe that a group of Nicaraguans has the capacity to determine US laws, either by promoting them or trying to stop them. The United States is guided by its own interests and the congresspeople pushing the Nica Act clearly laid out the concerns that led them to formulate it. As we can see, it transcends the electoral issue, concerning itself also with risks to the stability of the entire continent represented by both organized crime and a government that neither represents democratic institutionality nor promotes its population’s development.
Although not mentioned in the bill, Ortega’s relations with Russia and Iran and his efforts to defend Venezuela’s current regime against the international community’s increasing repudiation are surely elements of concern to the Nica Act’s sponsors. It’s incredible that in the recent OAS General Assembly session in Cancun, when Ortega was already “dialoguing” with Almagro, Nicaragua was one of only two countries on the continent, together with Bolivia, to vehemently defend such an inefficient and repressive regime as Venezuela’s. That’s why we emphatically stress that the only person responsible if the Nica Act passes is Daniel Ortega. It seems he hasn’t learned the lessons of a history he himself was a protagonist in.
In point of fact, Ortega’s excesses have been a big help to us in convincing the world about what’s happening in Nicaragua and encouraging the international community to respond critically to it. What’s happening here isn’t a matter of “Yankee imperialism” as the Ortega government would have us believe.
The OAS agreement with Nicaragua
It goes without saying that one of the objectives we’ve achieved with our lobbying is to interest the OAS in the Nicaraguan crisis. We believe Almagro’s strategy was simply to get a foot in the door in Nicaragua, to sit down with Daniel Ortega in the hope of promoting changes over the next three years. He knows perfectly well Ortega was only enticed to dialogue with him by the threat of approval of the Nica Act. Ortega thought that talking to the OAS could halt that threat or at the very least buy some time.
Seen from that perspective, one indicator that the Nica Act will be approved sooner rather than later is that Ortega quickly began to backpedal from his agreements with the OAS. The scope has been shrinking between the first one they reached in January to the memorandum of understanding they signed in late February, a project for which the OAS is currently seeking funding.
We in the FAD have made a matrix we titled “The OAS, from more to less,” which clearly shows that involution ever since the report the OAS electoral observation mission sent to Nicaragua in 2011. Ortega has increasingly backed off, leaving less and less important commitments at each level.
The terms of the latest agreement lead us to believe the OAS observation of the November 5 municipal elections won’t achieve much of anything, and we further think the OAS doesn’t particularly care. Let’s remember that the OAS generally doesn’t observe municipal elections. Now that the OAS actually has its foot in the door with an agreement involving a three-year deadline to make institutional, particularly electoral, reforms, we’re pretty sure it will focus its efforts on trying to push through those reforms starting early next year.
What will the OAS accomplish?
It did get permission to observe November’s municipal elections, but without being able to review the electoral rolls or the ID-voter card process, much less have any control over the well-oiled system of frauds. It has no time to adequately observe the elections. Just to give an idea, no days are designated on this year’s electoral calendar for voters to check if their name is on the voter roll and where they’re supposed to go to vote, as has previously been the practice. Now the Supreme Electoral Council is talking about “ongoing verification,” which obliges the citizenry to travel to the departmental capitals, thus shifting the State’s obligation to its citizens. We’re quite clear that if anything has changed with respect to last year’s farce, it’s only for the worst.
If we’re right that nothing has changed and Ortega still has total control to alter the vote to suit himself, the OAS will have very little margin of action. It will also have very little “radar” with only 120 observers—40 each in Managua, León and Matagalpa and only for a few days ahead of voting day. We don’t believe they’ll have any chance of detecting anomalies because the path of the fraud has already been paved and traveled on five previous occasions. What’s more, the government has a virtual army of guides and accom¬paniers who will be “observing the observers” and controlling their movements, which should come as no surprise to the OAS as the same thing happened with the observers who came for the 2011 presidential elections. Let’s also remember that Ortega was perfectly capable of stopping the OAS technicians who came to Managua in May from meeting with different national opposition sectors, albeit not without angering their organization.
Two possible scenarios…
If the OAS actually comes to observe the municipal elections, we see two possible scenarios. One is that it will produce a correct report, which would be very close to the one it issued in 2011, since none of the conditions have changed for the better. That scenario is the commitment the OAS has been promising us.
The other possibility is that it will write up a superficial and limited report to keep its foot in the door and continue working on its longer-term project in 2018. But if it does that, we’ll have to refute it. We may understand its strategy in that case, but we’re not going to abet it because our commitment is to the Nicaraguan people not the OAS, and we’re not going to back off from that commitment at all.
These elections could actually put the OAS credibility at risk because it’s questionable that the observer mission will be able to come away with a clear position on the key issues of the electoral process in such a short time here. Moreover, its presence could make Ortega believe he won a victory, albeit a pyrrhic one, which would only increase his authoritarianism. And afterward? A three-year period to see more concrete results will be a huge temptation for Ortega to act yet again on one of the slogans of all dictatorships: “You can make me sign, but never comply.”
…and a third less probable one
There’s actually a third scenario, although a somewhat less probable one: that the OAS will decide not to observe the municipal elections after all. There are three reasons why this might happen. The first is a lack of resources, which so far it’s in fact having a lot of trouble raising. As of July 22 it had only US$150,000: $100,000 from Luxembourg and $50,000 from Swiss Development Cooperation. We were then told it had managed to up that to $600,000, but it needs $1.5 million. It has been so hard to get the funding because the international community isn’t interested in financing a process it sees much the way we see it here.
A second reason is that the OAS exploratory technical mission that came in May was prevented from meeting with organizations that oppose the government, with Ortega stopping just short of throwing them out of the country. They had already scheduled the meetings with social and political organizations, yet at the last minute they were obliged to send us a very cryptic message suspending them with no explanation. It appears that Daniel Ortega wants a bilateral, quasi-secret relationship with the OAS. It seems to us, and we’ve let the OAS know this in the framework of our frank and respectful relationship, that the secrecy since the first report in January is an excessive condescension to Daniel Ortega.
The third reason to decline is that Almagro is rumored to have assumed a more relevant role in the Venezuelan crisis and coming to observe such flawed elections could affect the credibility both he and his institution need to succeed in that effort. That seems to me a very powerful reason, so we’ve made it clear that we would be very worried if the OAS secretary general were to risk his well-earned credibility, because we need the OAS.
Although it’s still only a rumor that the observer mission might not come, we do have reliable information that there are still obstacles between the OAS and the Ortega government, and they don’t depend on whether or not the Nica Act is approved. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
We’re already starting to monitor the elections
Although the FAD isn’t participating in this farce, we’re exercising our right to monitor it. We’ve prepared a table of indicators that we’re filling in with contributions from the rest of the country. We’ve already done a first evaluation and will update it at the beginning of next month.
We think we’re going to see another election with major abstention. The pulse-taking by the Panorama Electoral consortium indicates that, as do our own soundings on visits to the departments. But we’re also sure the regime is doing everything in its power to camouflage that abstention. We’ve explained to our people out in the country that they really need to focus on documenting the irregularities and above all the rejection such abstention will reveal. We’re also going to be establishing alliances with national and local civil society organizations.
Taking into account the correlation of internal political forces, we’re quite sure Ortega never thought about providing any opening in these municipal elections. Given the changes taking place internationally as well, particularly the collapse of the Venezuelan regime, we consider it sheer self-deception to think Ortega would give up any control of the municipalities and their resources. He might divvy up a couple of mayoral seats among the tiny parties he’s willing to let run in the elections in an attempt to legitimate them, as he has done in past municipal elections, but we all know the municipalities only exist as geographic entities now, with no political or financial autonomy. It’s well known that this government is limiting the budget transfers to municipal governments whose mayor’s aren’t loyal to Ortega, and he has also given himself the faculty to fire mayors left and right, even though their posts are supposedly directly elected by the people.
Refounding democracy is a huge challenge…
Advocacy work needs to be done with the OAS in the medium term to reinforce its vision of “institutional strengthening,” which is addressed too imprecisely in the agreement. It needs to expand its work beyond the electoral realm to address the dictatorship’s overall institutional dismantling. The success of this work will depend on enhancing the strategy being pursued inside the country by all of us who want to see the democratization of Nicaragua.
Our international lobbying to isolate Ortega more faces enormous challenges. The main one is to get all the social and political forces committed to this struggle, both nationally and internationally, to hammer out a common framework of actions to deal with the dictatorship. Making alliances around common strategies is very hard.
…with many limitations to surmount
We also have to move from just oppositing to being an alternative. And that’s a tough task because Nicaragua has a very slim democratic tradition.
Venezuela had a political party system within an acceptable democratic system for 40 years prior to the Chávez era, which made Venezuelans more able to struggle against the dictatorship of 21st-century socialism. In Nicaragua, the pact between Ortega and Alemán and now the Ortega dictatorship have dismantled both the electoral system and the political party system. In addition to the scant democratic culture here, most parties are fragile, incoherent and inconsistent in maintaining objectives and following through with them. They’re too vulnerable to deal well with the dictatorship. It’s a major limitation, which is why the political and social movements that formed the FAD are committed to recovering people’s confidence in political action, convincing them that it’s an indispensable condition for success. Doing so presupposes great coherence, transparency and frank dialogue with the population.
Another obvious limitation is the Ortega government’s lack of political willingness to dialogue, reach agreements or fulfill commitments. The only way to deal with this is by getting the diverse sectors in the country to tightly agree on positions. We believe it’s possible and that consensus about the challenge ahead is slowly being achieved. Voices of concern about the risks this regime is creating for us are more frequently being heard. It also seems increasingly clear that solutions need to be found that don’t destroy everything achieved through great sacrifice since we obtained peace in the 1990s.
The international context today is also a limitation. It is extremely complex all around the world, even in our own region given the priority represented by Venezuela’s crisis, which we share. Another factor here is the transition the US government is going through with the arrival of President Trump. Nicaragua is trying to stay afloat with its problems in this sea of world problems that could negatively influence the known slowness of the international human rights bodies.
Meanwhile, international lobbying requires resources that aren’t always available. I recall a staffer of one US senator saying to me, “Violeta, why don’t you all come more often? We need to hear your points of view. Others come here frequently.” My response was simple: lack of resources. But we’ve learned to be very creative despite our austerity.
What does our strategy look like?
I have to insist yet again that we’re dealing with a dictatorial regime controlled by the Ortega-Murillo family. I don’t see any indicator that says otherwise. So the strategy for change has to adjust to that reality. It has to involve everyone who wants to struggle for Nicaragua, with no exclusions. It has to be multidimensional, with lines of work at various levels and with defined timelines. It has to be comprehensive, connected to people’s concerns, assuming that human rights are interdependent and that the violation of our political rights also affects our social and economic rights. We need to be clear that we’re seeing the consequences of a model that is both politically and economically exclusive.
The strategy of change has to be realistic and civic, without falling into the temptation of using violence to respond to the violence of power. It’s a difficult road, but the only one that can change things and achieve the most important long-term strategic objective, which in our judgment is none other than to change Nicaragua’s political culture.
We don’t see the enormous abstention in the 2016 general elections as an expression of indifference or even of following the encouragement of a specific group, but rather as a rejection of the entire corrupt and collapsed political and electoral system. We have no doubt that it was a step forward in Nicaragua’s political culture. It meant that people refused to let themselves be duped and have no use for those who try to dupe them. It was a powerful act of rebellion. We can’t turn our back on that 70% or more of the people who, independent of ideological differences, showed that they value their vote. We have to struggle to recover elections in which people’s votes truly elect. Returning dignity to the act of voting is of the greatest importance for our future. In other words, our position is both political and ethical.
To work in that direction, the Broad Front for Democracy—an alliance as diverse as Nicaraguan society itself—derives strength from the philosophy of the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all.” The strength acquired by each of the groups that make up the FAD strengthens us all.
To finish this delineation of the international strategy we’ve followed, I want to make clear yet again that the national strategy is the most important. Nobody’s going to come in force to save us. The success of our international strategy depends on what we do here with ever more concerted actions. The main effort is the one we make here. And that requires organization, action and also a lot of reflection and dialogue. I’m convinced we’re going to succeed with what I call active PPC: patience, persistence and coherence.
Violeta Granera, a sociologist, is currently the coordinator of the Broad Front for Democracy.