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  Number 454 | Mayo 2019
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Nicaragua

Where’s the way out…?

justice, democracy and liberty for all? How will we shake off the economic stagnation? Is Nicaraguan society yet able to visualize new horizon, a future with room for us all? Most people have discarded a violent approach, opting instead for civic struggle and resistance. Two and a half months of “negotiations” have shown that Ortega brought neither good will nor good faith to the table. Even an electoral solution, also necessarily negotiated with him, still appears to be enveloped in murky uncertainty.

Envío team

Nicaragua has not had a single day of “normality” since April 2018. The economy is paralyzed, and with no hint of recovery it looks worse every day: more people jobless, more borrowers in arrears, more businesses closed and the price of basic products constantly increasing… With the rainy season imminent, the agricultural cycle is already affected by the lack of available credit. And in the coffee zones the crisis is dramatic due to lower international prices and the rise in national taxes for growers. The economic recession comes on top of unceasing police repression, with the number captured rising by the day…

“What’s the solution?!” was one of the slogans chanted most determinedly in the huge marches of 2018. The forceful response was “They have to go…!” A year on, with the prisons still full and the streets empty, we continue asking how Nicaragua can find a way out that assures it a future. The question resounds in the blind alleys of the institutions Ortega has in a stranglehold, which sustain him and his Vice President, allowing them to perpetuate themselves in power.

Despite the evidence…


Ortega agreed to the negotiation roadmap with the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy on February 21. He wanted to shield himself from Maduro’s imminent fall, for which some even set a date: February 23. But seeing Maduro resist so much pressure without falling, Ortega decided to remain at the negotiating table without ceding anything substantive, only signing agreements he had no intention of honoring. The table began to teeter from the very first days, the talks bogged down seriously as of April 3, and by the time the Spanish edition of this issue went to press (May 8), it was apparently in its death throes with little expectation of resuscitation in this round.

Despite the evidence that Ortega had no interest in negotiating his way out, and was only maneuvering to improve his image and avoid more international sanctions, the negotiations were a relief for some national sectors. The country had gone 283 days without “anything happening.” Perhaps this negotiation would break the impasse… Those most nervous about the economic losses are predicting—with no small dose of wishful thinking—that the two sides would reach a final agreement in one month: between February 27, the date the negotiations reopened, and March 27.

Continuous forthing and backing


Although the negotiations did not wrap up on March 27, both sides did sign a first agreement on that day for the release of hundreds of political prisoners within 90 days. It was also agreed that any trials would be annulled and sentences rescinded. It was an encouraging sign.

To comply with this accord, both parties also agreed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would act as guarantor. Its first task, buttressing its presence in Nicaragua with more personnel, was to “reconcile” the government’s list of political prisoners with those of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Committee of Political Prisoners, which calculated a total of 777 people imprisoned for political reasons as of early March.

On April 4, the ICRC reached a first reconciled figure of only 232 people appearing on all the lists, triggering a continuous forthing and backing between the regime and the Alliance that still hasn’t ended. Months of massive and illegal captures augured that those imprisoned would be bargaining chips in any eventual negotiation, and time proved that to be true.

Out of prison but without rights


The regime has continued to act with its “hostages” at its mercy, utterly ignoring what was agreed to. First, in a “gesture of good will,” it “released” 236 people jailed for political reasons on two different dates (February 27, the first day of the negotiations, and March 15) before sealing its signature on the agreement. On April 15, with the agreement by then in effect, it released a smaller group, but without working with the CICR or informing the Alliance. Far worse, none of the political prisoners were actually released; they were delivered to their homes under house arrest, thus being denied their rights.

Then during Holy Week, when a significant release of ppolitical prisoners was expected to coincide with the religious activities, some 630 common prisoners were set free, including only a dozen political prisoners. It was a mean-spirited show of power and control, not of compliance with an agreement.

None of these moves, which the government presented as signs of “good will,” followed the agreed-to protocol or respected the ICRC’s international supervision. Confined in their homes, the prisoners and their families have been besieged by governing party fanatics, police or paramilitaries, while some have been sent back to prison, accused of common crimes.

Nor has the government complied with the commitment to cease the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as diverse forms of torture, to which those still in jail are being subjected. Among other practices, prisoners are being kept isolated in dungeons and denied fresh air and water or any possibility of walking around or being in the sun. The ICRC has been able to visit the country’s three central prisons and requested that the government improve the conditions, but this has not happened.

An agreement
violated every day


On March 29, the Civic Alliance announced the signing of another encouraging agreement. The regime pledged to fully and immediately establish more than a dozen citizen rights that it had been violating for months: the freedoms of mobilization, organization, meeting and expression… In itself, the agreement would be unheard-of in any democratic country, as these rights are constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens. Hear ye, hear ye, in 2019 Ortega pledged to respect the Nicaraguan Constitution!

But this agreement was broken in less than 24 hours when a group of anti-riot police attacked and dispersed roughly a hundred citizens protesting with national flags in a mall carpark. On April 17, the eve of the anniversary of last year’s civic rebellion, an even more disproportionate deployment of black-uniformed anti-riot police bearing assault weapons encircled potential protestors before they could begin a march, capturing 32 people. The police had already conducted the same action twice in the previous month, on one occasion booking and briefly holding nearly two hundred potential demonstrators. Between the agree¬ment’s signing on March 29 and the closing of this issue of envío on May 8, not one of the agreement’s points was respected; the agreement was broken again and again, day after day.

“Express arrests”
are the new MO


But things don’t seem to have gone well for Ortega. He has nothing new to offer; just more assertions that “it’s all over” and “I’m staying.” Back on May 30, 2018, just before snipers opened fire on the Mothers’ Day March, killing more than a dozen youths, he told his followers: “We’re all staying right here!” It was one of the first expressions of his single-minded strategy: come what may, he would not back down. He would impose his rule for as long as he chose to, whether by hook or by crook.

That was soon followed by a song and graffiti announcing that “The comandante is staying,” which was in turn followed by another, more concrete slogan when the negotiation table was set up: “Daniel 2021,” with baseball caps and posters of all sizes. That is the future he is offering: stay until the 2021 elections, run as a candidate yet again with a little cosmetic touchup to the destroyed electoral system, then five years more.

Devil take the hindmost…


Is such a thing possible? It’s certainly the sensation the regime is trying to peddle. “And he has achieved it,” say some. “What can we do?” say others. He’s banking on the ongoing fear, exhaustion, siege, threats and generalized helplessness grinding people down day after day until the once-unthinkable claim that he is staying will indeed feel normal, or at least believable.

He’s doing the same thing at the negotiation table, appealing to the exhausting tactic of “you can make me sign, but never comply,” having the Alliance fruitlessly draft clear compliance protocols that are never respected.

Away from the table, the omnipresent police are deployed all over the country, reinforced with new party-aligned agents and equipped with dozens of new patrol pick-ups. The repressive pattern inaugurated at the same time as the reopening of the negotiations is “express arrests.” During Holy Week, for example, the Blue and White Unity counted more than 162 people captured either at home or on the street and detained by the National Police for hours or sometimes days: they are caught, formally booked, insulted, intimidated, beaten, robbed of their belongings, interrogated and then released, psychologically marked by the experience to a greater or lesser degree and not all in the same way.

Some of those abused like that fear more reprisals and become quiet and withdrawn, while others get even more indignant and continue resisting in other ways. In both cases, the gamble is that this war of attrition will continue buying the “comandante” time, moving him closer to 2021, Nicaragua’s next regular election year. Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s Permanent Human Rights Commission reports receiving between 5 and 10 denunciations of this type of capture or other forms of police abuse per day.

As all this goes on, Ortega issues daily communiques that claim he is seeking an “understanding” at the negotiation table and complying with everything agreed to… His loyal and unquestioning supporters believe every word of it, his opponents and those caught in the web of repression know none of it is true, and the rest of the population is just trying to figure out on a daily basis how to keep its head above the inexorably rising waters of the economic crisis.

To an unaware visitor to Nicaragua, things could seem quite normal. But this wearing-down tactic is not generating anything remotely approximating normality. Behind closed doors, tens of thousands of families that have been touched one way or another by this unending oppression are inevitably experiencing some degree of post-traumatic stress. And there are opposing hypotheses about where that is taking the country. Estelí’s bishop, Abelardo Mata, captured the two extremes in this warning: “Certain gentlemen of the Police say they have now controlled 90% of the people who rose up. But throwing people in jail and the fact that some are cowering quietly in their homes doesn’t mean the issue has been extinguished. To the contrary, it is a pressure cooker that’s going to explode.”

The negotiation
revealed it


If the massive use of lethal force against the protestors in April to July of last year revealed the Ortega regime’s criminal face to both the Nicaraguan people and the international community, what has been happening at the negotiation table since February 27 has also revealed both inside and outside the country Ortega’s bad faith and his determination to accept no solution that does not fully serve his own interests. Or, as journalist Fabián Median so graphically put it, Ortega “is only offering two options: the peace of submission or ‘forcibly throw me out if you can.’”

The Organization of American States (OAS) noted that the negotiation table got wobbly when the Civic Alliance interrupted the negotiations on April 3 for lack of compliance. Ever since last December OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has been announcing that that his regional body was initiating the process of applying the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua. Should this come to term, it would mean our country’s suspension from the OAS, with both political and economic consequences.

The OAS and the international community have repeatedly advocated a negotiated solution, which would conclude with a transparent electoral process. They have also insisted that it be preceded by the release of all political prisoners and the return to the country of the international human rights organizations Ortega expelled in 2918: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Not as much as a millimeter”


There have been four main points to negotiate between the government and the Civic Alliance, all of which have been unanimously backed by the international community: the release of all political prisoners, freedom for the citizenry to exercise its constitutional rights, democracy (involving electoral reforms ensuring clean and transparent early elections), and justice (involving truth, reparation and non-repetition).

Given the regime’s incompliances, the OAS decided to move forward with the application of the Democratic Charter. On April 5, the OAS Permanent Council held an extraordinary meeting to evaluate what is being called the negotiating “roadmap” in Nicaragua. The most significant aspect of the meeting was the few words by Luis Ángel Rosadilla, Almagro’s special envoy sent to Nicaragua to be present at the negotiating table as a “witness and accompanier” alongside Vatican Nuncio Waldemar Sommertag, who has done nothing to counter the perception that his views are close to those of the government.

Rosadilla reported that, in relation to the first two points signed up to then, the agreements had either been totally unfulfilled (citizen’s liberties) or not fulfilled according to what had been agreed (release of political prisoners). He added that on the two other points—democracy and justice—it has not been possible to advance “as much as a millimeter.”

The Venezuelan mirror


Nor has any millimeter of progress been made since then, surely because the Venezuelan mirror, where Ortega looks at himself several times a day, is showing signs of encouragement even though the Western international community unanimously supports Guaidó and the United States never stops threatening a military option. Maduro has successfully stood up against those diplomatic winds and threatening tides. His resistance emboldens Ortega.

All analysts agree that Ortega’s roadmap (to stay) will depend largely on what happens in Venezuela. It will also depend on the national pressure the Alliance can exert at the table and that the profound economic crisis is provoking, as the latter could generate new bouts of protest combining the accumulated indignation for political reasons and economic demands. And it will surely depend on the international pressure increasingly wearing Ortega down through the application of new sanctions.

In the “Speaking Out” section of this issue, Liberal politician and economist Eliseo Núñez, a member of the Broad Democratic Front (FAD), reflects on the complexity of reaching a solution through negotiation, the risk of a solution through any rupture and the possibilities of maintaining civic resistance, which is what the Blue and White Unity is putting its money on.

Europe is expressing “serious
doubts” about negotiations


Both inside Nicaragua and abroad, the negotiations were already being seriously questioned as a solution to the crisis by mid-April. Once seen by virtually everyone as the inevitable and only way out, nobody but its organizers now believe in it, and perhaps not even all of them.

On April 16, just days before the anniversary of the April rebellion, eleven Europeans from six political groups in the European Parliament declared they have “serious doubts” about the negotiation process and charged Ortega with “blocking” it. Given the continuation of the repression, they requested the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to ask the EU governments to impose personalized sanctions on Nicaraguan officials responsible for the repression, prohibit their entry into Europe and freeze any financial assets they have in European banks. They also requested a study of whether the democratic clause of the Association Agreement between Central America and Europe should be activated, expelling Nicaragua from that trade agreement.

The process for implementing European sanctions will be very slow. First Mogherini has to present a proposal to that effect to each of the 28 EU member countries, which they must then analyze and finally submit to a vote of the 28 EU foreign relations ministers. It must be approved unanimously, after which each country applies the sanctions it considers appropriate.

The sanctioning of Bancorp


With the negotiations bogged down, the United States also reacted in its capacity as a supporter of that process. On April 17, by executive order, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued two new sanctions: one against Banco Corpora¬tivo (Bancorp), created by this government, and the other against Laureano Ortega Murillo, one of the governing couple’s sons.

Bancorp, which has been operating since 2015, was already in OFAC’s sights by default back in February, due to its links to Albanisa, the business consortium that was sanctioned because 51% of its shares were owned by PDVSA, the sanctioned Venezuelan state oil company. OFAC explained that Bancorp was sanctioned for having been used by the Ortega regime to launder and hide Albanisa and Sandi¬nista National Liberation Front (FSLN) money. The movement of millions of dollars through Bancorp and several other private banks in which Albanisa or its companies had accounts generated increased earnings year after year.

The US had warned those private banks as far back as September 2017 that the Albanisa consortium was going to be sanctioned along with any other bank or business that had relations with it. Even though those bankers were still happily in their corporative alliance with the government at the time, they were fearful of the sanctions and closed all their Albanisa-related accounts. The deposits were transferred to Bancorp over the ensuing months, converting it into the regime’s “financial rearguard.” In 2018, while the national banking system saw its earnings shrink by 38% due to the political crisis, Bancorp’s grew by 59% over 2017, presumably due in part to the movement of the Albanisa accounts.

Even though everyone knew Ban¬corp was the bank of the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of America (ALBA), its directors denied any relationship with Albanisa in February, which certainly didn’t sway OFAC or anyone else. Then in March, Ortega decided to try another gambit: he ordered the State to buy Bancorp for US$23 million, using a bond issue that no other investors would touch with a barge pole, renaming it Banco Nacional. Bancorp requested its dissolution from the Superintendence of Banks on April 22, five days after the US executive order sanctioning it, although the Superintendence provided no explana¬tion for the dissolution or any information about the bank’s trajectory or functioning.

So Bancorp is now dead and Banco Nacional a non-starter. The regime has lost its rearguard and no one is quite sure where the US$2.5 billion now is. That amount is all that remained of what Nicaraguan economist José Vélez Moregan Vélez Morgan said in his “Speaking Out” article last month was originally US$4 billion in Venezuelan cooperation resources that Bancorp was created to manage.

According to several economists, the governing party only has two options left: either take the money out of the country in suitcases or transfer it to other international financial centers in hopes of blurring the origins of these illegitimate resources. But Vélez Morgan said the US doesn’t just sanction; it then follows the money. “When the Treasury Department applies a sanction it’s because it can execute it and already knows the flow of all the financial currents to be sanctioned before it’s applied.” He doesn’t give the government much chance of efficiently and effectively evading the sanctions by selling Bancorp to the State. If he’s right, the US Treasury Dept. will figure out which shell the pea is under before too many shells are moved around.

The sanctioning of Laureano


When Trump’s security adviser John Bolton announced the sanction on Bancorp, he explained that they were going after the Ortega family’s pockets, since they “continue living at the expense of the misery of the Nicaraguan people.” Laureano Ortega Murillo was thus also sanctioned, as Bolton said, because “he has been trained to be a successor to the Ortega regime.”

Laureano, 36 years old, is the seventh of Murillo’s nine children, and the third of the five she has had with Ortega. The sanction has not been imposed due to his filiation, but because he has presided over or represented the state investment promotion agency ProNicaragua for years. In an April 17 press release, the US Treasury Department explained that “as of 2018, Laureano engaged in corrupt business deals in which foreign investors paid for preferential access to the Nicaraguan economy.

As his father’s investment adviser, Laureano Ortega also featured prominently in the creation of Nicara-gua’s Grand Canal project. Independent journalist Peter Costantini wrote in envío’s June 2016 issue that “in 2012, on a trip to China, Laureano Ortega Murillo, son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, met Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom billionaire. Neither had any experience building infrastructure. Wang reportedly floated the idea of finally digging a canal across Nicaragua between the Pacific and the Caribbean in a message the son conveyed back to his father.”

While that ego-inflating project ended in nothing, Law 840, which granted the project to Wang, has permitted the regime to create businesses on lands along the proposed canal path. The Treasury Department press release says that “Despite the proj¬ect’s loss of momentum, Ortega regime figures, including Laureano, continue to use the Nicaragua Grand Canal Company as a means to launder money and to acquire property along the planned canal route.”

The Permanent Council’s
“collective appreciation”


The morning of April 26, Nicaragua’s crisis became the issue of two more OAS Permanent Council extraordinary meetings, one a continuation of the other. They were requested by the delegations of Canada, Argentina and the United States, which as of April 1 became the Council chair for a six-month stint.

The two meetings were for a “collective appreciation” of the break-up of the democratic order in Nicaragua and both form part of the diplomatic preambles that must precede the application of the Democratic Charter, demonstrating that this rupture has actually taken place in Nicaragua.

In the first session, José Pallais, one of the Civic Alliance’s six main negotiators, detailed the lack of progress due to the government’s repeated incompliances. Another speaker was Argentina’s Rubén Perina, an associate professor at George Washington University, who argued that States are now subjects of international scrutiny and concede their “absolute sovereignty if they have signed international treaties.” He also referred to the new concept of “humanitarian interventionism” in which the “principle of non-intervention” has been superseded by the “principle of non-indifference,” which obliges member States to not be indifferent to human rights violations in any of the region’s countries.

Jaime Aparicio, a Bolivian who headed up the Carter Center’s electoral observation mission in Nicaragua in 2006, described how Ortega was turning the Nicaraguan State into a “criminal State”; while Nicaraguan Harold Rocha, director of the Nicaraguan-American Center for Democracy and professor at the University of Iowa, listed the basic dates of the “democratic perversion process” headed up by Ortega that began with the Ortega-Alemán pact of 2000.

Once having run through that chronology, Rocha proposed that the Democratic Charter be applied to the Ortega government for the “illegitimacy of origin” of his government in 2011, when he instrumentalized the judicial branch to reform the Constitution and guarantee his reelection, not just once but indefinitely. He also cited 2016, when Ortega was again reelected and also violated he anti-nepotism law by choosing his wife as his running mate. “There is no human right to reelection,” charged Rocha, adding that Ortega’s “illegitimacy of origin merits his immediate resignation and early elections.”

Finally, with precise and emotional words, Haydée Castillo spoke in the name of the Political Council of the Blue and White National Unity. Castillo is from the Leadership Institute of The Segovias, one of the organizations whose legal status was canceled and its belongings appropriated as part of the Ortega repression. A week later, a fire was raging on her family’s farm in Dipilto, with all evidence pointing to government supporters acting in reprisal for her courage in speaking out.

Ortega is a usurper too


That April 26 session was significant for various reasons. For one, it was the first time representatives of the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity, both expressions of the opposition, had spoken to the OAS Permanent Council, and was thus an expression of support.

It was also the first time Venezuela supported the application of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua and was because Gustavo Torré, Juan Guaidó’s appointment as ambassador to the OAS, was now seated in the Permanent Council. He spoke precisely of Ortega’s “illegitimacy” as Nicara¬gua’s President, based on the same reason Guaidó, who has asserted that he is Venezuela’s interim President, considers Nicolás Maduro a “usurper” of that position in Venezuela: the irregularity of the elections he won in 2017. Until now, the OAS had focused most on Ortega’s “irregularity of exercise” in relation to the grave human rights violations committed at his command, including crimes against humanity.

This new addition to his dossier not only constitutes a fundamental aspect of the rupture of the constitutional order in Nicaragua, it also opens the way to considering him a “usurper” of the presidential mandate, which would permit international lack of recognition of his government. It is surely no coincidence that the Blue and White leaders have recently begun calling him a usurper as well.

Bad faith is the least of it


In addition to, or even worse than, the bad faith with which the regime is negotiating, in which it signs but does not comply, it is now presenting a “proposal” for the return of the thousands of exiles, but without giving them any guarantee. It’s also presenting a “proposal” on the issue of justice, this time to set up a commission consisting of the police and other institutions that either provoked or aided and abetted the repression.

This tension obscured the outlook for any solution throughout April. Yet despite all the evidence, the majority of the international community still seems to be putting its money on dialogue and negotiations as the way out of the crisis. That’s why Ortega is still at the table. And it’s also why the Alliance decided not to abandon the table, but also not to negotiate anything else as long as the government fails to comply with what it agreed to, as it demonstrates Ortega’s bad faith both to Nicaraguans and the international community.

The electoral solution
is also uncertain


On April 10, the Civic Alliance asked the government to present its proposal on the issue of democracy and the electoral reforms. Twelve days later it asked again. Two days after that, on April 24, Cristóbal Fernández, director of the OAS Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, presented the Alliance and the government with its own proposed electoral reforms and both parties agreed that he could seek financing for a task that would include hiring national and international experts. The OAS calculates that the project would be ready in six months and cost some US$2 million.

The electoral issue has been on hold ever since. The Alliance says the government attempted a bilateral negotiation with the OAS based on the memorandum of understanding signed in early 2017, prior to the events of April 2018, but got nowhere. Meanwhile, the government negotiators have repeated that the elections will not be moved forward.

For its part, the OAS has only committed to technical accompaniment, pointing out that all the political aspects of the reforms would involve (creation of a new Supreme Electoral Council, the date for early elections if agreed to, approval by the legislative body controlled by Ortega of the reforms to the Electoral Law, etc.) will have to be negotiated at the table. All this clouds the electoral solution as a way out of the crisis.

Just with sanctions?


An analysis in late April by The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that the Nicaraguan economy will contract by 5.5% this year. The British publication says the 3.8% reduction in 2018 was “significantly worse than our initial estimate.” It claims that private consumption this year will remain in the red due to the high unemployment levels and stagnation of salaries and predicts that the tax reform imposed by the regime in January will further undermine the weak confidence of both consumers and investors. And with respect to tourism, it says the instability initiated last April has destroyed Nicara¬gua’s previous reputation as the safest destination in Central America. On the political side, it rightly asserted that Ortega is showing no interest in a negotiated solution. Defining the opposition as “weak,” the publication concluded that sanctions are the only thing that could exercise pressure on the regime.

Even though the sanctions OFAC imposed last November on Rosario Murillo and Néstor Moncada Lau, the regime’s covert actions operator, had some economic consequences, US political analyst Richard Feinberg believed they had a more important political objective, sending an “exceptional message” to Ortega. “These sanctions,” he explained, “touch the person they see as most difficult, the one opposed to any political deal. Going after Murillo sends the FSLN and Daniel Ortega the message that she’s the problem and not the solution; the past and not the future. It is an appeal to the pragmatism Daniel Ortega has shown on other occasions, encouraging him to sideline her and decide to negotiate.”

The passage of time since then has shown Feinberg and the Washington establishment that Ortega is not pragmatic, that they attributed to him capacities he may never have had, since the negotiations that put an end to the 1980s war, for example, were directed by a team of strategically able politicians who have long since stopped supporting Ortega.

The number of epithets shows
the effect of the sanctions


On April 30, Ortega himself ratified that the sanctions are what are pressuring him the most.

After a prolonged silence peppered only with the Vice President’s daily “lyrical communiques,” as the Civil Alliance calls them, about the understanding, harmony and peace the government is seeking by “conversing” (not negotiating) , the President, surrounded by some government officials and Sandinista Youth members, appeared at an evening event celebrating International Workers’ Day on May 1. He demonstrated just how much the sanctions are affecting him by the number of epithets he dedicated to those who “go on their knees to ask for sanctions against people and take pleasure each time their own peoples are sanctioned.” He went on to call them “the most abject people that could exist on the earth, on our planet, the most abject there could be in Nicaragua.”

Not satisfied with that, he added “they have neither soul nor heart; what they have is venom, they were born marked by venom, which turns them into miserable people. They are an expression of human misery.” He concluded all this by saying that he was continuing to “battle” for peace and that “we can’t renounce, just as we have not renounced, the search for how to converse and seek agreements with these human miseries...”
And in a veiled reference to the business elite that abandoned him a year ago and have not gone back, breaking the “consensus model” and resisting his arm-twisting, he lamented that “I haven’t heard a single pronouncement, not a single communique, from those who promoted and practiced pain and death when the country was in peace and better than ever.”

What are the sanctions?


The regime is insisting the Alliance call on the international community to cease the sanctions. The argument that they are affecting “the poor, the most vulnerable” is only partly true, as even without sanctions World Bank and Inter-Development Bank loans to Nicaragua have been frozen since April 2018, aggravating the now stagnated national economy by seriously affecting the public investment flow.

In any event, that freezing of loans, which is not due to any specific sanction, would have to be distinguished from the OFAC sanctions against an institution such as Banc¬corp and the seven personalized sanctions, all of which are aimed at Ortega’s circle of power for involvement in human rights violations and acts of corruption.

Some have been imposed by executive order and others by the application of the Global Magnitsky Act. The Nica Act (whose final version includes both personalized sanctions and economic sanctions that would affect the overall economy) was approved in December 2018, but will not be applied until the State Department analysis in June shows how much progress has been made in dealing with the reasons behind the Act.

A 2.0 version of last year’s
government strategy


On April 29, opening up the serious question of how to negotiate the electoral solution given the way Ortega is acting, the negotiation’s two witness/accompaniers, Nuncio Som¬mertag and OAS delegate Rosadilla, negotiated a proposed calendar with the governing couple for fulfilling the two signed agreements.

But after several hours spent fine-tuning the consensus over the scheduling, Ortega and Murillo retracted everything they had agreed to just as it was about to be publicly announced. Instead they conditioned any fulfillment of what had been signed to the Alliance immediately calling for the suspension of sanctions on Nicaragua.

The government’s offensive insistence that the Civic Alliance demand cancellation of the sanctions not only demonstrates that the sanctions are having their effect. It’s also being used as a pretext to boycott any further negotiations and then blame the counterpart; in other words, it’s a 2.0 version of the government strategy in the May-June 2018 dialogue. At that time the government delegation refused to negotiate until the Alliance “ordered” the removal of the roadblocks and barricades multiplying all over the country either in support of the Alliance in the dialogue or in self-defense against the marauding police and paramilitaries. It announced this ultimatum knowing full well that the barriers were spontaneous expressions of strength by self-convoked rebellious groups that didn’t answer to or take orders from anyone. The barriers didn’t come down (until the government ordered their removal with a stunning excess of violence over the ensuing two months) and the first round of negotiations ended on that impasse.

The problem isn’t sanctions
but lack of investor confidence


The sanctions aren’t responsible for the national economy’s worsening recession. They are only affecting the personal economy of the seven Nicaraguans already sanctioned by OFAC.

What is affecting the country as a whole, particularly the poorest, who have the least resilience, is the collapse of international investment, the freezing of loans by the international financing institutions and the cutting of bilateral cooperation by several countries. Investors, lenders and donors are being influenced by two factors. One is the severe sociopolitical crisis in which the country’s rulers are accused of massive human rights violations, are determined to conserve power and not return freedoms and democracy, are accepting no responsibility, and are showing no interest in a negotiating a resolution. The other factor is the cold issue of investor confidence. For those only interested in the bottom line, it’s enough to check Nicaragua’s falling credit ratings with international financial intelligence services such as Standard and Poors and others.

The sanctions are
“financial death”


,The sanctions are mainly personal, and are the equivalent of “financial death” for those fingered. They block the access of the sanctioned individual and his or her family members to the US financial system and, by extension to the Western financial system as a whole, as all banks in that system have correspondent relations with US banks.

The ruling couple understands nothing about Washington if it thinks that any call from within Nicaragua could annul the sanctions already imposed if made as an ultimatum rather than the result of good-faith negotiations and genuine compliance with them. Chances are equally slim that pending sanctions can be waylaid if the government’s only stance is sheer intransigence.

There is always another tactic open to those affected, to see how far they get. US law permits people sanctioned by OFAC to present claims to it requesting reconsideration of the reasons for having issued the sanction or offering evidence for why it should be lifted. They can even sue OFAC if they believe they have been wrongfully judged.

The banishing
of Bishop Báez


Nicaragua came to the anniversary of the April rebellion in the midst of this uncertain scenario. It coincided exactly with Holy Thursday and Good Friday this year, All over the country the sacrifice of those killed and the Calvary of those still being tortured in the prisons, in fact everything so many families have been through, was commemorated in Stations of the Cross, Catholic Masses and other church services, and so many of the faithful prayed for the unconditional release of the political prisoners.


A few days before the start of Holy Week, Pope Francis requested that Silvio Báez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, leave Nicaragua. Báez, who called the request “painful and incomprehensible,” insisted in a press conference on April 10 that he had not requested the transfer. Rumors and speculations abounded across the political spectrum on the reason for his departure and who had been behind it. Was it for his own protection given that he has received innumerable death threats from Ortega backers? Was it to remove a thorn from Ortega’s side? Was it to alter the balance within the Episcopal Conference?

In his homilies and declarations, and also in his active presence in the social media, Báez has been the voice in the episcopate that has made the regime the most uncomfortable for years now, especially since April 2018. A majority of the population, both Catholics and non-Catholics, lamented the Vatican’s decision and the farewell messages were filled with affection. His last message before leaving on April 223 was “We can’t allow ourselves to live in a social sepulcher. Nicaragua is a sacrificed people. And a sacrificed people is always resurrected.”

A Nicaragua “for all”


A week before Bishop Báez’s departure, when it seemed his absence might see the Episcopal Conference retreat into silence, Nicaragua’s bishops released a valiant message, like others that have fed reflection and hope since April.

In response to the normality the government is trying to impose, they recalled the hard reality currently crushing our country: “We are painfully verifying how the suffering of the Nicaraguan family is continuing. The political prisoners, the lack of respect for constitutional rights, the exiles, the refugees, those given asylum, the poverty, the unemployment, the insecurity, and the conflict over lands and their corresponding consequences in the displacement of families from the coun¬try’s northwest and Caribbean Coast regions through the invasion of fertile lands historically possessed by indigenous peoples and of those national reserves such as Indio Maíz and Bosawás, are evidence that without the presence of the God who has put his store in us, we have no future.”

Based on this description of the reality the majority of Nicaraguans are living today, which the regime wants to deny, the bishops mentioned how Nicaragua’s future should be built. It must be a Nicaragua for all, “putting the interests of others and of the nation before one’s own,” a Nicaragua that respects human dignity, in which it is considered “imperative that there be no acts of repression and persecution, encouraging a climate of unrestricted freedom and trust. With that, all people can exercise their rights and public freedoms fundamentally under the protection of the political Constitution…. Individual liberty,” they added in clear reference to the negotiation of the release of the political prisoners, “does not admit time periods, conditions or bureaucratic excuses.”

It has to be a democratic Nicaragua “inspired in the idea of strengthening the institutions and principles that underpin the rule of law: supremacy of the law, division of powers and respect for human rights.” A Nicaragua with freedom of expression that “embodies people’s power to speak out, denounce, access information and nourish themselves through the infinite exchange of ideas, opinions and positions….” The document adds that “without freedom of expression, the other freedoms wither and end up dying.”

It must be a Nicaragua where “peace is the fruit of justice, which requires contemplating the truth of the acts, not the impunity of the guilty; reparation and reinsertion of the victims and their families; and guarantees of non-repetition. It is the only thing that can give the citizens genuine security and only in that way can a country be morally constructed.”

“It was them!”


As of April 29, Ortega seems to have decided to do nothing to build that Nicaragua, preferring instead to scuttle the negotiations. That was the day he and his wife began to condition compliance with what had been agreed to and signed, and to demand that the Civic Alliance make an international call for the eliminatation of the sanctions on the country and important figures closest to the circle of power.

Next, on May 6, they put an end to the daily communiques that always spoke of “understanding and harmony.” Instead, their negotiating team presented a text that again raised the tired and farfetched idea of a failed coup d’état that involved, according to the text, “the gravest acts of violence, including death, fires, kidnappings, tortures, perversions and demonic satanic rites in the best style of the inquisition, even invoking exorcist practices….”

The regime holds Civic Alliance negotiating team responsible for all this, and pledges that “we will continue denouncing [them] for all the Perverse Practices, humiliations, cruelty, degradation, racism and terrorist infamy we experienced, suffered and defeated…. These coup-mongering practices were directed, financed and coordinated with carefully applied vigilance by those who from this Table who are attempting today to continue imposing their vices, forgetting that Nicaragua vanquished, and that Reason and Truth will continue vanquishing.”

The day following this unexpected verbal diarrhea, it was learned that Ortega was studying the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the US government with the International Court of Justice at The Hague for the sanctions it had imposed on the country, his family and his government officials.

Ortega’s solution?


What is Ortega’s objective in trying to collapse the negotiation, conditioning any progress on the issue of the sanctions? It seems aimed at pumping up his base, now smaller and very upset at seeing “coup-mongers” and “terrorists” getting out of jail. Although most of them still console themselves that “the comandante knows what he’s doing,” given that their critical thinking has been amputated, they are disconcerted by what is happening…

What solution is the governing couple heading toward? Yet another negotiation scheme, with still other interlocutors? It must be taken into account that the severe economic crisis has already caused fissures in pro-government ranks. There are Sandi¬nista business groups and sectors of the Army that are banking on a negotiated solution. What might they do if the negotiations collapse? Will these fissures open into genuine fractures in the governing party? What would the Army do? Will it start to see defections like the ones we are seeing to a so-far limited degree in Venezuela?

“Nicaragua is going through a crucial moment in which it will have to define the basis of its future as a country and its destiny as a nation,” concluded the bishops in their message. Indicating the basis for a good future, they argue that our country will find “new horizons,” echoing the title of the historical document they presented to the government in 2014, to which they never received the courtesy of any response whatever.

The bottom line of this month, so plagued with uncertainties, isn’t at all favorable for Ortega. He failed to silence the bishops, failed to suffocate the civic resistance and failed to tarnish the international legitimation both the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity have been earning. And the illegitimate origin and exercise of his power, for which he and his are being sanctioned, limit his ability to impose his conditions on any possible solution…

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