|Central American University - UCA
Number 457 | Julio 2019
An ultimatum to the dictatorship?
The OAS General Assembly
approved a resolution in Medellín on June 28
reiterating that Nicaragua’s constitutional
and democratic order has been altered
and giving Daniel Ortega 75 days to negotiate
an effective way out of the national crisis
with the Civic Alliance, this time in good faith.
It has all the earmarks of an ultimatum
from the highest level of that regional body.
Will Ortega understand it as such and respond?
Or will he continue imposing himself via repression,
prolonging the nation’s uncertainty until 2021
…or even beyond?
Fifteen months after the civic rebellion sparked in April 2018, some analysts say the regime now has some serious dilemmas. It’s clear that “el pueblo ya tomó su decisión” (the people already made up their mind), as the Nicaraguan song told it 40 years ago when Somoza realized they had taken a firm and irreversible stand against his dictatorship.
Is that the upshot of the events in June that awoke such expectations? Is Ortega facing an ultimatum or are we only entering yet another stage in the process of prolonged popular resistance?
In the ides of June
The expectations about what June’s three important deadlines might produce to further clarify the way out of the national crisis weren’t unfounded.
The 90 days the regime gave itself to “definitively free” all political prisoners were up on June 18. Although the most recognized prisoners, the ones it was feared would remain in jail as hostages, were let out, nearly a hundred more people jailed for political reasons are still in prison, according to the Civic Alliance. There is also no information about roughly another hundred who it is feared have been disappeared. Nor is the release of those who got out “definitive,” as promised in the commitment the regime signed. Nonetheless, the fact that the “big names” —who also suffered the greatest abuse in prison—are out with their firmness and dignity intact injected new energy and hope in what has come to be known as the “blue and white” resistance.
Three days later, June 21, came the deadline set in the Nica Act, passed by the US Congress in December, by which the State Department was to inform Congress whether there had been genuine democratic and human rights advances in Nicaragua. As there were none beyond the token release of the high-profile prisoners, the sanctions determined by that law began to be applied. The fact that Canada joined in applying them showed that the dictatorship’s international isolation is expanding.
Then on June 28, The 49th Ordinary General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), held in Medellín, set a new deadline for the Ortega regime to “fully comply with the agreements reached” and pledge to negotiate “in good faith’ a “peaceful and effective solution” to the crisis. The Nicaraguan government was given 75 days to present results.
The slow movement of
Exactly a year aearlier, in its 48th Ordinary General Assembly, the OAS issued the first of various resolutions on Nicaragua’s crisis, calling attention to what had been happening here for nearly two months.
By that time nearly a hundred people had been killed and an “army” of paramilitaries had been dispatched around the county in the government’s “operation clean-up” to help heavily armed police clear roadblocks and barricades erected by the opposition. June and July 2018 were the months in which Ortega and those who accompanied him or followed his orders committed the greatest number of the murders and crimes against humanity that now weigh over their heads.
Now, with the OAS Assembly in Medellín discussing what could be the final resolution to the situation in Nicaragua, Fernando Simas Magal–hães, Brazil’s representative, lamened the slowness of the regional body’s bureaucratic machinery, calling it a “lack of respect for the dozens of innocent victims, disrespect for the suffering of the Nicaraguan people.” Ambassador Simas recounted that “since the last General Assembly, when the deaths were already being counted in the hundreds, we have held more than 10 Permanent Council sessions to debate a crisis that unequivocally showed not only grave human rights violations, but also the alteration of the constitutional and democratic order in Nicaragua.”
José Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch, tallied 21 OAS press releases and 4 reports showing massive human rights violations in Nicaragua’s ongoing crisis. Presented in some of the sessions by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous OAS body, these reports did not alter the diplomatic sluggishness, giving Ortega time to consolidate his repressive apparatus.
The failure of the past negotiation
Given the advance of the economic crisis and the impatience of some powerful external actors, Ortega was forced this past February to sit back down with the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which represents the opposition at the negotiation table, after an eight-month hiatus. At the time it was announced that this second stage of what was originally called the National Dialogue would wind up in a month.
The main thing Ortega procured in the negotiation, after signing two agreements he didn’t fulfill, was to buy still more time, agreeing to the widespread popular demand to release all political prisoners, but over a 90-day period. The population balked, but the OAS General Secretariat, which was acting as “witness and accompanier” at the negotiating table, accepted and let the Civic Alliance know that it could neither reject it nor even shorten the time. Ortega also agreed to restore civil rights such as freedom of speech and of gathering, but never stopped repressing demonstrations.
Given the irrefutable evidence that Ortega signs but has no intention of complying, the OAS General Assembly has finally imposed a deadline.
What does the new resolution say?
The OAS resolution approved on June 28 “reiterates” concern about the “alteration of the constitutional order” due to the human rights violations, lack of liberties and lack of progress in electoral reforms in Nicaragua and “insists” that the IACHR be allowed back into Nicaragua. The new part is that it “urges” the renewal of a “good faith and effective” negotiation with the Civic Alliance, as well as fulfillment of what is agreed to, and “instructs” the Permanent Council to create a commission that will take diplomatic initiatives at the “highest level” within the framework of applying the Democratic Charter to find a “peaceful and effective” solution to the crisis.
Within a maximum of 75 days, this commission must prepare a report on what it sees and achieves. The first version of the resolution proposed a 90-day deadline, but intense lobbying by blue and white Nicaraguans in Medellín got it reduced. Is it an ultimatum? It has all the characteristics of one.
How the vote went
The resolution-ultimatum was approved by the foreign ministers of 20 countries, all of them with clout on the continent due to their size, population and influence. Bolivia was the only one with any of those characteristics among the 4 that voted against, while Guatemala and the Dominican Republic were the only ones among the 8 that abstained. Uruguay chose to absent itself in objection to Venezuela being represented by the self-anointed “interim President” of the country, Juan Guaidó.
The small Caribbean island nations voted against or abstained in a consistent show of gratitude for the generous Venezuelan oil deals they enjoy. While they are careful not to condemn either the Venezuelan or Nicaraguan regimes, none took the microphone to defend Ortega.
And if the regime doesn’t comply?
The resolution is framed by the slow process for applying the OAS Democratic Charter, initiated in January by the General Secretariat, which has subsequently held several Permanent Council meetings for a “collective appreciation” of the situation’s evolution.
Back in August 2018 the OAS created a working group for Nicaragua, made up of representatives of 12 countries, all of whom Ortega has since barred from entering Nicaragua. If he now doesn’t let this higher-level commission in and/or doesn’t comply with what was “urged,” an Extraordinary General Assembly of OAS foreign ministers could be called and the countries could exert more pressure, including possible bilateral sanctions. They could also establish the principle of universal justice in their national courts to try charges for crimes against humanity committed in Nicaragua even if an amnesty law prevents them being heard in Nicaragua itself.
Ortega would become
an untethered wild horse
An Extraordinary General Assembly could also declare the Ortega regime illegitimate, due both to the constitutional manipulations and electoral frauds that permitted its multiple reelections and to the massive human rights violations it ordered. As a final step, such an assembly could also expel Nicaragua from the OAS, which would require the vote of 24 countries.
Some people, including José Luis Velásquez, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the OAS in previous governments, and his friends in the business sector, argue that expulsion wouldn’t be positive. In Velásquez’s words, the regime would “become like an untethered wild horse. The OAS is currently exercising that tethering function. If it is removed, there will be no more possibility of leading the horse.”
A blue and white success
Independent of Ortega’s response to the ultimatum, his regime suffered an important defeat in Medellín. He knew perfectly well it would not be expelled during that ordinary assembly because it never happens. But a false expectation was planted in the social networks that obtaining the expulsion was the blue and white opposi–tion’s only plan. The regime didn’t anticipate the ultimatum.
The Civic Alliance considered Medellín’s outcome a success. The presence of a sizable delegation consisting of the Alliance, the Blue and White Unity and recently-released political prisoners in the activities of the Assembly’s various arenas succeeded in putting Nicaragua on the front burner.
Ortega had to allow those ex-prisoners to leave the country and their testimonies about the tortures they suffered in prison and why they had decided to oppose the government in the first place, as well as substantial information they shared bilaterally and in different public forums revived the international concern with what is happening in Nicaragua.
Attempting to put de facto
closure to the negotiations
Will the government return to the negotiations ready to make progress and comply with what is agreed when previously it has consistently acted unilaterally and used the negotiation table as an arena for confusing the international community?
With the negotiations deadlocked since mid-May due both to Ortega’s incompliance and to the murder of US-Nicaraguan political prisoner Eddy Montes by a prison official on May 16, Ortega ramped up his unilateral behavior. A week later he presented to the country and especially to the international community his “work program” to “consolidate stability and peace” in Nicaragua.
The publication of this program was intended to put de facto closure to the negotiations by persuading the international community—which is so immersed in the problems of so many other countries—that the talks had concluded, their agenda points had been met and the country was stabilizing. For the regime’s base, contrarily, this new stage continues to be ruled by the slogan “They [the opposition] weren’t and won’t be able to!”
The regime’s “solution”
The program announced that all political prisoners would be released by June 18 and that the government would continue promoting a plan for the voluntary return of Nicaraguans abroad—it doesn’t call them exiles. By that date some 2-300 had been moved from prison but only to house arrest and no result was reported regarding the exiles. The program further announced that the government was continuing to work with the OAS on a process of “institutional electoral strengthening” prior to the 2021 elections. It did not mention the Alliance as a counterpart of that process and did not speak of any electoral reforms. It reiterated yet again that the elections will be in 2021, not earlier as the population wants. The program said a law of “comprehensive” attention to the victims of the violence was being promoted, but contained no reparative content that would guarantee truth and justice for them or their survivors.
The program made virtually no reference to the long list of suppressed constitutional guarantees and rights the government had agreed on March 29 to reestablish—including the legal status of the NGOs and media canceled last December. The extent of the government’s compliance with that agreement is succinctly summed up by Antonia Urrejola, the IACHR commissioner for our country: “All exercise of rights that assumes protesting against the government is currently suspended in Nicaragua.”
This unilateral “solution” to the crisis was crowned on June 8 with the National Assembly’s approval of an Amnesty Law, the 53rd in our history, aimed at simply forgetting everything that has happened in our country since April 2018.
The rush to amnesty
The amnesty law has only three articles and wasn’t consulted with any national sector, much less with the surviving victims or their families. That came as no surprise, as everyone knew from the moment the regime began its repressive rampage that it would turn to amnesty to guarantee its impunity for the crimes it was committing.
Ortega sent the bill to the legislative body with an order to fast-track it. Less than 24 hours later, in a Saturday extraordinary session, the governing party’s absolute majority dutifully rubber-stamped it with no legislative discussion and without changing so much as a comma.
grants itself amnesty
In the preamble of the amnesty law, the regime again brings up the accusation of a “coup d’état,” thus denying the truth of what happened starting in April 2018. Urrejola commented that “that narrative [of a coup] has been ongoing in the government it is proof that there’s no real attempt at reconciliation.”
Article 1 of the law establishes that it covers people who have not been investigated, those currently under investigation and those serving sentences. It orders authorities not to initiate any new investigations, and to close both those underway and the execution of sentences. The population, quickly grasping that it was a tactical confession by the dictatorship of its participation in crimes, promptly dubbed it a “self-amnesty” law.
The regime applied the law in two batches. The first was to political prisoners released only days after the law’s passage, on June 10 and 11, “pardoning” them for crimes they hadn’t committed. The second was to police and paramilitaries who had committed crimes, leaving them unpunished, thus closing the doors to both truth and justice.
The Army and Police have both enabled—the former tacitly and the latter actively—the violent role in implementing the government’s repressive policy played on a daily basis by the paramilitaries, who have amounted to a third, and hence illegal, armed force. By implicitly admitting their responsibilities, Ortega, as the Supreme Chief of both coercive institutions, is also admitting his own, and assuring that none of those involved will be investigated or sanctioned. But if now the commission of crimes is effectively being denied by the amnesty law, so is reparation for those crimes.
Article 2 indicates that the law covers “all political crimes,” thus admitting, perhaps without realizing it, that those captured and imprisoned for political reasons were political prisoners and not delinquents and criminals as Ortega has publicly proclaimed on numerous occasions.
What “non-repetition” means
Article 3 addresses the important principle of “non-repetition” by establishing that all people benefited by the law must abstain from repeating what they did or the benefit of the law will be revoked for them. But in Ortega’s law, repetition is confused with re-incidence. It ignores that transitional justice, when speaking of non-repetition in cases such as Nicaragua’s, applies to the State, not the victims.
The non-repetition that appears in the letter of this law opts for the inconsequential—one might even say perverse—sense given by Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife. On June 17, she insisted in her daily address via an official media hook-up that “when we say non-repetition, we mean non-perversion. No to the perversion of those pieces of hate that still go around wanting to bring to us models that are not ours!”
In transitional justice processes, the concept has a deeper meaning. It is aimed at ensuring reconciliation in a nation that has gone through a civil war or a repressive process such as Nicaragua has experienced. It proposes to achieve that by removing the structural and institutional causes—juridical, political and social—that brought about the massive violation of human rights in the first place.
In sum, then, this law represents a total negation of truth, justice and non-repetition, the three-point basis for the transitional justice process proposed by the Civic Alliance and the Mothers of April, made up of relatives of those killed during the repression.
The amnesty law won’t clean the slate…
Michele Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, immediately warned that “amnesties for grave human rights violations are prohibited by international law.” She reported that her office’s monitoring system has been documenting such violations in Nicaragua, including “extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, cases of torture and sexual violence, and generalized arbitrary or illegal detentions,” and holds the government responsible for them.
IACHR extended similar warnings, reminding the government that crimes against humanity can’t be erased by any amnesty. Nicaragua has not ratified the Rome Statute and is not part of the International Criminal Court that judges and sentences those who commit such crimes, but has ratified the Convention against Torture and the Convention against Forced Disappearance, both of which are defined as crimes against humanity and have been committed in Nicaragua in the context of the April civic rebellion.
Pablo Parenti, one of the four members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) that investigated in situ what happened in Nicaragua between April 18 and May 30, 2018, concluding that crimes against humanity had indeed been committed, said that “this law is simply a political act of a government that has power today. Rather than a juridical norm, it is one more act of force. There will be transitional justice the day an institutional reform process is ini¬tia¬ted.”
…and it won’t be enough to repeal it
Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s interpretation of this law includes an important alert: “The self-amnesty is just Ortega’s first warning that he is preparing to govern from below after the regime’s predictable electoral defeat.”
Chamorro warns that the blue and white movement must therefore start preparing now, including assuring extraordinary assistance from the UN, OAS and European Union to create an international commission against impunity and corruption in Nicaragua. The idea would be to replicate the experience of CICIG, a similar commission in Guatemala.
It won’t be enough, counsels Chamorro, for a new government to repeal the amnesty law. “Without that extraordinary international help,” he explains, “no democratic leader, even one with the best intentions, will be able to dismantle the paramilitary bands, combat the impunity and corruption, or bring the authors of the crimes against humanity to justice.”
How many political prisoners
In early February, when a second round of negotiations between the regime and the Civic Alliance was getting underway, the IACHR records showed 777 political prisoners.
The next month the government began to release groups of them from prison, but only to house arrest. It did so unilaterally as an expression of “good will” and announced it ex post facto, without the agreed-to coordination with the Alliance and almost always without the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the guarantor nominally accepted by both parties. As a result, there is no reliable record of how many were removed from prison or who they were. On June 10, two days after approval of the Amnesty Law, roughly a hundred more were released under that law, and the next day the best-known protest leaders were released and permitted to be interviewed by the independent media.
By the Civic Alliance’s count, 620 political prisoners were no longer in prison as of June 25, but their records has not been expunged and they aren’t alloveed to work. One of the lists published by the Alliance contains the name and data of 91 political prisoners who are still in different prisons around the country, 64 of whom were kidna¬pped between March and June of this year. Another list names 102 people about whom the Alliance has been unable to get sufficient information and who may have been “disappea¬red.”
Disappearances and a
new pattern of repression
The existence of clandestine prisons and of torture committed in them has now been proven thanks to the May report by the Colectivo Nunca+ and the June one by Human Rights Watch. envío published the former in its June issue and is publishing some cases from the latter in this issue. It can be inferred from both reports that some people may also have been forcibly disappeared in these places.
The Civic Alliance and the Committee of Political Prisoners also reported that the regime still captures an average of 10 people a day. With a strategy of continuing intimidation and harassment, and with a new repressive pattern that could be dubbed “express prison,” some of those picked up are held for between a few hours and a few days. While only some are tortured, all are threatened.
Very little is known of the repression in the rural areas. The bishop of Estelí, Abelardo Mata, is the source who has referred most frequently to the Army’s repressive actions in the countryside.
What the OAS says
Papal nuncio Waldemar Sommertag and OAS representative Luis Ángel Rosadilla, the witnesses/accomniers at the negotiation table, also took responsibility for being “guarantors for facilitating the full release of prisoners.”
In that new role, they were asked by the Civic Alliance on June 18 to react to the cases of the political prisoners still behind bars. The OAS General Secretariat, which sent Rosadilla as its representative at the table, issued a statement on June 20 reiterating that “the existence of political prisoners is incompatible with democracy and the rule of law” and requesting “the release of every person imprisoned for political reasons.” Rosadilla also met with relatives of political prisoners, who received him cordially.
The biggest and
longest coup of all time
Those who have remained loyal to the ruling party have been stunned, disoriented, embittered and infuriated by the release from prison of the national, sectoral or territorial leaders of the blue and white opposition. The intensity of that reaction is not as surprising as it might sound given the pro-government social media’s constant drumming into their heads that these people are “murderers, coup-planners and terrorists.”
There has been no let-up in the social media threats against these opposition leaders, most of them youths. “You got out of prison, but you won’t get out of the cemetery,” is typical of the sentiment. The most ardent government supporters also have no compunction about threatening their families. Many of those released have taken refuge in safe houses, as para–militaries, police and fanatics have their homes under siege. Masses to celebrate their release were besieged in Masaya and stoned in León.
The regime’s spokespeople try to present the amnesty law and the activists’ removal from prison as a “master play” to convince the international community of its desire for peace and fulfillment of its commitments. They also define it as a “necessity” party militants must accept “if we want to recover peace and the country we had before the coup d’état.”
The continual assault on any protest, no matter how small, and the picking up of new “coup-mongers,” as they continue to be called, suggests an unprecedented phenomenon worthy of the Guinness Book of Records: the “coup” the regime claims to have nipped in the bud has been not only the most massive in history but also never-ending…
The power of the sanctions
At several moments in the second negotiating round, the government team conditioned any advance from its side on the Civic Alliance calling on the international community to halt the application of sanctions. This only revealed to the Alliance, and hence the population, how much the sanctions worry the regime. It confirmed the remark by HRW director José Miguel Vivanco that they are the “only language Ortega and Murillo understand.”
The desire to stgop the sanctions was most specifically what led to the decision to release the most recognized political prisoners, but it was too little, too late.
June 21 was the deadline the US Congress gave Nicaragua to show enough progress in democracy and human rights to avoid the US government applying the sanctions contemplated in the Nica Act, passed with bipartisan consensus 180 days earlier. The original bill had focused mainly on the US vvoting against any Nicaraguan loan request to the international financing institutions, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. The final version focused more on targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations and acts of corruption. The law thus became a single-country Magnitsky Nica Act.
Wasting no time after the Ortega regime got thumbs down from the US Treasury Department, four more Nicaraguans were sanctioned on June 21: Gustavo Porras, the National Assembly president; Sonia Castro, the minister of health; Orlando Castillo, the director of Telcor, the state telecommunications institution; and retired Major General Óscar Mojica, the minister of transportation and infrastructure. The four are now barred from entering the United States and from having any relationship with US investors or the US financial system, including having a bank account. In Nicaragua they are not allowed to have relations with any bank that has a US correspondent bank, which effectively means they can’t sign checks or have a credit card.
Why they were sanctioned
The Treasury Department’s accompanying press release explains that it targeted these four members of the regime’s inner circle because “they persecute Nicaraguan citizens exercising their fundamental freedoms [Mo¬jica], enact repressive laws [Po¬rras], silence news media [Castillo] and deny medical care to the Nicaraguan people [Castro].”
Porras is sanctioned for being the president of “an entity that has enacted significant actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions,” being President Ortega’s “senior-most political operator” and exerting “significant control over the Institute of Social Security and Ministry of Health with the approval of Vice President Rosario Murillo.” The National Assembly’s approval of the Amnesty Law and banning of nine human rights and pro-democracy organizations from operating in Nicaragua also influenced the decision.
Castro was targeted for heading a ministry whose public hospitals and health centers were ordered not to treat wounded protestors during the civic rebellion and for firing public health personnel who did not obey these orders. Some 200 health professionals, including highly qualified specialists, were dismissed for that reason. The press release describes the Ministry of Health as “an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights against persons associated with the protests.”
Meanwhile, Castillo is punished for directing an institution “that has, or whose members have, engaged in actions that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Nicaragua…. Telcor has been used by President Ortega and Castillo to silence independent media, including the news organization 100% Noticias.”
And finally, Mojica is sanctioned for promoting on national television “the Ortega regime’s ‘exile, jail, or death’ strategy to silence the opposition, a policy that has left hundreds dead, thousands wounded, and tens of thou¬sands either incarcerated, driven into exile or internally displaced. Addi¬tionally, Mojica manages a significant portion of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo’s official and per¬so¬nal finances including investments in coffee plantations and hospitality establishments,” implying corruption.
Unlike the avalanche of both individual and institutional sanctions the US government has rained down on the Maduro government in Venezuela, those on the Ortega government have all been individual thus far, with the exception of the one applied to Ban¬corp, the bank that served the joint Nicaraguan-Venezuelan business consortium called Albanisa, itself indirec¬tly punished through its association with sanctioned Venezuelan entities.
A clear message to the Army
The sanction on Major General Mojica has received the most attention, not so much because of his ministry’s economic importance, which is sizable, but because Mojica was next in line to lead the Army back when he headed its General Chiefs of Staff and was instead named to administer the Army’s Social Security Institute, which han¬dles the military pensions financed by millions of dollars in investments in the United States.
Experts on military issues see his inclusion in the sanctions as a clear shot by Washington across the bow of Nicaragua’s Army, a warning that its complicit silence or covert participation in the human rights violations since April 2018 could land members of its top brass on the next list of sanctions.
Canada is now applying sanctions as well
The biggest surprise in Nicaragua, and surely also in the presidential compound, was that only two hours after Washington’s four sanctions were announced, Canada matched and raised them. The Canadian government sanctioned the same four government officials along with five others previously sanctioned by Washington: Police Chief Francisco Díaz and de facto Managua Mayor Fidel Moreno (both in July 2018); Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo and her trusted operator Néstor Moncada (both in November 2018) and Murillo and Ortega’s son Laureano (April 2019).
Canada excluded two other officials previously sanctioned by the US because they no longer hold the posts they had at the time: Roberto Rivas, then-president of the electoral branch of government, the first to be sanctioned in December 2017; and Francisco López, who was president of Albanisa among other top-level posts when he was sanctioned in July 2018. Canada also did not name Bancorp, which at the time of its sanction by the US was bought by the State and given a name change.
No one would catalog Canada as “imperialist” or “interventionist,” as it has never before interfered in Nicaragua’s internal affairs. That obvious distinction with the United States makes its coordination of the OAS Group of 12 on Nicaragua, its promotion of the OAS ultimatum and these sanctions all the more relevant.
A majority is demanding a solution
With its ultimatum, the OAS is demanding Ortega’s prompt resolution of the crisis, as is the majority of Nicaraguans. The latest national poll by CID Gallup, conducted between May 7 and 21, shows that 77% of those polled now believe the country is “on the wrong course,” up from 66% four months earlier. Only 12% continue to believe the country is going in the right direction. The poll also shows a sizable majority wanting an end to the crisis, 62% via early elections and 59% via the earlier resignation of Ortega and Murillo.
The continuing economic decline requires a political solution to the crisis, given that it is rooted in an irrecoverable loss of confidence in the Ortega government by both national and foreign investors and lenders. This is confirmed by an analysis in The Economist, which forecasts a 5.5% drop in the gross domestic product this year, while the analyses of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development predict an even more pessimistic figure.
In late June the regime began to evaluate the results of its tax reform, which, as many had predicted, has only intensified the economic crisis. Independent Nicaraguan economist Néstor Avendaño characterized it as being like “loading a 100-pound sack of sugar on the back of a person who can barely walk.”
It’s all so hard on the regime’s base...
The government has a growing need to increase tax collection, above all to be able to pay the salaries of its more than 200,000 public employees. This mass of workers in both the central and municipal governments is the Ortega regime’s most assured political base, whether out of ideological tradition or to assure their jobs. Motivated by either fear or conviction, they are the ones who stand for hours at traffic circles waving party flags, go to the mobilizations, applaud the comandante...
It would be a huge political risk right now to start laying off people from this base of the faithful for financial reasons. It would add to the moment’s general unhappiness, particularly after so many concessions to the “coup-mongers.” It has been very hard on the regime’s militant base to see the political prisoners not only released but received as heroes in their communities and by other governments in other countries. It has also been hard to hear their challenging declarations...
Erosion on the FSLN’s outer edges
Given such a disconcerted FSLN base, will Ortega be able to accept the ultimatum presented by the OAS? Will he be able to enter seriously into a negotiation leading to his authorization of street demonstrations again, which in turn could lead to the elections being moved up? Admitting the possibility that “the comandante ISN’T staying” until 2021 would be traumatic for his loyal rank and file.
It is unlikely that there will be any new defectors from Ortega’s closest circle of power given the tight bonds in this “mafia band,” as former FSLN Comandante of the Revolution Luis Carrión called it in the Speaking Out section of this issue, because those bonds are based on corruption, perks and other modes of illicit enrichment. There is thus no chance of any resolution of the crisis from an explosion at the center of power.
What Ortega knows very well has already grown and could increase even more with serious negotiations is erosion at the periphery.
How might the negotiations go?
By July 5, the closing date of this issue, neither Ortega nor Murillo had uttered a single word about the OAS resolution. Who did speak was Liberal-turned-FSLN-ally Wilfredo Navarro, one of the six negotiators on the government team. In his notorious self-serving fashion, he did so to calm the pro-Ortega base and divide the Liberals, calling on them to follow his example and side with the comandante
Interviewed on a TV program on an official channel, he said the negotiations were effectively over, the OAS resolution was “peremptory,” the government was fulfilling what it had agreed to, electoral reforms were being hammered out with the political parties and the Alliance and, surprise, surprise, the elections would not be moved up.
Navarro was quickly contradicted by Ángel Rosadilla, the OAS representative at the negotiating table, who said he would not return to the country until the negotiations between the government and the Civic Alliance were renewed. He was addressing the government, not the Alliance, which has expressed its willingness to resume the talks to ensure compliance with what has already been agreed to and not fulfilled, and begin discussing issues referring to democracy, starting with but not limited to the electoral question.
A long row still to hoe
German deputy foreign minister Niels Annen also spoke to Ortega, the Alliance, Rosadilla and Sommertag. Annen had visited Nicaragua in November 2018, when he reportedly played a decisively successful role in three initiatives: getting Ortega to allow a mission of European parliamentarians to enter the country in last January after having refused to do so several times; establishing the negotiations that began in February; and having the Vatican nuncio, Sommertag, participate as a witness and accompanier alongside Rosadilla.
In public declarations, Annen did not seem to favor sanctioning government officials and said, “a long road remains to be run to resolve the crisis.” Might it take until 2021?
How to come out of the crisis
The international community is closely following what’s happening in our country is hoping we recover our “stability” and become “the safest country in Central America” again.
A sector of both the international community and the national business community believes that starting down the path to the 2021 elections will be virtually equivalent to setting off toward stabilization. But can elections in 2021 really guarantee stability if Ortega is still in government until voting starts, still controlling every¬thing in the institutions and with the paramilitaries still in the streets and countryside?
The entire international community and the national business class seem to be banking on a way out of the crisis that involves a “soft landing.” There are differences between the methods of the United States and those of the European Union. Both seem to agree on the what—getting Ortega out through elections—but differ on the how—pressure with sanctions or insist on negotiations.
Three possible solutions are visible today. One is rupture (Ortega lea¬ving government, politics and/or the country), in which a transitional government takes over temporarily; the second is him leaving government after early elections, (in which he stays in politics and in the country until then), and third, him leaving government via the regular elections set for 2021. The takeaway from the three is a) the sooner the better, b) the least power Ortega has before and after the better, and c) his non-departure from power is no solution.
From above or from below
How will Ortega respond to the ultimatum? For the time being, it seems he will maintain 2021 as a mantra and prepare to govern from above through fraudulent elections and counting on allies to do everything possible and more to divide the blue and white opposition in the meantime. He will also prepare to govern from below, as he did between 1990 and 2006, during three consecutive governments. It is with this two-pronged strategy that the dictatorship is “celebrating” the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, which no longer stands for very much at all.