Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 416 | Marzo 2016



Unifying of the dispersed forces and reckless signs of power

Those who are demanding a change in the country’s direction are working to ensure that November’s elections are transparent to prevent the specter of a new fraud from materializing. They are also working for the greatest unity possible to give voters clear and opposing choices. Meanwhile, Daniel Ortega’s closest circle sent several reckless messages last month that suggest fear of transparency and unity as well as a willingness to pay any price for a third consecutive reelection.

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Raúl Obregón, general manager of the polling firm M&R Consultores, said again in February that President Daniel Ortega is “unbeatable” and that this reality must be “accepted” because his government’s determination for peace and coexistence is reinforcing the country’s social and economic development. Obregón’s statement is based on his company’s ongoing national polls, and of course is echoed by the government’s official spokes¬people. With seven months to go before the elections, however, some still refuse to accept such assertions. They believe Ortega has never been weaker and that this would be put to the test in free elections.

The opinion is also circulating that only a united opposition could beat him. As this year commemorates a hundred years since the renowned Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío’s death, we find ourselves pondering the most repeated lines of his famous poem “Salutación del optimista” (The Optimist’s Greeting), wondering if, since the opposition’s “forces” (vigores) are so evidently “dispersed,” they “will unite,” “support each other” (se secundarán), and be able to form “a single shaft of energy” (un solo haz de energía) that can beat the unbeatable. Leaving the poem aside, what unity will carry the greatest weight in deciding the November 6 elections: that of the politicians or that of the citizens voting massively… or for that matter abstaining massively having lost their optimism?

How is 2011 like 2016?
What happened in the 2011 elections suggests some comparisons with today, with two important similarities on the government side. Five years ago Ortega already had total control of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and resisted allowing international and national electoral observation. In the end, however, he had to accept the European Union and Organization of American States (OAS) observer missions.

Five years later he has shown his determination to maintain that control of the CSE by naming three FSLN militants as magistrates to occupy the three posts that became vacant in 2014 and 2015. And as for election observers, he issued this warning on December 1 of last year: “Those international observation groups, managed above all by people who still see our nations as colonies, are nothing more than instruments of interference and intervention.”

The situation is also similar to 2011 on the opposition side of the street, largely because after the experience of the 2008 municipal elections both the population and the parties opposed to Ortega feared fraud that year. And they still fear it. Where we find some differences is in the composition of the opposition forces, albeit also mixed with similarities.

The two halves of
Liberalism in 2011

In 2011, Nicaragua’s Liberals were split in two, as they had been in 2006, the year that division allowed Daniel Ortega back into power. On one side in 2006 was the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) of former President Arnoldo Alemán. On the other was the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), which had split from the PLC only the previous year yet took second place in the elections, pushing the PLC into third. By 2011 the CSE had arbitrarily replaced banker-politician Eduardo Montealegre as the head of the ALN, leaving him leading an unregistered grouping called the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement (MVE). Also arbitrarily denied its legal status by then was the Sandi¬nista Renovation Movement (MRS), a 1995 split from Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had placed fourth in 2006.

With both the MVE and the MRS deprived of their right to a slot on the ballot in 2011, they joined forces to defeat Ortega in an alliance initially called the National Unity of Hope (UNE). Several other groups disaffected both by Ortega’s five years back in the presidential seat and by Alemán’s corrupt personal and despicable political practices joined them. They included the small Citizens’ Action Party (PAC); a new PLC split; a segment of the old and relatively inactive Independent Liberal Party (PLI); part of the National Resistance Party (PRN), formed out of what were formerly known as the “Contra” and have spent their civilian life in interminable splits; and a group of opposition mayors denouncing the “theft” of the 2008 municipal elections. They were backed by civil society organizations that months earlier had formed what they called the Patriotic Alliance. In the end, Montealegre took over leadership of the PLI, which still had its legal status, and this heterogeneous array of opponents ran against the incumbent President in 2011 as the PLI Alliance. Its consensus ticket was the aging but still popular and highly respected Liberal radio entrepreneur Fabio Gadea, with MRS leader Edmundo Jarquín as his running mate. Despite the CSE’s allegedly gross manipulation of the votes that year and the prediction by many that a deal had already been cut for the PLC to be awarded second place for having stayed out of the alliance, its showing was so abysmal that the CSE had no choice but to assign second place to the PLI Alliance. Ortega was given 62.5% of the votes, the PLI Alliance 31% and the PLC only 5.9%.

Two coalitions with
very different weights

As those percentages suggest, the opposition is no longer divided in two relatively equal halves. Two coalitions again exist and they are again headed by the PLC and the PLI, but they have very different weights in the scenario shaping up for November.

In the 2011 elections the PLI won 23 legislative representatives and the MRS 2, with the latter playing a very principled and active opposition role in these five years. In May of last year, determined to unseat Ortega, they organized what they’re now calling the National Coalition for Democracy. This time they’re joined by two more Liberal groups disaffected by Alemán, who still heads his nearly extinct party; the same Resistance Party splinter groups; Social Christians from the Christian Democratic Union (UDC), whose legal status was also arbitrarily cancelled by the CSE; and PANAC, a new Evangelical party not yet recognized by the CSE. PANAC is headed by Saturnino Cerrato, a pastor of the Assemblies of God, which calculates its faithful in Nicaragua at some 800,000.

The other Liberal “coalition” was cobbled together around the PLC two months after the first one, and calls itself the Liberal, Trade Union and Republican Unity. It is made up of unions belonging to the General Workers’ Confederation, the Workers’ Federation and others; three mini-splits from the PLI, each of which is claiming rightful ownership of the party’s legal status; and a different split from the PRN. The novelty of this coalition is that it held internal primary elections to select its presidential candidate. The winner was lawyer-politician Noel Vidaurre, who had been the old Conservative Party’s presidential candidate in 2001 but resigned when his very weak party succumbed to PLC pressure to support Alemán’s Vice President Enrique Bolaños, historically a Conservative, as its presidential choice. Vidaurre’s running mate this time is Miguel Rosales, the PLC’s young organizational secretary.

The National Coalition for Democracy has carved out a strong presence for itself in the streets, the media and the interior of the country, stumping for fundamental electoral changes and a number of social demands and supporting the struggles against the interoceanic canal. Its proposals and campaign messages have been honed to a sharp edge. It has also demonstrated greater political and organizational maturity, expressed in primaries for the election of its legislative candidates by coalition members, who will then be selected by the coalition as a whole. The MRS authored a similar process in its brief experience in what the FSLN called the “convergencia” that was very successful in the 2001 municipal elections.

A third, very small “coalition” calling itself Democratic Unity was organized by a US-funded NGO called Hagamos Democracia (Let’s Make Democracy). It is made up of two parties that still have their legal status, the Conservatives and the PAC, and accompanied by personalities of the country’s social and political life. Its relevance appears to be minimal.

Alemán’s goal is
to isolate the MRS

The opposition’s lack of unity is a recurrent theme in all analyses coming out in this pre-electoral period, to the degree that it has become a crucial element in the reaffirmation of Ortega’s invincibility. Pedro Molina, the weekly magazine Confidencial’s brilliant cartoonist, expressed this failure in his own inimitable style upon seeing Momotombo and three other Nicaraguan volcanoes spewing ash and smoke almost simultaneously: “Nicaragua’s the only country in the world where four volcanoes can reach agreement and two opponents can’t!”

Is Alemán seeking unity? The shadow of the hyper-corruption he directed from government has never left him, so he needs a unity that would include him after the PLC’s debacle in 2011. If Alemán accepted Noel Vidaurre, linked to the country’s business elite, as his presidential candidate this year, he did it as bait to attract the PLI and create an opposition coalition with greater PLC influence to isolate the MRS Sandinistas. That proposition also appeals to various business sectors, although not all of them as some appreciate the capacity of the MRS, which although a small party is largely made up of professionals and intellectuals with interesting initiatives. And of course isolating the MRS has been a fixation of the governing party ever since it split in 1995, particularly after its 20% vote in Managua in the 2006 elections came close to bringing the FSLN’s share below the 38% of the vote with which it squeaked to victory in the first round.

Those who want to isolate the MRS cannot ignore that its presence, its activism, the experience of its leaders, its focus on program over personal position and its organizational network, which while limited is very committed, have been fundamental to providing the PLI firmness when it has had to demonstrate it in crucial moments. Those in the PLI know and even admit this.

How can one trust
in ballot box #1?

In the name of the PLC, Noel Vidaurre has spoken on several occasions with Eduardo Montealegre, who still controls the PLI seals but has seen his leadership weakening both nationally and within the party. The latest attempt, and the first in public so far, took place in a press conference called by Vidaurre, when he appeared flanked by Alemán and the PLC leadership on February 29 to urge Montealegre to ask his base whether they would like to participate in the elections united with all other Liberals in ballot box 1, the PLC box, or separately in 13, the one assigned to the PLI. Almost immediately, Montealegre shot back in a radio response, “We’re not running on Arnoldo Alemán’s ballot box!”

Everyone in the know says that one of the main obstacles to this alliance is the rivalry between Alemán and Monte¬alegre, which reaches back over a decade to when Montealegre split from the PLC to found the ALN and displace Alemán from the Liberal leadership. It’s not just a question of personal animus; it’s buttressed by embittering events going back to the 2008 municipal elections, when Alemán persuaded Montealegre to run his ALN in an alliance with the PLC in exchange for Montealegre being the alliance candidate for mayor of Managua. In an impressive display of cynical politics, Alemán is alleged to have then actively supported the massive fraud organized by the FSLN in the capital and 35 other municipalities whose alliance candidates were from the ALN. It was a simple win-win deal for Ortega and Alemán. The former got his candidates in mayoral offices they hadn’t actually won, including Managua, and the latter scuttled Montealegre’s new party.

So is Vidaurre offering a PLC ballot slot that he controls or that Alemán controls? Who has any reason to trust that in the end Alemán won’t cut a deal with Ortega similar to the one in 2008?

To add to the division and confusion, a third Liberal group has come on stage. It’s called Unity with Dignity and is headed by Edgar Mata¬moros, a local leader in Ciudad Darío who ran for that municipality’s mayoral seat in 2012 and was one of the victims of the fraud the CSE again allegedly organized that year in many municipalities.

A hope-inspiring
consensus ticket is needed

The PLI-MRS coalition insists that it’s possible to bring down the “invincible” Ortega, and that doing so doesn’t require the total unity of the opposition. They believe it would only involve insisting until the final moment on transparent elections and presenting the population with a presidential ticket people can believe in.

PLI-MRS coalition representatives and independent supporters of the demand for free elections have now gathered for 46 consecutive “protest Wed¬nesdays” in front of the CSE headquarters in Managua to press their case. The success of that effort plus the coalition’s assessment of the tensions within the national political class have led it to ask 84-year-old Fabio Gadea to run again as their presidential candidate, confident that he will be able to generate the required hope and trust.

He at least generates consensus among the most diverse sectors, and more importantly virtually no politician or grouping has the nerve to criticize him in public, which is very relevant in Nicaragua’s back-biting political setting. The only concern some express is his advanced age.

Fabio again

It says a lot about the country that Gadea is the only figure in Nicaragua’s current political moment who can ensure consensus in the opposition and hence the greatest possible unity. He is best known throughout the country for the story-telling radio character “Pancho Madrigal” he created in 1959 and whose nearly 10,000 stories are still heard on both radio and TV. In 1962 he cofounded Radio Católica then three years later cofounded and bought Radio Corporación. The latter was physically attacked by the Somoza dictatorship for voicing democratic visions and defending freedom of press and expression.

An initial supporter of the Sandi¬nista revolution, Gadea became disaffected by what he perceived as totalitarian tendencies. In the context of the war of the 1980s and the Reagan gov¬ernment’s support of the polarized oppsition, Radio Corporación again came under attack, that time for its anti-revolutionary political line. Gadea went into exile in Costa Rica and became a member of the directorate of both the Contra and the right-wing social democratic Nicaraguan Democratic Movement, which he had founded in 1978 together with Alfonso Robelo.

After the war, when contra veterans formed the PRN, he became its president until 1995 when he switched to Alemán’s PLC, representing it in the Central American Parliament for three consecutive periods. He is even related to Alemán by marriage: his son is married to one of Alemán’s daughters. For all these reasons, he is particularly admired in the traditionally Liberal rural zones.

Before signing on as the PLI Alliance’s presidential candidate in 2011 Gadea said, “I have resigned my militancy in Dr. Alemán’s PLC, but not in the PLC of the Constitutionalist Liberals. I am and will continue to be a Constitutionalist Liberal. What I am not is either an Orteguista or an Alemanista. The Ortega-Alemán pact has obliged me to take this step.”

Gadea’s political self-definition has since added a rapprochement with Sandinismo through the MRS that he experienced through the 2011 election campaign. He shared difficult meetings with many of its leaders during intense months. In a Confidencial interview in August of last year he said, “I talk to the MRS a lot; it’s a party that has a lot of energy and a great future in the country, because it’s a conglomerate of people who have a well-defined democratic socialism and believe in freedom of expression and the free market. They are democratic socialists, which is what is practiced by some European countries that have progressed a great deal.”

Gadea’s running mate?

Who will Gadea choose as his running mate? In 2011 he selected Edmundo Jarquín, an economist and well-known politician forged in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship who became the MRS Alliance’s presidential candidate in 2006 following the death of his running mate Herty Lewites.

And now…? Various names are being discussed, in particular former President Violeta Chamorro’s daughter Cristiana, who is also the widow of Antonio Lacayo, her mother’s presidential minister; MRS president Ana Margarita Vijil; and PLI legislative representative Luis Callejas. Who will best help him attract the youth and the urban population? And who will best inspire the country’s “independents,” who according to all polls are currently the country’s second political force? Among those who admit their political leanings, the latest CID-Gallop polls show independents as 35% of the respondents, behind the FSLN with its 57%.

Marenco doesn’t believe
Ortega is invincible

In a recent appearance on the TV opinion program “Cuarto Poder,” former Sandinista mayor of Managua Dionisio Marenco claimed that Ortega was a shoe-in, and for that reason argued that international and national electoral observers need to be invited to legitimize his victory.

Marenco doesn’t claim Ortega is invincible, however. Analyzing the latest M&R poll, whose percentages are very close to those of CID-Gallup, he says that if the 35% who consider themselves “independents” join the 10% who admit to being “opponents” with a good program and good leadership, they could beat Ortega. The problem, he says, is that he sees neither a program nor leadership in the opposition ranks.

Will the election
polarize in 2016?

The more aging opposition still remembers the 1990 electoral experience, when Ortega also seemed invincible, the FSLN had total institutional control and the leading opposition candidate, Violeta Chamorro, seemed very weak by comparison, even with Washington’s solid backing. Her campaign had enormous obstacles to overcome… yet she beat him. The opposition wasn’t totally united in those elections either; the UNO coalition represented 14 parties from the far left to the far right with two other opposition parties running separately. But the election polarized into a two-horse race: Violeta against Daniel. All but 4% of the valid votes went to one of those two candidates.

Something similar happened in 2011, this time with three other parties running: it was Fabio against Daniel, “the old man” against “the fighting cock.” The National Coalition for Democracy isn’t aspiring to total unity of the opposition this time either, as Alemán and his followers have earned themselves a closed door from this new PLI-MRS grouping. Instead they are banking on polarizing the election between Ortega and Gadea again.

An unfavorable
international setting

Most of the differences between 2011 and 2016 are found on Ortega’s side, both nationally and internationally speaking. Internationally, the unconditional support Ortega enjoyed from Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chávez is over; the extremely generous Venezuelan cooperation is no longer flowing so freely; the tide of progressive governments is ebbing all over the continent; there will be changes in the US government that under no imaginable circumstances will favor Ortega, and Luis Almagro, the new OAS head, appears to have different options than his predecessor José Miguel Insulza.

Almagro’s intervention to halt any possible fraud in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections in December 2014 and his willingness to establish a Mission against Impunity in Honduras (MACCHI) show him to be more active and determined to boost the OAS role in the countries of the continent.

In the national setting we
see control and weariness

At least in rural Nicaragua, the domestic scenario isn’t favorable to Ortega either. Victims of the two-year-long drought, coffee growers and cattle ranchers are all complaining about the government’s lack of support. And in the former war zones of the eighties, home to the poorest in the country, peasants resent the repeated electoral frauds that have deprived them of their elected mayors. They are also fed up with the siege by the Police and Army to eliminate the armed groups, which is the strategy the government favors over recognizing they have any valid political reason for their bitterness.

The situation is even worse in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, where indigenous populations have been attacked by mestizo settlers allegedly supported by the government. And even in the country’s relatively calm urban areas, frustration is increasing over the rising cost of living and the high unemployment and underemployment levels, the main never-resolved problem.

There’s also a perceived weariness with the “single thinking” the government is trying to shove down people’s throats. In addition, that excessive social control and the fragile balance between unmet needs and the means to satisfy them have produced perceptible fear, as veteran journalist Xavier Reyes Alba explains in the Speaking Out section of this issue, interpreting these sentiments through the results of the latest public opinion polls.

Are they taking
preventive measures?

Perhaps the governing party is detecting all this in its own opinion polls and therefore fears what could happen in November. Even though all questions the polling firms released publicly show Ortega with a majority of potential voters and sympathizers that make him “invincible,” other questions contracted privately may suggest he needs to act forcefully before November.

Whatever the reason, several signs this past month suggest that Ortega’s closest circle is in fact beginning to take preventive measures, sending early signs that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to remain in government.

We saw three rash signs that appear aimed at creating the image that Ortega is invincible… even though they also suggest that he doesn’t have everything on his side. One message was aimed at the international community, another was imposed on the judicial system and the third was sent to those active in the opposition.

1. A rash text

On February 11, Nicaragua’s Foreign Relations Ministry circulated a letter among the diplomatic corps in which it denounced the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for “a process of political encroachment,” using funds from international cooperation to favor opposition parties. Using bombastic language, it charged the UNDP with having used its offices for “intromissions in internal politics,” despite having been “warned” that it needed to conduct “the corresponding clean-up.” The letter went on to accuse top UNDP officials in New York of “constant disrespect” and “hidden agendas” in their recent visits to the country.

The UNDP “strongly and categorically” rejected the government’s accusations,” denying the “groundless statements against our officials that are lacking in evidence.”

“This has never happened
in any other country”

Instead of dropping the issue and lowering the tension, the government went another round, using similar language to its first communication. It accused the UNDP of “arbitrarily” awarding itself US$21.6 million for administrating 115 projects in recent years, even though the Nicaraguan government knows, as do the donor governments, that this amount corresponds to the overhead the UNDP charges for that role.

The government further accused the UNDP of requesting consultancies and financing high salaries for “persons of clear political militancy in opposition parties and movements.” The text even contains threats: “In no way may you continue, as you have done, in a destructive labor that is fed with funds that belong exclusively to the Nicaraguan people.”

In an interview with Confidencial, Fernando Zumbado, a former UNDP director for Latin America, said, “I have asked colleagues who are now retired but were with UNDP since its beginnings 50 years ago and they cannot remember this type of situation in any other country of Latin America, Asia or Africa.”

Reckless authoritarianism

By appealing to national sovereignty, speaking implicitly of a conspiracy organized by the UNDP, while also implying that contracting people who belong to other parties is a crime, the government exhibited a reckless authori¬tarianism against nothing less than the United Nations, made up of the entire international community, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The invective was not ignored by the international media and various voices noted it would very likely have an impact in the future. Nationally it caused surprise and even shock, since the UN agencies in Nicaragua, which are coordinated by the UNDP, have all made every effort to be very cordial with the Ortega government since 2007, bending over backward to avoid any friction, always applauding its social programs and signing off on its official statistics.

Even José Adán Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, the government’s main ally, expressed surprise at the affront. He explained that, along with 15 other people, some of them top government officials, as well as representatives of political parties, business, unions, NGOs and academics, he has been participating since 2011 in meetings called by UNDP in its offices to debate issues of national interest, and that the government was fully aware of them. “The accompaniment by the entire UNDP team,” said Aguerri, “was always of the highest ethical and professional level. They encouraged dialogue and there was never any involvement by UNDP officials that encouraged political positions in favor of or against anyone.”

Why now?

This all began in late September of last year, when the government met with all those in charge of bilateral and multilateral external cooperation to inform them that from then on the government would directly assume administration and execution of the resources, no longer accepting external intermediation. Silvia Rucks, UNDP’s representative in Nicaragua, who did not accept the new modality, had naturally advised her superiors and the donor countries affected of what had happened, and left the country. There was no more public information about that disagreement until now, when the government “reheated” the conflict.

Why now and why with such extreme tactlessness? It would seem that Ortega wanted to send a signal to the entire international community, especially those cooperating with Nicaragua, as well as national NGOs financed with external resources.

What exactly is that signal? Beyond the sheer determination expressed by the government to be the only administrator of the international cooperation resources, which is a pretty tall order, the message seems to be a kind of pre-warning, a shot across the bow, that makes clear“urbi et orbi” that Nicaragua will accept no intervention by international actors in the national scenario either before the elections… or after.

The “specter” of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), organized and directed by the UN in that country, and now MACCIH, organized and directed by the OAS in Honduras, explains the fear in the circle surrounding Ortega that such a phenomenon could spread to Nicaragua. Both of those institutions have installed themselves, albeit with huge limitations, to compensate for the respective country’s own lack of institutionality and deal with at least the most notorious cases of corruption and impunity.

That fear was apparently large enough to trigger the commission of such an enormous diplomatic error. The real losers in that tragic move are the beneficiaries of UNDP projects, the potential beneficiaries of international cooperation that will think twice before investing their taxpayers’ money in this country in the future, and even the government itself, which gained nothing from its reckless move.

2. A rash measure

A second signal came on February 22, this one directed at the country’s judges and society as a whole. That day, after reporting on the spate of volcanic eruptions and earthquake tremors, new cases of the zika virus, the distribution of zinc roofing sheets and an international congress on cacao production, First Lady Rosario Murillo read a press release about a “coordinated effort” by the judicial branch, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Government and the Attorney General’s Office to release those sentenced for “light offenses” with five years or less of prison “under the family coexistence regime.” The gesture, announced without giving it major importance, was billed as responding to “the framework of a humanitarian policy and of reconciliation and unity of Nicaraguan families.”

In fact, the coordinated release had begun in 2014, supposedly on a small scale, without society even being informed. The surprise is that the move has in fact been massive: between then and now 8,149 prisoners have been released, 94 of them foreigners who were then deported to their country of origin.

It was further learned that instructions by the inter-institutional Criminal Justice Commission, chaired by the Supreme Court of Justice, establish that no judge specializing in violence may order the capture of men tried for failure to comply with the law to provide food assistance to their children. The police were ordered not to arrest them even if a judge has given the order. Approximately 300 such cases are pending in the country’s 15 new courts specializing in violence.

The instructions also require judges not to send men to jail for “less serious offenses” of violence against women, i.e. those carrying sentences of less than 5 years according to Law 799. All will be released to the same “family coexistence regime.”

Legal inconsistencies

The announcement of the massive release of offenders was no less unprecedented than the letter sent to the diplomatic corps denouncing the UNDP. It caused even more concern and fears in national society.

Gonzalo Carrión, the lawyer who heads the legal department of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, listed several essential questions regarding this measure: were the judges ordered to free these thousands of prisoners in public oral hearings as required by law? Were the families of the offenders, the victims of the released prisoners, notified and heard as required by law? Were they compensated and indemnified for the harm caused by these people? Will we be told who were benefited and what offenses they had committed? Were any of them reoffenders? If the measure was equivalent to a pardon or reprieve, why was the National Assembly not informed? And why is this “coordination” only being reported publicly now?

Carrión also pointed out that no such thing as “light offenses” exists in the Penal Code, just “serious and less serious” ones. He said that offenses with penalties of less than five years in prison include manslaughter, as typified by the “accidental” massacre of members of the Yelka Ramírez family during an alleged stakeout in Las Jagüitas last July.

Moreover, in the case of the men who will be freed for violations of Law 779, the Comprehensive Law against Violence to Women, Carrión noted that sentences of less than five years are defined for the majority of the crimes of physical, psychological, patrimonial and economic violence, intimidation, threats and the abduction of children. That law as originally passed was already distorted by a regulation Ortega insisted on, which determined that crimes of violence be resolved by mediation, despite an outcry from women’s organizations all over the country arguing that evidence shows violence only increasing after such forced mediation. The law is now utterly gutted by the instruction sent to the courts specializing in violence.

Carrión further explained that the family coexistence regime is already one of the processes all prisoners must pass through, but it is the fifth and final one, only after they have fulfilled a series of other requisites, stage by stage. And finally, he questioned whether the foreigners had been allowed to appeal their deportation, a right they are guaranteed by law.

Again we ask: Why now?

What is such a socially important measure responding to? And why was it taken with a discretionary procedure so lacking in transparency and reported so lightly to the citizenry, particularly in an electoral year?

Was it motivated only by a misguided desire to win over the votes of those benefited? If so, what about the votes of the victims, particularly the women affected? Looking on the still darker side, security expert Roberto Orozco suggests that the massive release of prisoners, which promotes impunity, could lend itself to recruitment among them for paramilitary shock forces with political objectives.

The only possible justification for the measure was the overcrowding in the prisons, but Orozco points out that money seized from drug trafficking would have permitted the construction of two or three more penitentiaries. In fact he recalled Ortega announcing that the US$9 million in drug money found in the vans of fake Telvisa employees in August 2012 would be used for precisely that, but the only construction that money is known to have been used for was a new maximum security wing and improvements in the women’s jail.

Some government officials even suggested the move was inspired by the “Year of Mercy” proposed by Pope Francis. In the current context, however, it seems most likely that the goal of the governing couple’s appeal to family unity, prioritized in such traditional sexist terms in the official propaganda, was to make clear to all of society the power the candidate for reelection has—and flaunts—over liberty or prison.

3. A rash criminal act

The final signal came on February 26 when five hooded men armed with daggers and metal tubes attacked untiring opposition activists Carlos Bonilla and his wife Gabriela García as they hailed a taxi to deliver to the CSE the results of a survey they had been doing for months on the population’s perceptions of the electoral process. Bonilla had announced the previous night on the TV program “Esta Noche” that he planned to do so the next day.

The attackers stabbed Carlos twice, perforating his liver and diaphragm and barely missing his lungs, nearly causing his death. They also wounded him in the face. Gabriela was struck on the head with the tubes. “They wanted to kill him,” she said right away; “they had a clear political objective.”

The results of the “homemade” survey of five questions the couple personally put to more than 9,000 people around the country had no explosive information and much of it reflected information provided previously by the surveys of professional polling firms. No fewer than 93.22% confirmed that they want national and international observation in the November elections, 91.53% said they have an ID/voter card, 81.70% said they do not believe in the electoral branch, 82.49% said they plan to vote in the upcoming elections and 39.55% said they had found the name of some deceased relative in their voting center’s electoral rolls.

One of the first responses to the assault was “energetic condemnation” by the US ambassador in Nicaragua, Laura Dogu. In fact virtually all sectors repudiated it, with all those who dare to speak freely also defining it as politically motivated. The only exception was the government. At the close of this issue, 12 days after the attack, neither the Police nor any governmental authority has said a single word about this criminal act.

“People are demanding
free elections”

“Nothing is going to stop me,” said Carlos Bonilla after coming out of the emergency surgery. “The population in our poll gives the CSE a failing grade for being the author of fraud. And people are demanding free and transparent elections.” A majority of those who Bonilla and García did not reach with their survey are also demanding the same, to prove whether or not Ortega is invincible.

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