Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 447 | Octubre 2018



Blue and white resistance v. the state of exception

The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship seems to have neither limits nor scruples in its relentless determination to stay in power and impose its “normality” via irrational repression. Is there still any possibility of a national dialogue to negotiate early elections and a civic way out of this crisis? Six months into the April insurrection and counting, we’ve entered an undeclared state of exception, the economy is poised for a nosedive and Washington’s sanctions are now ready.

Envío team

Breaking news: On October 4, just as this issue was closing, more than 40 national and territorial-level civil society organizations headed by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy announced the initiation of “a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of freedom, justice and democracy.”

Blue and White
National Unity

The members of what they are calling Blue and White National Unity include coalitions of university student organizations such as branches of the April 19 Movement from various departments of the country; business associations; the peasant movement and the Broad Front for Democracy, which includes political parties and party fragments arbitrarily deprived of their legal status. Also included are youth, feminist, ecological and sexual diversity movements, academics, independent media, doctors, the committee of mothers of the fallen, the committee of prisoners and political prisoners, the committee for the release of political prisoners and still others that are continuing to join.

This unity initiates a new phase in the peaceful resistance against the dictatorship, which has itself also initiated a new undeclared but evident phase: a state of exception. Resisting such repression peacefully and civically won’t be easy, but we’ll continue to report on and analyze its evolution and activities in upcoming issues.

A marriage of the Nica Act
and the Nica Magnitsky Act

On September 26, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a new bill authored by Cuban-American Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ). Clearly inspired by events since April 18, the bill was introduced on July 18 as the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 (S.3233) and is also known as the Nica Magnitsky Act. It was initially co-sponsored by six Republican and five Democratic senators, with two more Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein, signing on in September. The bill was later fused with the already-approved House bill known as the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act or NICA Act and it is that version that was unanimously approved by voice vote in the Foreign Relations Committee. On October 3, it was sent for inclusion on the Senate legislative calendar.

Key new elements
in the fused bills

A Foreign Relations Committee press release on September 26 defines the following five key new elements in the bill: 1) support for a negotiated solution to Nicaragua’s crisis that includes a commitment to both early elections that meet democratic standards and a cessation of violence, 2) the addition of the undermining of democratic processes as a third cause of targeted sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials (the original two are human rights violations and corruption); 3) the addition of an exception to restrictions on lending to the Ortega government by international financial institutions that ensures continued funding for projects that advance democracy and the Nicaraguan people’s basic needs; 4) an annual waiver to lift the requirement to impose sanctions if the State Department certifies that the government is taking steps to hold democratic elections, improve human rights conditions, combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law; and 5) increased intelligence reporting on the role of Nicaraguan officials in corruption, human rights violations and the transfer of arms to Nicaraguan security forces.

The fused bills are complementary in that one sanctions the government and the other sanctions individuals. The NICA Act part establishes that US government representatives to any international financing institutions must vote against new loans for Nicaragua as well as disbursements of already approved loans other than those related to point 3 above.

The Nica Magnitsky part imposes economic and political sanctions on Ortega, officials of all branches of the Nicaraguan government and the regime’s financial and material accomplices and collaborators as well as their respective family members who participate in human rights violations, acts of corruption, money laundering and other linked crimes. It is called Nica Magnitsky because those affected will be subject to the kind of personalized sanctions established by the existing Global Magnitsky Act. The four Nicaraguans already penalized by Magnitsky sanctions have been denied a visa to either travel to or reside in the United States and access to their accounts or properties in the United States has been blocked. Their names have also been added to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control list, which puts them under the scrutiny of US intelligence agencies. All of this effectively turns them into international financial pariahs.

Longtime Nicaraguan diplomat Bosco Matamoros said of this part of the bill that “those sanctioned know where the sanctions begin, but not where they will end, because that is up to the State Department fiscal prosecutors working with the Treasury Department, some 6,000 professionals with the capacity to investigate everything.”

The long wait
for the NICA act

This new version of the bill must also be voted on again by the House of Representatives. Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced her original Nica Act into the House in 2016, where it quickly passed by a simplified process called “no objection.” It was amended and again approved by the House the following year but never made it through the Senate. It was first postponed in late 2016 due to campaigning for that year’s general elections, followed by the holiday recess. After that the Ortega government and big Nicaraguan business organizations allied with it spent millions lobbying against the bill, which kept it from ever coming up for a plenary vote.

In June of this year, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the powerful president of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave Ortega a Washington-style chance to avoid approval of the NICA Act. Corker sent Caleb McCarry, the Senate’s main adviser for Latin America, on a lightning visit to Nicaragua as his emissary with a reported proposal, which would involve negotiations in the national dialogue, that Ortega leave government by stages in exchange for immunity for his family and security for his properties. The brutal repression exercised during the “clean-up operations” that promptly ensued was apparently Ortega’s answer. By the time the clean-up operations ended the next month with hundreds of new deaths, S.3233 had been drafted.

On September 22, four days before the merged version was due to be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, understood to be the toughest step in the Senate’s approval process, Ortega called on Congress to “reflect” and not approve the law. But even though he surely knew what was coming, he continued to demonstrate his determination not to cave in to the wishes of either Washington or the majority of his own population. The next day he reiterated his intention to remain in government until at least 2021, again refused to take up the dialogue, and furiously issued a threat to the business elite opposing him. The day before the vote he ordered his paramilitaries to shoot at a blue and white march, resulting in the death of 16-year-old Matt Romero.

Two days after the vote, a Nicaraguan Police press release threatened to prosecute any person or group calling for demonstrations, now defined as “illegal” by the newly approved “anti-terrorism law.” In doing so it appropriated attributions that do not correspond to it and violated both civil and political rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) director Paulo Abrão responded that Nicaragua “is being transformed from a rule of law into a state of exception.”

It is again an electoral year in the United States (in this case midterm congressional races, which are being more hard-fought than usual as the Democrats believe they have a good chance of recovering the majority in both houses), but there seems to be greater momentum to push S.3233 through without serious debate or delay and Nicaragua’s business elite are no longer lobbying against it.

Is Nicaragua strategic
or insignificant?

The Menéndez bill enjoyed bipartisan support from the beginning. The tighter language of the fused version (for example the specification of a waiver process should the government take the democratization steps the bill requires) reflect the ideology of the Democrats, historically more concerned about liberal principles such as democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, while the bill also retains the Republicans’ pragmatic ideology, which is more concerned about national security.

The bill’s cosponsors run the gamut from a majority of hardline rightwing republicans to a smattering of liberal Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who in the 1980s was a lonely supporter of the Sandinista revolution together with Bernie Sanders, then-mayor of Burlington, VT. This bipartisan consensus has been achieved largely thanks to Ortega’s own erratic and criminal actions, although some of the more broadly acceptable language may be the result of the persistent lobbying by Nicaragua’s business elite.

Matamoros insists that the “varied” profile of the cosponsors is proof that Nicaragua “has become an issue of strategic order for the United States.” Anyone attempting to research the evolution of the Nica Act in the US media, however, would be hard put to find evidence of that assertion. In its two years of its existence, the legislation has never appeared in media coverage of Nicaragua, which itself was virtually nonexistent prior to April. It could even be argued that the authors of the bill’s multiple versions have been able to push them through the various committees with a mere voice vote following little debate precisely because Nicaragua is insignificant compared with the monumental divisive issues wreaking such havoc in Trump’s Washington.

Resistance, pax Romana
or revolution?

President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have steadily ratcheted up the abuse of their monopoly of both military and insti¬tutional force since April. They apparently decided to pull out all stops to show the rest of us they control the country and that without them there will be neither stability nor order, but rather a power vacuum that will throw Nicaragua into the lawless chaos plaguing our neighbors to the north. By naming Francisco Díaz, one of the four Nicaraguan government officials sanctioned by the Global Magnitsky Act, as the new chief of police, they also sent Washington the message that they don’t give a fig about its sanctions. The degree of arrogance in both messages, with complete disregard for their effect on the population the governing couple was elected to serve, is comparable to the notorious declarations of the pre-revolutionary French monarchy: “I am the State” (Louis XIV) and “after me the deluge” (Louis XV).

Ortega and Murillo have obstinately refused to call early elections, negotiate anything or even dialogue with the opposition alliance, thus completely ignoring the 70%-plus of those polled who have dared admit that they’rs fed up with them. Their only response is that they intend to remain in power at all cost and they have transmitted it via even more control and repression. The continual murders of the first months have been replaced not with normality but with more pervasive and widespread intimidation, threats, harassment, firings, detentions, jailings, tortures, indictments for terrorism and farcical trials that violate the country’s laws and the Constitutional rights of the accused. Ortega and Murillo seem to want to impose what one independent national journalist dubbed a “reign of silence,” forcing the population’s submission and capitulation through military power.

They may be dreaming of a long “pax romana” under their absolute dynastic rule, but they should be careful what they wish for and pay more attention to history. The French revolution broke out only 15 years after Louis XV’s death, bringing with it the end of dynastic monarchical rule, not to mention the death of his grandson and successor, Louis XVI.

Blue and white
v. red and black

Over the months, the anti-government and pro-government bands have acquired new identifiers. The opposition, which encompasses the wide array of forces from students to business cham¬bers to multi-sector civil society organizations represented in the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, is now increasingly referred to simply as “blue and white.” It’s an apt name for a number of reasons. As they are the colors of the Nicaraguan flag, it’s an allusion to patriotism, but also to the opposition’s bedrock unity, a reminder that their continuing marches are always rivers of blue and white flags, untainted by the colors of any political party or other organization. Contrary to expectations that this unity of rather strange bedfellows would soon fragment, it has in fact been growing both wider and deeper.

While some in the pro-government gatherings have attempted to approp¬riate the nationalist image by also carrying the occasional blue and white flag, the traditional red and black one of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) always dominates. None of their mobilizations so far have come even close to the largest opposition marches with the possible exception of the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution on July 19, which the independent media were prevented from covering. There have been claims, however, that the official footage of the impressive sea of red and black flags at that event was actually from previous years.

In its September 28 press release warning that blue and white marches are now “illegal,” the Police also argued that they were “not peaceful.” To back that up, it claimed that Matt Romero, killed by a bullet to the thorax in the September 25 march called to protest the holding of hundreds of political prisoners, had been caught in crossfire. Matt’s family and classmates, however, believe the version of his 14-year-old cousin, who was there: “First the paramilitaries attacked with rocks and then came the AK 47 gunfire…. They got Matt while he was shielding a woman from the bullets.”

The population has continued to show tremendous courage and mobilizing capacity, with one or more demonstrations held a week, not just in the capital but all over the country. Protesters come out despite the danger from the police and paramilitaries, as well as from the parallel pro-government mobilizations planned to coincide with the opposition rallies.

In addition to ordering public employees and party sympathizers to participate in counter-marches on the same day, another tactic from past years has also been dusted off to demonstrate the government’s recovered monopoly of the streets. All day every day, handfuls of people with governing party flags now occupy the traffic circles and major street corners with revolutionary music blaring from gigantic speakers. They also engage in tiring walks “for peace” or in caravans of state vehicles proclaiming “death to Somocismo”—a warped allusion to the government’s claim that everything that has happened since April has been financed by the US and led by the extreme Right. Starting in mid-August, the government has also increasingly infiltrated the protests, hoping to provoke violence and accuse the demonstrators of having caused it, as it did on September 25.

Most important of all was the passage of the anti-terrorist law, through which the regime has multiplied the imprisoning of student, territorial and neighborhood leaders. Many student leaders of the April civic rebellion are currently in prison or have left the country and many peasant leaders have fled into the mountains for the same reason. Ortega’s “pax” has no other underpinning than extreme violence exercised from the State.

In an interview on an official TV channel on September 19, Deputy Minister of Government Luis Cañas stated that 7 people had been convicted and another 197 detainees are currently being tried. The human rights organizations, in contrast, calculate that about 400 people are detained for political reasons. Of those, 350 have judicial processes already opened, 80% of them accused of “terrorism” as well as other crimes.

Cañas claimed that “no inmates are being held illegally in the prisons” even though virtually all prisoners were abducted (not arrested with a legal warrant), some by paramilitaries, and weren’t brought before a judge within the legal 48 hours, He also insisted that everyone receives the correct treatment with respect to family visits and health care, which is contradicted by countless testimonies of mistreatment, torture and illegalities suffered by political prisoners, including the refusal of prison officials to let family members see them, as shown in numerous videos filmed by the independent media.

In September, Joel Hernández, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, came to Nicaragua specifically to visit the country’s three penitentiaries—La Modelo, La Esperanza and the Police Judicial Assistance Headquarters known as El Chipote—to learn the conditions of the political prisoners. He wasn’t allowed entry into the prisons either.

A regime massively
repudiated in polls

The repression and terror have made themselves felt with force, but it has not put a stop to the rejection of the regime and repudiation of what it is doing. On September 1, the Ethics and Transparency Civic Group (EyT) conducted a new cell phone poll of 1,200 randomly selected individuals. Its questions were similar to those asked in a first poll done in July.

Asked whether it would be “appropriate” (conveniente) to hold elections “promptly,” 81% said yes in the new poll, 2% more than in July. Asked whether it was “illegal or unconstitutional” to shorten the current presidential period, 68% said no, 15% more than in July. Asked to appraise Ortega’s actions, 62% defined them as negative.

Then between September 6 and 18) CID Gallup conducted a face-to-face poll of the same random number of households around the country in which 60% responded that the election should be moved up. Asked with a less juridical-institutional nuance, 61% said Ortega should “resign” while only 28% said he should “stay.” The latter answer offers strong evidence of the failure of the government’s propaganda, as the slogan “My comandante is staying” is the chorus of a song played incessantly on pro-government media and sung constantly by both sympathizers and paramilitaries.

It should be noted that trust in the secrecy of polls is typically low in Nicaragua, so given the reign of terror these days, the amazing thing is not so much that 11% chose not to answer that question, but that so many dared to do so. Yet another intimidating message on both the tee-shirts of regime supporters and a number of walls is the single word “plomo” (lead).

The CID-Gallup poll gave Ortega a record low evaluation compared to all other Presidents in Nicaragua since 1990, with 24% rating his performance in the crisis as “bad” and 33% as “very bad” for a total 57% rejection, only 5% less than for those who responded similarly to the EyT phone poll. Only 25% evaluated it as “good” or “very good,” with 18% not answering. With respect to the course the country is on, only 13% see it as “favorable” compared to 54% who viewed it as such in January.

Those surveyed were also given four statements, the first two representing government statements and the last two actions it has taken or ordered, and asked whether or not they agreed: 1) The police is offering measures to defend the people (33% agreed and 66% didn’t); 2) Those who participated in marches and roadblocks are terrorists (20% agreed and 71% didn’t, 3) The government is persecuting journalists for making criticisms (11% were in favor, 79% weren’t), and 4) Armed people are taking properties that already have owners (5% were in favor, 93% weren’t). Asked their opinion of the Catholic bishops’ role in the dialogue about the conflict, 64% said it has been good, while 27% considered it mediocre or bad.

All these percentages indicate a majority rejection of the regime and the violent and repressive way it has dealt with both the crisis and the desire for change through early elections. They also show that the government propaganda against both the bishops and the protesters has been singularly unsuccessful.

The main problem is political

The crisis affecting the economy—which as of October 1 completed two consecutive quarters with negative growth, officially making it a “recession”—is affecting more and more individuals and families. Of those polled by CID-Gallup, 40% listed some variant of the economic crisis as the country’s main problem: the cost of basic needs with 27% and unemployment with 13%.

Ignoring not only these perceptions but also the hard daily figures, the government propaganda has been insisting since August that everything is now back to “normal.” Who does it think it’s talking to? Evidence of the reigning economic abnormality abounds in all spheres:
•Tourism has plummeted and recovering visitors’ confidence in the country’s safety won’t be easy.
•At least US$1 billion in deposits have been withdrawn from private banks in recent months out of fear of an economic collapse, with the continuing possibility of an even more drastic run on the banks, as Nicaraguan economist Néstor Avendaño described in last month’s issue of envío.
•The Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) reports that 347,000 jobs have been lost (the government only admits to 100,000), which also means that those workers are no longer paying into social security or receiving its health benefits.
•Then there is the drastic fall in consumption, with 1.2 million people likely to sink into poverty if the crisis drags out much longer.

Ortega doesn’t appear concerned to resolve any of this. Harking back to our earlier parallels with the French monarchy, the indifferent statement famously attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette when told on the eve of the French revolution that her subjects had no bread seems fitting here: “Let them eat cake.”

Despite all these alarming figures, however, for the first time in memory the population didn’t list unemployment as the main problem in the CID-Gallup poll. The highest individual percentage (35%) put the political crisis first. Adding to this the 12% who said fear for their children and official repression, these political answers exceeded by 7% the combined concerns about the economic fallout of the crisis.

How many of Ortega’s
supporters still back him?

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have been responsible for the spilling of a great deal of blood and have generated significant opposition by refusing to bring the elections forward. In 1990, Ortega had agreed to hold them early in hopes of ending the contra war, but it was an easier decision then because the possibility of losing didn’t enter his mind.

The current polls, in contrast, suggest the governing couple would lose by a landslide They also confirm what a number of historical Sandinista militants have been saying in recent months: that Ortega is losing some of his hard-core support, which traditionally hovers between 30% and 35% and includes many who have left the party disgusted by the abandonment of its principles over the years but would still never vote for any other party in elections. Asked in the new CID-Gallup poll about their party sympathies, 67% defined themselves as “independent” and only 23% as favoring the FSLN. This leaves just 10% divvied up among the remaining political parties, with Arnoldo Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) pulling the most (4%).

In a sort of popularity spectrum of well-known names, Rosario Murillo ranked worst with -38%, followed by Alemán’s wife, María Fernanda Flores with -33% and Daniel Ortega himself with -26%. At the other end, singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy ranked highest with +56%; followed by cardinal and archbishop of Managua Leopoldo Brenes (+44%); his auxiliary bishop Silvio Báez (+36%) and Lesther Alemán, the 20-year-old student leader (no relation to the former President) who rose to instant fame both nationally and internationally by confronting Ortega and Murillo at the opening of the national dialogue (+29%).

The pollsters also tested the electoral waters of three non-politician establishment candidates who have been floated in recent months to oppose the governing couple: José Adán Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP); former President Violeta Chamorro’s daughter Christiana, head of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation; and Michael Healy, president of the Union of Producers of Nicaragua (Upanic). The results were not encouraging for their generation or their ilk: all pulled in the positive low teens in the popularity ranking, but only 6% or 7% as presidential candidates, while 79% of those polled either said they supported no one, or didn’t know/didn’t respond. This dearth of attractive political alternatives is the Achilles’ Heel of the new Blue and White Union.

The survey didn’t disaggregate the results by either sex or age. One characteristic of the April rebellion and its consequences is Ortega’s rejection by what writer and former Ortega Vice President Sergio Ramírez called “the grandchildren of the revolution.” Sandinista leader Víctor Hugo Tinoco, who left the FSLN to support Herty Lewites’ presidential campaign in 2006, agrees: “A whole generation rebelled. Even the high school kids identified with the university students.”

Several questions and answers of the CID-Gallup poll permit clearer tracking of the militancy or sympathy Ortega still enjoys. It ranges between the high of 34% registered by those who don’t want the elections moved forward and the low of 20% registered by those who agree with Ortega’s official version that those participating in marches and roadblocks are terrorists.

These percentages indicate that Ortega still has an important “floor,” but his base has indeed eroded. Thanks to the constitutional reform he negotiated with Alemán to lower the minimum required to win elections on the first round from 45% to 35%, he won the presidency in 2006 with 38% (if you don’t believe the allegation that 8% of Managua ballots were never counted because they would have put him below that legal minimum). He was reelected in 2011 with an official 62.3%, but given all the irregularities—a euphemism for fraud—that the observers from the Organization of American States and European Union noted in their reports, we’ll never know the real percentages The 2016 results that again reelected him are even less verifiable as any real competition had been eliminated and the abstention was huge.

Is Nicaragua really
like Venezuela?

The economic crisis Nicaragua is suffering is sometimes compared to that of Venezuela. In an interview on the Al Jazeera news chain, Sergio Ramírez commented that the two situations are incomparable, as the differences between Venezuelan President Maduro’s economic power and Ortega’s are vast, even though the former’s is very eroded.

“Venezuela produces a million barrels of oil a day, bringing US$70 million into the country daily,” said Ramírez, “whereas Ortega is buying the oil we need on the international market because Maduro no longer supplies us. Nicaragua’s economy is half the size of Costa Rica’s and only a bit larger than Haiti’s. We export only just over US$2 billion and the gross international reserves in our Central Bank are only twice that. It’s a very small, very fragile economy undergoing a tremendous deterioration that Ortega’s not attending to.”

But the small size of our economy makes Ortega less vulnerable. The dinosaurs died out very quickly, while the small mammals saved them¬selves. Ortega seems to be counting on our insignificance in world geopolitics.

Who’s to blame for the
economy’s race to the abyss?

EyT included a direct question in its poll about who’s responsible for the economic crisis. It’s an important question because many in the opposition are banking on the plummeting economy to fuel further protests and force Ortega to the negotiation table.

Others cynically believe Ortega plans to stand firm, letting the crisis worsen, prolonging the repression and terror to snuff out the protests and propel more people into exile, leaving mainly the poorest and most economically vulnerable in the country. The waning protests would thus leave the business class with no choice but to adapt to the imposed “peace” and the United States would have to accept the “stability” that only the regime could guarantee. The undeclared de facto state of exception suggests that scenario.

The results to that economic question aren’t particularly encouraging for either side, as 33% blamed “the government and its allies,” 20% blamed “the opposition and its allies” and 38% blamed both.

The “grassroots” economy

There is evidence that Ortega is willing to “impoverish” the country, or at least the “grassroots” economy. Given that the origin of the economic crisis is political, it can only be resolved with a political solution acceptable to both sides, but he hasn’t given any sign in six months that he’s willing to negotiate such a solution.

He hasn’t gone after the big transnational corporations or called for strikes in the free trade zones, all of which are foreign capital. Those assembly plants for re-export employ thousands of women, but at low wages, and are basically tax and duty exempt.

He has, however, continually taken pot shots at big national capital, which has broken the alliance it had with him for most of the past 11 years. On September 22, speaking to his followers and obligatory state employees at a counter-march, Ortega said that Nicaragua can’t expect its own capitalist class to reactivate the economy. The reactivating “solution,” he assured them, will come from the “grassroots economy.” Did he think people would be unaware that the grassroots economy has been hardest hit by the crisis?

He urged his base to resist, promising them they would at least have enough to eat. One by one, he named all the products we produce and don’t have to import: beans, maize, plantains, oranges, lemons, milk, chicken, beef, pork… But he neglected to mention the lack of credit to produce all this, the drop in consumption and the reduction of córdobas circulating in the economy. “Nicaragua is a country that has a basic wealth,” he told his audience, trying to pep them up. “And based on that wealth, and the security the country has had and now has again, because Nicaragua has recovered its security,” he drew the implausible conclusion that the grassroots econ¬omy and the security recovered by the imposed “pax” will “attract investments.”

Reactivating the economy
will take a long time

So far there is still a widespread and insistent national and international consensus that the crisis must be resolved in a negotiation via a national dialogue with international guarantors that will have to include creating the conditions for early elections that are transparent, competitive and observed.

It has even been written into S.3233 in very explicit terms as the “sense of Congress” that:
“(1) credible negotiations between the Government of Nicaragua and representatives of Nicaragua’s civil society, student movement, private sector, and political opposition, mediated by the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, represent the best opportunity to reach a peaceful solution to the current political crisis that includes—
(A) a commitment to hold early elections that meet democratic standards and permit credible international electoral observation;
(B) the cessation of the violence perpetrated against civilians by the National Police of Nicaragua and by armed groups supported by the Government of Nicaragua; and
(C) independent investigations into the killings of more than 277 protesters….”
Short of that there’s no way the economy or the country in general will normalize. But even these conditions can only put an end to the political crisis. Any honest analysis must recognize that it will take years for the economy to reactivate fully.

In its late August report, The Economist Intelligence Unit stated that Nicaragua’s economic panorama will be seriously hampered by the political crisis in both the short and medium run. It explained that even if the crisis is resolved by the end of this year or early next year, the previous growth of 4.2% will not be achieved again before 2022. The publication refers to the events surrounding the April uprising as the “most serious episode of social unrest in Nicaragua in nearly four decades.”

Néstor Avendaño’s prognosis is more conservative. He told envío that “the problem is one of trust and trust isn’t regained easily or quickly. It isn’t enough just to reestablish the economic numbers that appeared before April 18 to say we’re now back to normal. Better economic numbers don’t mean the economy has recovered. It will basically recover only with the reestablishment of trust between the government and all the country’s economic agents: consumers, producers, investors and the international community….. That’s only possible in the long term, when several years have passed.”

The business class
keeps its distance

The unhidable economic disaster is affecting not only the traditional big business class and the grassroots economy, but also Sandinista businesspeople and even the presidential family’s companies and economic concerns. Ortega recently sent out feelers to see if the economic elite in the various business chambers have been softened up enough to accept his obsession with remaining in government. But the corporative marriage that functioned well for the business class and the government for a decade seems to have ended in a genuine divorce.

Back in May, just before the infamous Mothers’ Day march massacre, the heads of the country’s three largest financial groups (Carlos Pellas, Roberto Zamora and Ramiro Ortiz) made separate calls for Ortega to halt the violence and move the elections up. They were preceded by COSEP President José Adán Aguerri, who had stated in the national dialogue that “the country cannot hang on for a medium-term solution. It needs an answer now and the government has to provide convincing political responses.”

What they got instead was the regime’s counteroffensive. By the next month, Ortega had girded his loins and opted for state terrorism. That was the last time the three leaders of big capital publicly addressed Ortega.

They did, however, continue lobbying some US congresspeople not to approve the Nica Act, but Ortega’s determination to stay in power, his crimes and his reiterated declarations that he has no intention of moving up the elections or engaging in a national dialogue pulled the rug out from any lobbying argument. There’s no way to defend what Ortega is doing.

Moreover, Ortega’s former business allies have a more personal reason to give him a wide berth. The tough personalized sanctions in S.3233 are aimed not only at the presidential family, its close circle and government officials, but also “accomplices” and “collaborators.” Any rapprochement with Ortega would be suicidal.

“They’re playing
economic terrorism”

The rebuff by big capital explains Ortega’s aggressive speech on September 22 to public employees and party sympathizers who marched “for peace” for the nth time that Saturday. He accused the business class of “economic terrorism” and “playing with fire.” He warned that if they backed another national business strike—both businesses and private banks have already closed their doors during three 24-hour stoppages—he would order the police to open them by force. The attack seemed specifically aimed at the banks run by those same three powerful financial groups.

In response, COSEP’s business chambers, the US companies that belong to the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) made it clear yet again that the solution to the economic crisis has to be political. In a message it titled “Nicaragua is everyone’s homeland,” COSEP recalled that the crisis triggered in April was the product of “irrational intolerance of political dissent,” an elegant definition of the politics of terror unleashed against the rebelling population. AMCHAM reiterated that the crisis originated with “massive human rights violations.” For its part, FUNIDES said the threats launched by Ortega “are exacerbating and deepening the social fracture currently affecting the country.” All of them pushed for the national dialogue and for the elections to be moved forward.

Arturo Cruz, Ortega’s first ambassador to the US on his return to the presidency in 2007, participated in a virtual conference at the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE) on September 12 titled “Is a constitutional solution possible in Nicaragua?” He laid out the complex political dynamics facing each actor and the options that are still open, but suggested that time is running out on Ortega’s decision to play hardball. “The US and the rest of the international community are still amenable to a peaceful constitutional solution,” he argued. “But such a solution isn’t easy, especially as there’s a lot of pain in Nicaraguan society and a political solution that would include Ortega suggests a lack of justice. That route puts society in a great debate….”

He then alluded to a possible drastic outcome for both Ortega and Nicaragua as a country if a peaceful solution is not found: “I’m not saying Daniel Ortega is going to hold early elections. I’m only saying that a catastrophic economic situation could force that option. And if he doesn’t take it, the US will take strong tangible measures…. No one in Congress, the executive branch, the press or society will object to passing the Nica Act….”

Growing national and
international isolation

The moves Ortega and Murillo are making are nothing if not confounding. Some put them down to a psychopathic addiction to power that defies logical analysis, while others see them as a calculated Machiavellian strategy with a thought-out end game. Yet another take is that they are desperate tactical actions that can only end badly, while still others see them as a way of buying time to create the best possible conditions for negotiating what the US envoy offered back in June: immunity from prosecution for his family and security for their accumulated wealth. Whatever their calculations, they are at the cost of being abandoned nationally by historical Sandinistas, likely voters and occasional sympathizers.

While the presidential couple still enjoys a hard core of supporters nationally, they have painted themselves into a lonely corner internationally. And the international arena is one they have no possibility of intimidating much less repressing. The crimes they have committed in such a brief time in such a small country are now recognized and repudiated around the world. The international correlation of forces became even more negative for the presidential couple in September, as that repudiation was repeated again and again in international forums.

In the UN Security
Council forum

On September 5, Nicaragua’s crisis became the subject of debate in the UN Security Council. This was unprecedented given Nicaragua’s scant weight in world geopolitics, but reflected the speed with which our tragedy escalated to such proportions.

Nicaragua, Venezuela and Costa Rica participated in the debate as invited guests. As expected, Nicaragua criticized the interference in its internal affairs, Venezuela railed at the instrumentalizing of the Security Council by the United States, and Costa Rica warned that the Nicaraguan crisis has the potential to affect all of Central America.

Gonzalo Koncke, cabinet chief of Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro, spoke at the opening of the debate, describing Nicaragua as “a country without hope that finds itself at a crossroads on which its peace, democracy and future depends.” Félix Maradiaga, director of Nicaragua’s Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP), created “to raise awareness of citizen security in Nicaragua by encouraging debate and generating information on security and violence,” spoke in representation of the Nicaraguan citizenry. He presented a personal testimony of his participation in the civic rebellion and described having taken exile in the United States after the regime issued an arrest warrant accusing him of financing terrorism. On September 23, the police searched the IEEPP offices, requisitioning documents to “prove” that charge.

IEEPP is one of a number of organizations in Nicaragua publicly funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US private nonprofit organization founded during the Reagan administration and financed largely by the US Congress. NED’s unsavory role as an arm of US imperialism, particularly but not only during the 1980s in Nicaragua, has led international organizations in solidarity with Ortega to see its funding of a number of Nicaraguan NGOs as indisputable proof of a US plot to foment a coup in Nicaragua.

Of the 15 countries that make up the UN Security Council, 9 expressed concern about the governmental repression and impunity in the use of state force, and favor dialogue as a solution to the crisis. It was the first time in a world forum that Ortega was referred to as a “dictator.” The other 6 countries—all of which themselves have authoritarian governments—argued that Nicaragua’s crisis shouldn’t be a topic for Council consideration as it doesn’t represent a danger to world peace and security. Two of them, Russia and China, are among the 5 permanent Council members with veto power. Russia opted for a full-blown rhetorical speech, while China limited itself to four terse words.

In the UN Human
Rights Council forum

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet gave her first speech as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the inauguration of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 10. She said that “the number of people fleeing Nicaragua is also increasing exponentially, as a result of the ongoing crisis in the country, including the deterioration of human rights. Two weeks ago, the Office [of the UN High Commission for Human Rights] released a report documenting disproportional use of force by the police; extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; widespread arbitrary or illegal detentions; widespread mistreatment, and instances of torture and sexual violence in detention centers; obstructions to medical care; and violations of freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression such as the criminalization of human rights defenders, journalists and demonstrators considered critical of the government. Some 400 people have been killed and at least 2,000 injured.”

Thirty-six nations of Europe and America (Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States) presented a joint statement demanding the immediate cessation of that same list of human rights abuses. On October 3 the European Parliament and its 28 member countries issued a similar pronouncement.

In the OAS Permanent
Council forum

The OAS Permanent Council held its sixth meeting on Nicaragua’s crisis on September 12. With the support of 19 countries, that regional body approved yet another resolution on Nicaragua with 4 countries voting against, 9 abstaining and 2 absent, which was quite similar to the votes on previous resolutions.

Yet again, the resolution insisted on the restoring of the national dialogue. It also insisted that the regime facilitate the work of the international human rights bodies present in Nicaragua, which at the moment are the IACHR’s Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua and its Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts. Their officials are not being provided information by the government and are also not being guaranteed freedom of movement. A new point in this resolution calls on the member States to take unilateral “measures,” to be decided by each country, to “contribute” to the reestablishment of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua.

The OAS has also moved in other directions. After being refused entry into Nicaragua, a working group of 12 member countries chaired by Canada, created to try to have an impact on the Nicaraguan crisis, met in September with directors of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to learn the status of the various loans on which the Nicaraguan economy depends. The new version of the Nica Act now moving through the voting process in the US Congress would also affect the disbursement of already-approved oans for Nicaragua from both institutions.

According to the working group, the IDB approved loans of US$856 million to the Nicaraguan government in 2013-2017. This August the IDB reported that the national crisis had affected the implementation of investment projects and $624 million were still pending disbursement. The government has yet to develop its four-year (2018-2022) strategy with the IDB, which must be approved by the the bank’s board. The World Bank approved loans totaling US$580 million to Nicaragua between 2014 and 2018, of which $148 million were for this year.

In international media forums

After these new diplomatic reverses and the imminent approval of the US government sanctions, Or­tega took another shot at defending himself and drumming up support in new interviews on three European news agencies: Spain’s EFE, France’s 24 and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. These followed his six unprecedented interviews at the end of August, including a surprising one with the pro-Trump Fox News.

Ortega repeated the same message in all the interviews: he has been the victim of a coup d’état thought up in Washington and has now successfully quashed it. He told Deutsche Welle that Germany should help by telling the United States not to meddle in Nicaragua’s affairs and that a dialogue was necessary at a table with international mediators, adding that the government “is now negotiating with the base, in a dialogue at the community and neighborhood level.”

He told France 24 that no police officer and no paramilitary had committed any crime and that none was being investigated, offering as proof that “the United Nations wasn’t here then and didn’t see them.” Because the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights wasn’t in Nicaragua during the peak violence, Ortega considers its report “false, an infamy.”

Ortega also told France 24 that he was considering speaking at the 73rd UN General Assembly, adding that it was “imperative” that he have an “exchange and dialogue” with President Trump, “not only in Nicara¬gua’s name but also in that of Latin America.” Days later. US representative to the OAS Carlos Trujillo, a diplomat very close to Trump, nipped that idea in the bud. “There is nothing to talk about as long as the paramili¬taries continue violating human rights in Nicaragua,” he said and reminded Ortega that sanctions are in the pipeline: “The generals, paramilitaries and police officers who are torturing and oppressing the people, violating Nicaraguans’ rights, are going to face justice.”

In the UN General
Assembly forum

Daniel Ortega was put on the list of speakers at the UN General Assembly for the afternoon of Wednesday, September 26, the same day the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved S.3332. Not only did he not appear but the government spokesperson did not even show up to give his excuses.

Instead, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada spoke on behalf of Nicaragua to a practically empty hall five days later. He referred to what happened as “terrorism disguised as peaceful protest,” adding that “Nicaragua has withstood the attempts at a coup d’état. Our country has once again won peace, fraternal coexistence and the gradual return of normal daily life….” In an oblique reference to the Nica Act, he added that “today we are once again facing the US threat to stem our people’s social, economic and cultural development.”

The speakers from Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica were the only ones who mentioned concern about the Nicaraguan crisis at the General Assembly. Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell chastised those who said nothing, commenting that “silence makes us all accomplices when the life and dignity of individuals is at stake.” Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera was more explicit in mentioning the grave human rights violations committed by the Nicaraguan government.

It was expected that Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, to whom Ortega had ceded his space on September 26, would defend Nicaragua, but he didn’t even mention it in his hour-long speech. He did, however, launch his expected diatribe against imperialism and flexed his negotiating muscle by reminding the US of his country’s immense resources. Not only does Venezuela have the world’s largest oil reserves, it also has “the largest gold reserves in the world under international standards,” enormous reserves of gas and other treasures in the Orinoco Mining Arc, where Russian and Chinese operations are now extracting gold, diamonds, iron, bauxite, coltan, niobium, tantalum and other valuable minerals. Maduro’s silence about the problems afflicting his associate was a pathetic sign of how alone the Ortega regime now finds itself.

Almagro no longer
an Ortega ally

More painful still was the silence following Rosario Murillo’s call several days earlier for Luis Almagro’s resignation as OAS secretary general for having said that no option should be discarded to overthrow Maduro, including a military intervention. In Maduro’s defense, Murillo said these declarations “constitute a great threat to international peace and security.” This statement signaled the regime’s closure of the “understanding” reached with Almagro in 2016 to reform Nicaragua’s electoral system.

Almagro had already recognized the violation of that understanding in his eloquent address to the OAS General Assembly convened on July 11 to hear the final report on Nicaragua by the IACHR (see the full text of his speech in the August issue of envío). He reiterated his concern about the direction of both Venezuela and Nicaragua on September 8 in a speech at the 15th Latin American Summit held in Miami. “It is inadmissible,” he said with respect to Nicaragua “that another country of the continent follow it [Venezuela] over the cliff of a dictatorship.” He exhorted the international community to fulfill its duty of providing responses “to asphyxiate the dictatorship that is also being installed in Nicaragua.”

It was the first time he called the Nicaraguan regime a “dictatorship.” He may have been moved to do so by the testimony he had just heard from Dr. Jiosmar Briones, a Nicaraguan neurosurgeon in forced exile in the United States, who presented him with the medical cases he had attended showing torture of participants in the anti-government protests. “The two most shocking cases I have seen in my professional and personal life,” Dr. Briones told him, visibly moved, were “two men raped with AK-47 rifles, who came to my clinic emotionally destroyed. They couldn’t even walk, they bled a lot; those men are never going to be the same as before. Those cases have marked my life forever….” Briones also told Almagro that the Ministry of Health authorities gave orders to not treat injured opponents in the public hospitals and that some doctors, like himself, were at risk for not obeying this order. Almagro listened in shock and afterwards said that what the doctor had reported amounted to crimes against humanity, which have no statute of limitations.

“They have to
be pressured”

The Ortega-Murillo regime has been the subject of many declarations, resolutions and messages by international governments. But what has most upset and demoralized not only the presidential couple but also those orbiting around it are the sanctions by the US government, with which Ortega went out of his way to maintain good relations for over a decade. These not only threaten the individual members of the governing family’s closest circle of power, but also the ruling party’s internal cohesion.

Carlos Ponce, Latin American programs director for the rightwing Washington-based, US government-funded NGO “Freedom House,” whom Ortega prevented from entering Nicaragua two years ago, reported that Congress has “very long lists” of people who could be sanctioned by S.3233, including some “from the Armed Forces.” He defined the bill as aimed at making the circle around Ortega see that it’s time to abandon him. “Daniel Ortega has now reached such levels of dehumanization that nothing matters to him. Having a dictatorship of this type, I see no other option than to increase the sanctions and the pressure. The military officers who are with Ortega need to be pressured to see that the pension funds they have in the United States are at risk, and that their family members now studying abroad are at risk. The fact is that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s children should be worried because the future Daniel is steering them to looks very somber.” All other things being equal, that is precisely the kind of imperialist language that seems to make Ortega dig in his heels even deeper.

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