The standoff between the majority and the dictatorship hits the year-and-a-half mark
Since April 2018 the majority of Nicaraguans
have been clearly repudiating the Ortega-Murillo project.
Although at a high cost, this social majority has insisted on
responding to the repression with creative peaceful resistance,
while at the same time working to create a unified political coalition
to break its standoff with the dictatorship.
The political drama between the Ortega-Murillo regime and the blue and white opposition continues after all these months, with neither side ceding. President Daniel Ortega and his Vice President-wife Rosario Murillo are still backed by the faithful minority they recovered after the initial confusion stirred up by the government’s unbridled violence of those first weeks after April 18. Most—though not all—of their backers have now swallowed the official story that the hundreds of dead were the price of a “failed coup d’état” and have easily bought the fantasy that “normality” has returned since they aren’t on the receiving end of the continuing intimidation, threats and repression.
If willful suspension of disbelief explains the loyalty of some, fanaticism, perks or even subconscious fear of what the country’s bishops have called “a system of hate and death installed in the country” are also part of the mix. Ortega hopes to maintain the cohesion of these followers until 2021 so he can be reelected with at least the minimum of votes they currently represent, combined with maximum abstention by the disenchanted and an opposition “scared away, dissolved and disintegrated,” as the Vice President put it.
The blue and white opposition is a social more than political majority whose definition and main points of convergence are symbolized by the colors of the national flag. Despite the battering of the past year and a half, they remain firm in their conviction to propose, struggle and resist civically, despite the unabated militarized repression. Not without difficulties, they are moving toward the creation of a national opposition coalition with enough room for all social, economic, political and cultural differences.
This apparently unending standoff has brought with it an economic deterioration that polls suggest is the lead issue in the crisis.
From the streets
to the households
The most recent poll was conducted by Cid-Gallup on September 10-20 in 1,203 households across the country, which the firm says gives it a 95% accuracy rate. It shows that Nicaraguans’ main concerns have moved from the streets—the site of last year’s political rebellion now empty after a year’s de facto state of exception—to people’s homes, shaken by the economic crisis.
“Economic issues dominate the list of national problems,” reported the pollsters when presenting their work. “The political crisis we lived through last year has fallen from first place. Now people’s attention is being dominated by the cost of living and unemployment, which are more normal problems for any underdeveloped country like Nicaragua.”
According to Cid-Gallup, “President Ortega still has the support of a third of his fellow citizens, especially youths and those over 40, and although this proportion is shrinking, it is a block he has consolidated. On the other side, there’s no glimpse of a defined political force and two-thirds of the population is declaring itself to have no political preference.”
69% says “the country
is on the wrong course”
The great challenge for the blue and white opposition is to attract and convince people, offering positive expectations and hope to that undefined two-thirds of the population.
Responses to other questions in the poll show plenty of room for progress with this task because the political model and discourse Ortega is committed to has lots of weak spots, starting with the fact that only 19% of those polled—a significantly smaller percentage than even his self-defined loyalists—believe the country “is on the right course,” while 69% are convinced it “is on the wrong course.”
As for Ortega’s never-substantiated claim that what took place in April 2018 was an attempted coup, only 28% accepted that official version when reminded of the events, while 40% did not (23% defining them as peaceful marches to protest the continuation of Ortega and Murillo in power and the other 17% as “governmental repression against civic protests”). An unusually large 27% did not respond or said they didn’t know, which Bryan Ureña, a senior analyst with CID-Gallup interpreted as fear of saying what they think given the overwhelming levels of state control and the excessive police presence in neighborhoods and communities.
The responsibility for the “deaths and victims” of the April events was more specifically addressed in the poll, with 45% blaming the State (specifically “the Ortega-Murillo government (36%) and “the Police” (9%), another 10% the “civilian population” and an equal percentage “the university students.” In this case 29% did not res¬pond.
Who’s calling the shots
and is everything now normal?
Still more weak spots. To the question “How do you think Daniel Ortega is performing his work as President?” 57% chose “bad” or “very bad” while only 19% said “good” or “very good,” with the remainder saying neither.
This appears to be the first poll to ask “Who is in command in Nicaragua?” referring to the presidential couple. Interestingly, 32% consider that Vice President Murillo is running things, 16% that Ortega is, and 24% that they both are, while 27% again preferred not to respond.
When asked specifically about Murillo’s administration, 51% defined it as “bad” or very bad,” a significant change from the survey by the same polling firm in January 2018, months before the April events, when 77% considered it “good” or “very good.”
In the new poll, most still question the “normality” the ruling couple insists has been restored, with only 24% agreeing that “things are now normal.” Of the remainder, 27% hopes normality will return when elections are held, although some of those add the rider that “God willing the elections will be honest.” They are followed by 23% that believes there will only be normality “when Ortega and Murillo leave power.” It can be assumed that the “did not know/did not respond” interviewees (25%) aren’t convinced that normality has returned either.
44% supports the
idea of a coalition
Asked to name their “preferred political party,” 25% named the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), 66% said none, and the other 9% were divided between the once powerful Constitutionalist Liberal Party (4%), Citizens for Liberty (2%) and “others” (3%).
While those answers indicate the terminal disrepute that has befallen Nicaragua’s traditional political parties, it cannot be assumed Ortega will win the next elections by default. The answer to another question casts a hopeful light on the social opposition’s new work: 44% have a “favorable” view of a “possible coalition” between the part of the opposition that has already come together as the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB), of which the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy is a part, and the other new and existing organizations that identify themselves as part of the larger movement. Only 28%—presumably mainly the same hard-core Ortega-Murillo supporters—view it “unfavorably.”
to the need for unity
Between late April and July 2018, streets all over the country were filled with a spontaneous but determined social majority that believed the time had come for the ruling couple to go, and that their massive civic protests—half a million people out of a population of six million in the largest of the marches—would be enough to achieve it. It was a zeitgeist of optimism, energy and naiveté.
Recalling those days, former university rector Ernesto Medina, a member of the Civic Alliance, defined this unprecedented mass of self-summoned demonstrators, led by no political party, as “voluntarist” in that few if any in those heady days thought about what would come after, if in fact Ortega and Murillo did leave power, much less what would happen if they didn’t. By July, the government’s Operation Clean-up had left over 300 dead, and six sessions of dialogue between the Civic Alliance and the government had ended in an impasse. In an article for last month’s Speaking Out section of envío, Medina recalled “the still diffuse vision of the movement…, which had no identifiable leadership or any clear program beyond the demand that Ortega and Murillo step down and leave us a free space of power to begin working on reconstructing the country…. We [the Alliance] were already seeing that the problem wouldn’t be solved with four or five huge marches in Managua and the rest of the country. There were signs that a more solid and structured organization was needed, one with a more realistic analysis and a successful perspective in the face of the bloody repression Ortega had unleashed. By August… we had all become convinced we were up against an enemy that would stop at nothing and were entering a totally new and more complex situation.”
At that point, the need for unity in the blue and white opposition began to be a recurring theme in the analyses, forums and conversations among activists. On September 23, 2018, the blue and white march under the slogan “We are the voice of the political prisoners” was the last to be held with any semblance of freedom in Managua.
The massive mobilizations all over the country had provided ongoing evidence of a social majority that had morphed into a movement united by nothing more than the national flag and the chant that the ruling couple had to go. Given the regime’s determination not to bow to such civic pressure, it had no choice but to prohibit the marches by decree since repression had reduced their size but not their existence. It also redoubled its efforts to divide the movement, particularly among university students, by infiltrating groups, sending in youths as provocateurs, trolling the social media with divisive and confusing messages, and pitting people against each other, skillfully applying its long experience at feeding Nicaragua’s political culture of disqualification.
The road to unity
is long and tortuous
The road to opposition unity has been neither simple nor speedy, and there’s still a long stretch to go. The release from prison this June of last year’s main protest leaders—which is not the same as freedom as they are still being hounded and their cases remain open—has helped accelerate the process, but not without clashes of egos and a strategic vacuum resulting from the country’s historical lack of a debate culture.
But the coalition is slowly coalescing, bringing together university youths, former political prisoners, relatives of unreleased political prisoners, feminists, mothers of murdered youths, business people, lawyers, peasant farmers, leaders of various social movements, health professionals, academics, people from the Caribbean region, journalists and politicians of various stripes.
While they are dedicating most of their efforts to developing unity and local, municipal and national organization, they are not abandoning their emphasis on international work. Given that “we can’t do it alone,” ongoing documented contact with the international community is indispensable, among other reasons because, as Human Rights Watch director José Miguel Vivanco put it so well, “Venezuela is capturing the world’s attention and special efforts need to be made to keep Nicaragua from falling off the agenda.”
define 15 points of unity
Efforts are being made to ensure that the unity being built crisscrosses the entire territory, all social classes and all generations.
Even after a year of what the e-bulletin Confidencial defines as a “police State” imposed by the regime, neither threats nor reprisals have enabled Ortega to reconstruct the decade-long cozy arrangement he had with the big business chambers grouped in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP). All of them, now affected one way or another by the economic recession, are united in demanding that Ortega change the political institutionality and respect human rights, which are issues they downplayed or turned a deaf ear to when they were Ortega’s allies and in some cases business partners.
This September, the 26 chambers in COSEP defined 15 points that united them as businesspeople and citizens with the rest of the social majority demanding a change. Among the most concrete are the demands for “early” elections, a “new democratic culture” (which they define as appointing public officials for their “professional, ethical and moral suitability”), a new “democratic institutionality” (defined as the “submission” of the Army and Police to civil authority and the “total disarming of the armed para-police groups”).
UNAB defines 20 points
for a new Nicaragua
Also in September, UNAB proposed what it defined as “20 points that unite us for a new Nicaragua.” They describe it as a “minimum common program for the search for broad national consensus.”
UNAB’s proposal is kicking off that it calls the formation of “a grand coalition that brings together all democratic forces, without exclusions” to defeat Ortega at the polls. Its 20 points are the reportedly consensual basis of the opposition coalition and will in turn be tasks for the new govern¬ment that wins the elections.
The points include creating a Special Attorney’s Office with international support to investigate the crimes committed by the regime, forming a new National Police, ending the Army’s single-party loyalty, reorganizing the judicial system and promoting socially and environmentally sustainable economic growth. Its most concrete proposal is to repeal Law 840, the canal law by which Ortega handed over sovereignty, lands and the waters of Lake Cocibolca to Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing in 2013.
The Civic Alliance’s reorganization, announced a month earlier and explained in detail by Ernesto Medina in the envío article mentioned above, is another move conceived to help build this “grand coalition.”
Consensus on electoral reforms
Another expression of unity announced this month was proposed reforms to Nicaragua’s collapsed electoral system to guarantee transparent elections as a civic way out of the crisis.
The Electoral Reforms Promoter Group, which had formed even before the April 2018 explosion, publicly presented its proposal after discussing it with the nascent blue and white coalition; opposition parties with seats in the National Assembly, Nicaragua’s legislative body (Constitutionalist Liberal Party, Alliance for the Republic and Conservative Party); and also the Citizens for Liberty Party, which was granted legal status after the 2016 legislative elections.
According to Roberto Courtney, director of the national election observer organization Ethics and Transparency and a member of the Promoter Group, they found “90% consensus on two issues: prioritize the guarantees of transparency in the process and restore the arbitration of the entire electoral branch of government, from the magistrates down to all structures, including the electoral tables.”
Every day sees expressions of
both repression and resistance
The ruling couple and their close circle are very aware of the reality that is translating into the percentages of both the CID-Gallup poll and the July Borge y Asociados poll discussed in last month’s envío. Nor are the efforts being made to achieve blue and white unity lost on them. While still a minority, the FSLN polled better in the Borge poll. One possible explanation is that CID-Gallup decided to do at least part of the polling by cell phone, according to its analyst Bryan Ureña, once it discovered that members of the FSLN’s Councils of Citizens’ Participation (CPCs), when learning the pollsters were in town, spread the word, thus making people less willing to talk to them in person.
The efforts to build opposition unity are precisely why the powers that be are intensifying the internal repression and attacking any sign of resistance from the social majority. But they can’t catch them all. The avalanche of people who came out for the processions in September in honor of the Virgin of Mercy in Matagalpa and St. Jerome in Masaya was peppered with blue and white flags and shouts of justice and freedom, which even the sizable number of cops present was unable to stop.
On more normal days the regime relies on its organized followers in the barrios. If several blocks of one street are sprinkled with bits of blue and white paper during the night, someone will hastily wash them away with a hose to prove his or her loyalty to the CPC.
Other times it employs the black-clad anti-riot police, armed as if for war. Ten people who gathered on a street corner with a blue and white flag demanding the release of the political prisoners still in jail were quickly surrounded by anti-riot police who pulled up in no fewer than 10 patrol pick-ups. All the protestors were detained, some for hours and others for days.
Despite such repression, there is always someone somewhere using some peaceful method to remind the regime of the continuing repudiation, opposition and resistance. The country is not normal.
“We aren’t sparing anyone!”
With such disproportionate internal social control attempting to stop any expression of opposition, the regime is also hyping up and galvanizing both its most intimate circle and its base.
Most of the released prisoners and their families and also people who fled into exile and then decided to return only to face harassment, threats and attacks, are from the poor sectors. But every once in a while the government rounds up people from other sectors who have a little more clout. September saw an intensification of the repression and hence its disregard for international pressure. Mobs at the service of the regime used rocks, metal bats and even bullets to attack a vehicle carrying three COSEP leaders and two recognized journalists who had returned from exile. And it all occurred with the passive complicity of police officers who just stood and watched. The message was clear: “No one is safe here; we aren’t sparing anyone.”
According to a detailed list prepared by the Civic Alliance, as of September 22 there were still 130 political prisoners in Nicaraguan jails (only one of them a woman), who were either detained, processed and/or convicted, some of them over a year ago. The list also includes 9 political prisoners who were released and then picked up again, accused of new crimes, 3 reported disappeared and 109 (101 men and 8 women) reported as being illegally detained, although it has been impossible to verify where are being held.
Laure Schneeberger, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) affirmed that it is continuing to visit the country’s prisons to learn about the prisoners’ conditions. She repeated that the ICRC’s work is “humanitarian,” it only provides information to the government and does not evaluate the legal status of those deprived of freedom. About possible “disappeared” persons, she said that “if an exclusive request is made by a relative who approaches us directly, we can open a process to try to establish contact with the loved one, whatever the circumstances.”
hunting them for years”
The attack on the COSEP vehicle happened on the León-Managua highway. Meanwhile, the bodies of murdered peasants continue appearing in several municipalities in Jinotega, in the central-north part of the country. According to the records of the newspaper La Prensa, 78 people have been violently killed in that department between January and September 8.
Careful records kept by the Nicaragua Nunca+ Collective indicate that 30 of these murdered peasants, many of them in a ferocious manner, were linked to the protests against Ortega. When the lawyers from that collective, currently exiled in Costa Rica, worked with the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) before the regime cancelled its legal status and confiscated its belongings, they had already counted 25 peasants murdered in the north, also for political reasons, in classic extrajudicial executions prior to the April uprising. “They are hunting them one by one and have been killing them for years,” said one of the lawyers.
All these crimes have gone unpunished. Given this climate of impunity they continue to be committed, and most people are too scared to file charges anymore.
They need the repression
to wear people down
The regime isn’t about to end the repression, no matter the price, as it suits its purpose of quellingt the visible rebellion. At this stage of the crisis the slaughter is limited to rural zones, which are harder for the media and human rights organizations to get to. In the country’s urban areas the repression is more scaled down, involving a climate of intimidation through constant hounding, attacking and arresting of people without cause.
The regime is banking on wearing down those identified with the blue and white movement and those who might support it by dragging out the crisis, keeping the repressive forces active (be they police, paramilitaries, fanatic regime sympathizers or merely hired thugs) and killing people in the countryside or capturing them in the cities. The physical repression or unrelenting threat of it is accompanied by the daily repetition in official and pro-government media that what happened in April was a “satanic explosion.” Apparently calling it a “failed coup” and the participants “terrorists” so often over the past year and a half has lost its original bite.
The unrelieved provoking of stress, fear, terror and flight all accrues to the regime’s side, strengthening it while eroding the enemy, a.k.a. the population as a whole. Obviously not everyone took to the streets last year—in the largest demonstrations in Managua it was 1 in 12, which should have caused any self-respecting government to recognize it had made some pretty serious mistakes. But the constant presence by the police, particularly the fearsome special forces, not to mention the para¬militaries, combined with the CPCs’ harassment of their neighbors and even relatives on the one hand and pressure to take sides on the other also has a disconcerting effect on people whose main interest in life is merely to have enough to eat and to stay out of trouble.
In September, both constitutionally created armed forces—the Army and the Police—paraded through Managua with a hitherto unseen magnificence and cost. The excuse was the celebration of the 40th anniversary of their founding as “Sandinista” armed institutions. To make sure the entire population would see and thus fear them, all national TV channels were ordered to plug into the national chain for hours, suspending their own programming.
The Army displayed a disproportionate arsenal, while the Police parade offered its own particularly intimidating twist by presenting exercises in which hooded police officers violently subdued “enemies.” No one who had their television turned on could fail to recall the paramilitaries we all saw operating in the bloody months of 2018. It was a far cry from the 1980s, when people were encouraged to address police officers as “compa”—the diminutive of compañero or friend—to erase the memory of the Somoza regime’s repressive National Guard.
The Bachelet report
Another way the regime is trying to wear down its majority adversary is by showing open contempt for the international community which began to make its voice heard again in September now that the long summer vacation season is over in the northern hemisphere.
Michele Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her institution’s report on the situation in Nicaragua in Geneva on September 10. The text is less impact¬ful than the one presented two months earlier on Venezuela, only because it has fewer figures, but confirms reports of torture in prisons, court processes riddled with illegalities and the unending violation of public rights and liberties throughout the country. We have reproduced it minus its extensive footnotes in this issue.
The regime calls its
Ortega’s representative in Geneva, Valdrack Jaenstchke, shamelessly denied the entire report, insisting on the government’s played-out claim of a “failed coup” and the newer mantra the regime is peddling: that the country has now normalized.
All countries except Venezuela, Iran, Russia and North Korea responded to the report by urging Nicaragua’s government to stop the violence, reopen the dialogue, restore citizens’ rights, investigate and punish the crimes committed and hold transparent elections.
Among the States that supported Bachelet’s report was the Vatican, whose representative, Iván Jurkovic, said the Holy See recommends “a solution that respects the truth, reestablishes justice and promotes the common good…. It firmly believes that it is essential to implement the agreements reached last March, immediately return to the open negotiations, and mutually and respectfully make the electoral reforms as soon as possible for the holding of free and transparent elections with the presence of observers” Days later, while participating in the 74th United Nations General Assembly, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Pietro Parolin referred to the situation of the peoples of Venezuela and Nicaragua as an “urgent concern.”
Doors closed to the
special OAS Commission
With the summer vacation now past, the commission whose creation the Organization of American States General Assembly had ordered back on June 28 finally began to get moving. Its members are Leopoldo Francisco Sahores, undersecretary for American affairs of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry; Sebastián Sigouin, Canada’s Global Affairs director for Central Amer¬ica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic; and three representatives of their countries in the OAS: Audrey Marks from Jamaica, Elisa Ruiz Días Bareiro from Paraguay and Carlos Trujillo from the United States.
The commission is mandated to take initiatives “at the highest level” in Nicaragua to find a solution to the crisis. Its first move, obviously, was to meet with Ortega and Murillo and with representatives of the blue and white opposition. The dates chosen for this first visit to Nicaragua were September 16-17.
The day before their scheduled arrival, the regime sent an order to the nine airlines that make stops in Managua warning them not to let any of the diplomats board any of their flights because they had no authorization to enter the country. The Commission members immediately stated they were “upset,” while OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who has otherwise been noticeably placating with Ortega in recent months, expressed his “condemnation.” Gonzalo Koncke, the head of Almagro’s Cabinet, who was to be accompanied by the OAS press attaché, was also denied authorization to set foot in Nicaragua.
The Argentine government described Ortega’s decision as “an act of unusual gravity.” Carlos Trujillo also underscored the seriousness of the affront: “Blocking the entrance of an OAS commission shows yet again that Ortega is not interested in taking constructive measures to put an end to the repression of the Nicaraguan people and to reform the political system.”
Although some analysts thought Ortega and Murillo would ultimately rethink their “unfortunate” decision and receive the delegation, in an ordinary OAS session three days later, Nicaragua’s representative reiterated their refusal to permit the “meddling” commission’s entry.
The shift in Venezuela’s crisis
Few observers believe Ortega has any interest in constructively resolving the conflict through dialogue with the opposition, putting an end to the repression or reforming the political system much less the electoral one. He shows every sign of being determined to remain in power and project himself to his base and his circle of power—and of course to himself—as the strongman he no longer is in reality, someone who doesn’t have to negotiate with anybody.
Given the demonstrated foot-dragging of the international community that has been pressuring him, Ortega seems to have been counting on buying time to make it through the upcoming changes of government elsewhere in Latin America. If they turn out as predeicted, he would be able to negotiate from a better position with more favorable representatives in the OAS.
The shift in negotiations with Venezuela may have encouraged him to harbor this hope. On September 15, just as the dialogue mediated by Norway ended, an agreement was reached for a transition government when a minority sector of Venezuela’s political opposition made a pact at a different “dialogue table” in Caracas with Maduro and new diplomatic representatives. This new agreement weakens Guaidó, strengthens Maduro, opens a crack in the opposition and reinforces the Venezuelan regime’s dialoguing and negotiating image. Ortega aspires to something similar.
Another Contadora group?
Might Ortega have decided to jeopardize the institutional electoral reform mediation guaranteed by the OAS, trusting that time will open a path to “political dialogue” with other internal interlocutors—some opposition split from the blue and white ranks—and with Latin American mediators more to his liking?
Is he hoping for mediators like Mexico’s López Obrador; Argentina’s former President and current vice presidential candidate Cristina Kirch¬ner; Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez, whose Broad Front is a lead contender in this month’s presidential elections; and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who is leading in the polls for this month’s elections? With leftist governments, might these four countries form a mediating group favorable to Ortega’s plan to remain in power at least until Nicaragua’s scheduled 2021 elections, if not also afterward?
Between 1983 and 1985, as the contra war was approaching its peak strength, the mediation of the four Contadora Group countries (Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela) defended the revolutionary government from US efforts to bring it down. In 1985, representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay joined that effort, creating what they called the Contadora support group. Their draft peace treaty was tentatively approved by the Central American Presidents that same year but it was scuttled by the Reagan administration, which de facto refused to recognize the Sandinista government. A year later, building on the groundwork laid by the Contadora efforts, the Central American counties met to negotiate what was billed as an attempt at regional peace, but US pressure on its regional allies resulted in the asymmetrical pressuring of more concessions from Nicaragua. Evidence of that shift in focus is that the Central American Peace Agreement, signed by the five Central American governments in 1987, is also known as the Esquipulas Nicaraguan Peace Agreement. Have times changed enough in both Latin America and the United States that something similar to Contadora (named for the site of their first meeting) might fare better? Who wouldn’t support an initiative mediated by Latin American countries seeking “peace and stability” in Nicaragua?
This strategy makes sense considering that Ortega’s mind is still in the 1980s, when he was a recognized international leader of the Nonaligned Movement and of the global Left. It makes sense knowing that Ortega views himself in the Venezuelan mirror every day and that Cuba, which has survived 60 years of international, particularly US, pressures, and is encouraging both Maduro and Ortega to tough it out, trusting that the hopefully shifting geopolitical map could open new possibilities for their continuation in power.
New diplomatic relations
Hoping for better times also makes sense considering that Ortega is almost totally isolated in the continent at the moment and that with López Obrador’s “neutral” Mexico already on his side, the OAS game board could improve significantly if the predicted results of October’s elections in Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia pan out.
Meanwhile, to balance out this isolation and give the appearance of a deluge of new allies beyond the region, the government made a successful effort between May and July to establish utilitarian diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka, Uganda, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Burundi, Tunisia, Gambia, South Sudan and Kenya.
The effort continued to reap results in September, with new relations also established with the European Principality of Monaco; the African countries of Djibouti, Niger and the African Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and also with the Union of the Comoros, an archipelago of volcanic islands off the southeast coast of Africa. The regime seems to be seeking the vote of each of these more or less relevant counties in the United Nations should some particularly critical moment come up in that forum.
The “conductor” of the majority of these new diplomatic relations will be Mohamed Lashtar, the late Muammar Gadhafi’s nephew and Ortega’s trusted former private secretary who is currently ambassador plenipotentiary in four Middle Eastern and African countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Arab Emirates and Egypt. Starting in September he has made extended visits to this field of action, after Ortega named him as advisory minister and presidential delegate for all the African and Middle East countries, particularly the Arab ones.
on the agenda
The blue and white coalition won’t send representatives to these faraway countries, but they will go to nearby ones where Ortega and Murillo have earned a large measure of repudiation to make sure Nicaragua stays on their agenda. The nascent coalition went to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Bachelet received six released political prisoners and the mother of one of the students murdered last year. She listened to them one by one for two hours, even though the meeting was only scheduled to last half an hour.
The coalition has also met several times with the OAS, participated in hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Homan Rights, traveled to Costa Rica to meet with the government of that neighboring country and has also met with organizations in contact with the Nicaraguan diaspora.
In all these arenas, the blue and white coalition has asked for more sanctions to pressure Ortega to return to the dialogue table, move up the elections and restore the liberties and rights confiscated by the police State he has imposed.
The coalition has called for the application of the Democratic Charter, despite the economic consequences Nica¬ragua’s expulsion from the OAS could cause the country. It has particularly asked for more individual sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations, including the top Army command, on the grounds that they are accomplices of the repression.
The coalition also met in El Salvador with the Special OAS Commission after Ortega closed Nicaragua’s doors to the commission delegates. This commission has a 75-day deadline to write up a report on Nicaragua’s situation. “I believe this is the broadest and most diverse delegation we have had in our international work,” said Violeta Granera, a member of the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) and of UNAB’s Political Council.
What has been lost
will not be recovered
While those polled by CID-Gallup follow the ups and downs of the unitary advances on the social networks and keep alive the memory of the events of April 2018, the majority of the concerns expressed in their responses to the poll focused on issues related to the economic recession.
There is a generalized view among analysts with figures to back them up and among people whose common sense tells them as much that the economy isn’t going to get better as long as Ortega and Murillo remain in power. In its most recent periodical analysis, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) reports that although the flight of dollars has been contained, the credit that moves the economy remains paralyzed and the country is not going to experience any economic growth in the medium run.
Economist Pedro Belli says that “a slow recovery will begin once the political problem is resolved. But what has been lost will not be recovered. To recover it, we would have to grow 10% or more annually, which is not feasible. What was lost will remain lost.”
economy is assured
The regime sees things differently. It has been selectively updating public information on the most negative indicators of the national economy and not always by the deadlines established, but has complied with the law by already publishing the medium-term budgetary framework for 2021-2023.
A careful reading of this otherwise frugal document shows that although the crisis has severely affected the private sector and obliged the State to drastically cut public investments, Ortega’s “political economy”—the one that finances the repression, the State’s well-paid positions of trust, the excess public employees and the charity handouts—has been prioritized and appears covered largely by “already contracted” international loans.” The document even claims to have assured the sustainability of Social Security.
This three-year budgetary framework shows that the regime has decided to manage the crisis with the same scheme it was using before April 2018: assure control of the State, feed the repressive apparatus and attend to the most impoverished people through clientelism.
While the regime’s priority administration may be assured, economic recovery definitely isn’t. The regime’s projections claim that recovery will begin next year, which is doubtful. It is most likely that the deterioration will continue, while concerns about the cost of living and unemployment—the priority problems expressed in the CID-Gallup poll—will not only not disappear; they will likely increase.
Nonetheless, even without recovery, the Nicaraguan economy won’t collapse the way it did in the 1980s with the war and the US blockade or the way the Venezuelan economy has, provoking a humanitarian crisis. This is very unlikely because, unlike Maduro and Chávez before him, Ortega didn’t statize the economy this time.
The budgetary framework Ortega has designed to assure his permanence in power would only come into question in two scenarios. The first is if Washington cancels the benefits Nicaragua enjoys through CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. And the second is if non-individualized sanctions were applied that—unlike the dozen the US and Canada have imposed on top officials of the Nicaraguan regime including Vice President Murillo—totally turned off the faucet of multilateral loans from the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Central American Bank for Economic Integration and/or the bilateral banks of other countries through application of the Democratic Charter, expelling the country from the OAS.
“The virus of distrust”
The political standoff between the social majority that repudiates Ortega and fervently wants change and the apparently consolidated minority loyal to him remains firm and determined. It is difficult to predict how this will be resolved, much less when. Nicaragua is polarized and experiencing what the bishops, in their communique for mid-September’s independence celebration, called a “system of hatred and death installed in the country.”
The “malaise” this system produces is palpable. One of the reasons at it, said the bishops, “is a crisis of confidence that has been transformed into an omnipresent virus in our Nicaragua…. There is distrust of authority, distrust of the institutions, distrust of good intentions and even distrust of the viability of projects themselves…. It is impossible to grow in distrust, impossible to educate in distrust, impossible to live in distrust.” In a metaphor no less valid for being structurally mixed, the bishops concluded that “distrust cuts the weft of the human fabric and brings down the beam that holds up the temple, the nation and the home.”
How can so much
cruelty be forgiven?
In this insane climate, the bishops offer many more questions than answers or confident counsel: “How can one help solve the pressing social and political problems and respond to the great challenge of poverty and exclusion? How does one do it in a country that finds itself in a profound political, social and economic crisis, when it seems to be at the start of a new stage, with its corresponding challenges for our democratic coexistence...?
“Is it possible to maintain hope when everything appears to indicate there is no power capable of resolving our crisis? What can be done if the word of civil society doesn’t count? Is it possible in today’s Nicaragua to be Catholic and work for an institution that does not respect people’s conscience and plays with their hunger? How can we pardon all the cruelty to which we have been subjected? Is it possible to heal these wounds...?”
Like the wounds, these questions are still open. And so is the path to unity that the blue and white social majority is seeking to forge.