Five keys to understand what happens

Nicaragua will hold a controversial election on Sunday in which President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power for 14 years, will undoubtedly win a fourth consecutive term, with his main opponents in prison.

Here are five crucial points that explain how this situation was reached:

1- The Revolution and the “devil’s pact”

Ortega ruled Nicaragua in the 1980s, in the midst of a civil war with insurgent groups sponsored by the United States, following the triumph of the revolution led by the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) that overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Defeated at the polls in 1990 by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Ortega led the transformation of the FSLN for 17 years since the opposition and negotiated in 1999 a pact with the former liberal president Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002) to distribute quotas of power in all State institutions.

A “pact of the devil”, as the famous Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez called it, in exile in Madrid.


A T-shirt with the image of a young Daniel Ortega, in a market in Managua, days ago. Photo: XINHUA

2- Return to power and indefinite reelection

The pact led to Ortega’s return to power in 2007, when he won the elections and promoted a pragmatic leftist policy, negotiated with financial organizations and, contrary to the 1980s, it had an alliance with the big businessmen and a commercial relationship with the United States.

The FSLN gradually assumed sole control of the state.

Ortega was reelected in 2011 under the a questioned failure court of 2009 that declared the constitutional prohibition of successive reelection inapplicable only for him.

In 2014, another controversial constitutional reform was approved that endorsed indefinite presidential reelection.

The reforms “incorporated rules that restrict electoral competition and the exercise of political rights” for Nicaraguans, said a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Ortega won another reelection in 2016 in elections without weight rivals and marked by high abstention.

In the midst of a gradual loss of the FSLN’s electoral flow, reforms were approved that lowered the ceiling required to win an election and now the candidate with the “highest number of valid votes” wins.

x-ray of nicaragua

3- Full control

Ortega’s control over state institutions is now total: Army, Police, Congress, Supreme Electoral Council, Judicial Branch and Prosecutor’s Office.

“All powers are aligned with the Executive, so they do not represent limits to the exercise of power or prevent arbitrariness,” according to the IACHR.

At the same time, Ortega extended the influence of his family. Opponents accuse him of nepotism. His wife Rosario Murillo was first his official spokesperson and since 2017 his vice president.

“We have two presidents here because we respect the 50-50 principle, that is, here we have a co-presidency with comrade Rosario,” Ortega said recently at a public event.

Their children own or run official media and some hold public office.

Rosario Murillo, First Lady and Vice President of Nicaragua. Photo: EFE Rosario Murillo, First Lady and Vice President of Nicaragua. Photo: EFE

4- Protests and repression

In the midst of the fall in aid from Venezuela, of about 4.8 billion dollars between 2007 and 2016, and the discontent on the part of the population due to acts of corruption and abuse of power, in April 2018 a wave of student protests broke out, whose trigger was a reform to social security.

“The pot that had been accumulating incendiary steam exploded as a result of a malaise that neither politicians nor traditional parties led. April 2018 was a spark that ignited a fuel that had been gathering for years,” said sociologist Oscar René Vargas, in exile in Costa Rica.

The movement spread and demanded Ortega’s resignation. For about five months the country was semi paralyzed with road blocks. The repression, in which paramilitary groups participated, left at least 328 dead, according to the IACHR.

The protests, which broke Ortega’s alliance with businessmen and the Catholic Church, were considered by the government as an “attempted coup,” supported by Washington.

When a dialogue between the government and the opposition failed, and the protests crushed, there were selective captures.

5- Against “foreign agents”

At the end of 2020 the government enacted laws on “foreign agents”, defense of sovereignty and “cybercrimes”, which impose harsh prison sentences for those accused of “treason,” “money laundering,” for those who promote sanctions against country or spread “fake news” at their discretion.

Under those laws, 39 people have been detained since June: seven presidential hopefuls, political and social activists, businessmen and journalists. Washington and the European Union responded by imposing sanctions against Ortega’s family and friends.

More than 100,000 people went into exile since 2018 and there are more than 150 detainees.

“With brute force, he managed to immobilize the population. There is no democracy. We are almost at a dead end,” Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), told AFP in Managua.

Source: AFP

By Editor

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