Nicaragua – The Revolutionary who Rode on the Back of Popular Uprising and a Welfare State is likely to be Overthrown by His Own Success!
By admin April 3, 2019


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega speaks during the so-called “national dialogue” talks with Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic bishops and the opposition in a bid to quell a month of anti-government unrest that has seen more than 50 people killed, at the Seminary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Managua on May 16, 2018. – The Church-mediated dialogue involved representatives from university students who are leading the protests against Ortega as well as from business groups and unions. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP) (Photo credit should read INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images)

Until last year, Nicaragua was a tourism hot spot and home to one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies, ticking upward at about 5 percent per year. President Daniel Ortega, who for years had been accused of consolidating power through nepotism and graft, maintained popular support by administering welfare programs for the nation’s poor. Things began to turn, however, after longtime benefactor Venezuela pulled its aid in 2017 amid a deteriorating socio-economic situation at home. The spark that lit the fuse came this April, when Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary now in his fourth term, announced he would slash social security benefits as a cost-cutting measure. Backed by business leaders, an outraged public took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to demand Ortega’s resignation, which prompted a crackdown by government and paramilitary forces that has left hundreds dead and many more injured. Thus, the very Revolutionary who rode on the back of a populist regime supported by a welfare state has suddenly become the target of the very supporters he pulled out of poverty to prosperity and gave them limitless political freedom and voice!

Nicaragua is run by a former Marxist revolutionary, Daniel Ortega, who was a part of the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) since his teenage years. The group was formed against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had been in power since 1936. In 1979, the Sandinistas took power and Ortega was elected as President in 1984. He then went on to lose the presidential elections in 1990, 1995 and 2001, but win in 2006, 2011 and 2016, making constitutional changes that would allow him to run for the third consecutive term. Protests began to erupt in 2018.Troubles began when Venezuela, a longtime benefactor, experienced its own economic collapse and could no longer provide the country with aid. This forced President Ortega to make cuts.

President Daniel Ortega was mostly popular due to the welfare programs he set in place to alleviate the country’s poverty and grew the country’s economy by +5% per year. The former rebel won four presidential elections and has been in power for 16 of the 39 years since the country’s dictator, Somoza, was ousted. However, the Sandinista government was labelled a “communist regime” and a “terrorist” state by President Reagan, and under this reasoning he gave the rebel group, the Contras, a $100 million backing against Ortega. Once this funding stopped, a regional peace agreement was signed between the Sandinistas and the Contras (in 1987) and a peaceful transfer of administrations occurred from Ortega to the Chamorro government, run by US-endorsed candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Ortega was reelected in 2007, where he oversaw a fall in poverty from 42% to 30% until 2014, as well as further economic growth due to Venezuela’s support. However, there has been a growing population that believes Ortega himself transformed from a revolutionary leader to a dictator, not dissimilar from his predecessor Somoza. In fact, there is now a clear distinction between those who continue to support Ortega – aptly named Orteguistas – and those who consider themselves Sandinistas, holding up the legacy of Augusto Sandino, the 20th century general who manned the Sandinista Revolution, fighting Somoza in the 70s and the Contras in the 80s. Under this administration, many Sandinista policies were reversed, and the formal demobilization of the Contras was overseen. However, the ideological polarity between Sandinistas and Contras were not dissipated, and this led to the reformation of disgruntled Contras (now referred to as Recontras). As a result, Sandinista civilians armed themselves to fight against them. Elected in 1996, alleged Somoza sympathizer Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo beat Ortega and took over from the Chamorro government. Under his tenure, the Nicaraguan economy “enjoyed a modest recovery” due to foreign aid and debt forgiveness. However, his administration was widely accused of corruption and was ultimately replaced by the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC).

The violence, which peaked over the summer, has drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups, regional organizations, and foreign governments, including the United States. The United Nations has accused the Ortega administration, the military, and the police of human rights violations, including torture and extrajudicial killings. The Trump administration has sanctioned several senior Nicaraguan officials, and in November it characterized Nicaragua along with Cuba and Venezuela as a “troika of tyranny.” The Catholic Church, meanwhile, has tried and failed to broker talks between Ortega and the opposition.

The instability has rocked Nicaragua’s developing market, which is now expected to contract by six percent this year. The workforce has shrunk by ten percent, and panicky investors have pulled out some $1 billion in capital. The tourism sector, once a pillar of growth, has been particularly hard hit, with many hotels and restaurants closing or cutting back service. Migrant flows from Nicaragua to Costa Rica are also expected to increase and even more so if the US removes the temporary protected status for Nicaraguan migrants who have fled the conflict. The U.S. State Department continues to discourage Americans from traveling to Nicaragua because of violent crime and civil unrest. Three people were killed in attempts to suppress demonstrations on 19 April. Since then, the death toll has skyrocketed into the hundreds, and thousands have been injured as protests, and attempts at suppression, have grown. While an exact number has not been given, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights reported that 264 people had been killed between the start of the protests and 11 July. Human rights groups in Nicaragua estimate that the figure is now over 300.

So far, Ortega shows no signs of relinquishing power. He has refused to step down before elections in 2021, when many analysts fear he will rig the vote to install his wife, Rosaria Murillo, as a proxy ruler. On 18 April, pro-government groups “violently crushed a small demonstration” being made against reforms to the country’s pension system. The groups are known as grupos de choque, or shock forces, and had previously been used to prevent anti-government or anti-Ortega protests from taking place. However, as video footage of this was captured and shared online, more protests were triggered in response. In fact, many protestors include his own bedrock of support, the Sandinistas who believe that Ortega has betrayed the revolution. In February 2019, negotiations between the government and the opposition were resumed but Ortega still refuses to step down before the scheduled 2021 elections.

Important Developments are emerging which are not encouraging. The government continues to place blame on criminal groups and the ulterior political agenda of opposition groups. In their statements, they accuse protestors of crimes such as torture, kidnapping and arson, saying that they are fulfilling their duty to the Nicaraguan people in defending the security and peace of the country. The UN has accused the Ortega administration of human rights violations, with accusations including torture and extrajudicial killings and the US State Department has urged citizens to “reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to crime, civil unrest, limited healthcare availability, and arbitrary enforcement of laws.” This has placed their warning at level 3 of the 4 possible levels (with the 4th being “do not travel”). The US is also set to potentially increase sanctions that place restrictions on international lending to Nicaragua.

Few openings present themselves as flickers of light and hope at the end of the tunnel, in breaking the stalemate and restoring reconciliation and stability to Nicaragua. As his own clout, influence and popularity are now much diminished within the Sandinista ranks, Ortega should under the aegis, protection and guidance of the Organization of American States (OAS) prepare for transitioning from the government and his party and handing power to the successor the party selects. Under the overall umbrella of OAS, a national peace-making effort, led by a trusted and eminent Latin American Leader preferably a former President e.g. Chile’s former President and Senior UN Official Michelle Bachelet, to bring all the political parties to agree to form a Grand Alliance in which they are equitably represented. Such a Grand Alliance should be empowered with the responsibility of drawing up a Post-Conflict Nicaragua Recovery and Reconstruction Master Plan that will include the establishment of a neutral Transitional Government charged with launching an extensive Reform and Transformation of the Governance, Economic and Social Sectors as well as defining the Sharing of Power and Resources leading to an internationally supervised election and a permanent elected Government acceptable to all Nicaraguans.

By: Dr. David S. Bassiouni

Thanks for sharing !

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