Five months after the presidential elections, Nicaragua is experiencing an authoritarian turn that has knocked out the potential competitors of the Ortega-Murillo couple, determined to go all out in order to continue to lead a country transformed into the theater of economic interests of the large family of patriarch Daniel, a former Sandinista guerrilla, who seems destined to emulate the dictatorial dynasty of the Somoza, which in his time he had helped to defeat.
After the outbreak of the social uprising in April 2018, Ortega, now 75, mindful of the defeat inflicted on him by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in the presidential elections of 1990, knows that free elections would be a lethal threat to his power, since the people have found the strength to rebel against him, leaving more than three hundred dead on the ground.
Therefore, if he wants to continue to govern he knows that he can do so only by alternating repression and intimidation – increasingly often also against the press – with the liberticidal measures that he has approved by a tame parliament in which the majority is in the hands of the Sandinista Front. An organism devoid of any internal democracy, now transformed into the political executor of the ruling family.
After spending months in attempts to start talks that could resolve the serious political crisis, hoping to weaken the opposition, Ortega has nothing left but to resort to adapting the laws. The first step was the approval last December of a law that protects the rights of the people to independence, sovereignty and self-determination, and that prohibits an opponent considered a traitor to the homeland from running for elected public office.
In this way, alongside those who could lead or finance a coup d’état or who promote terrorist acts, those who promote foreign interference in internal affairs and organize themselves with funds from foreign powers in order to destabilize the country have also been excluded. This also includes the approval, for example, of sanctions against the Nicaraguan government by other states.
Previously, last October, a law was also passed that blocks international funding for NGOs, the media and opponents, forcing them to register as foreign agents in order to continue receiving funds.
Having often been members of the Nicaraguan government subject to sanctions by the American Congress, it was foreseeable that the new law would be used against the vast and composite line-up opposing Ortega. It follows that in the last two weeks the Nicaraguan opposition has experienced the arrest of four of its leaders. The first to be detained was Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of Violeta, who was among the favorites in the polls in the upcoming elections on 7 November.
Then it was the turn of Arturo Cruz, economist, university professor and former Ortega ambassador to the US until 2009, who was taken over by the police at the Managua airport for being suspected of having attacked the rights of the people. He will be in jail for the next three months.
Then the political scientist Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, former director of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides). Both presidential candidates are accused of having promoted actions to the detriment of the country’s sovereignty. Opponents José Pallais Arana, José Adán Aguerri and Violeta Granera appear to be detained without the reason and place being communicated to their defenders.
Ortega’s authoritarian squeeze prompted an immediate reaction from the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Biden Administration which sanctioned Ortega’s daughter and other Nicaraguan officials. And by Josep Borrel on behalf of the European Union. While José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas he stated that “in the last thirty years nothing like this had been seen.
Cristina Chamorro, under house arrest since June 2, is accused of money laundering and other crimes as part of an investigation that focuses on the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, in the name of the mother, whose purpose is to promote freedom of expression and of the press.
Last year, the Organization of American States gave Nicaragua until May to approve an electoral reform capable of guaranteeing free elections and above all credible for the international community.
A reform, to tell the truth, the Legislative Assembly of Managua would also have done it. But reiterating Ortega’s control the Supreme Electoral Council, by failing to ensure the control of the fairness of the elections by foreign observers, and having prohibited the funding of candidates, immediately aroused the concern of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which in it saw the “maintenance and intensification of the closure of democratic spaces in the country.”
Isolated in the international community, unable to step aside so as not to lose the substantial earnings that his extended family derives from the economic trafficking of the country, abandoned by the entrepreneurial class and the people, Daniel Ortega’s long autumn risks becoming increasingly disturbing.