By: Antonio C. López, ISHR Nicaragua.
The November 7 presidential elections in Nicaragua have left no one stunned. Daniel Ortega won. What is new about it in a regimen the dictator and his wife Rosario (now called Co-President) imposed their will, banned all the big political parties from running, put in jail all his major political contenders, and sent over one-hundred thousand Nicaraguans into exile?
All along its 200-year history as a republic, Nicaragua has had three dictatorships –J. Zelaya’s, Anastasio Somoza Sr’s (and Jr’s), D. Ortega’s. Guess, who has been in power the longest? Guess, who has brought about the longest and bloodiest civils wars? Guess, who has been continuously condemned from all international fora since 1980? After Managua, more Nicaraguans live in Miami, Florida or San José, Costa Rica than in any other Nicaraguan city. Most of them fled Nicaragua to escape the Sandinista despotic regime. In all these outrageous statistics Ortega tops the unpopular charts!
The November 7 election was just another crime committed by the same serial killer of the Nicaraguan democracy. Yet now the Nicaraguan dictatorship has undergone a minor transformation: it presents itself as a “combo dictatorship”; that is Daniel assuming the role as the head of State and his wife Rosario as the head of government-and-the-spokesperson of the entire regime. No one else in government is entitled to speak in public. Both rulers claim to be the only representatives of the sovereignty, democracy, the dignity, and the defenders of the poor people of Nicaragua.
I have talked to some Sandinista followers who brag about “Ortega’s achievements”. They hold him as a smart guy (“un hombre muy vivo”), “who has outlived many attempts perpetrated by the yankee imperialists to get rid of him: boycotts, popular rebellions, national strikes, international condemnation declarations, false accusations of violating human rights, and so on.” For those, Ortega is a hero who should be praised by everybody.
It was obvious though that those minor opposition parties that participated in the recent election were the only ones Ortega –carefully and fearfully– chose to run against him, with the only evil purpose in mind of saying in the end that he had competed freely against other parties: beat them and won.
No wonder this recent electoral win –rigged from the onset—turned out to be counterproductive for the 76-year-old leftist. Almost 28 Western democratic governments have expressed disagreement with the election process and results. The political ambience in Nicaragua, since April 18, could not be more repressive for all democratic parties: only the Sandinistas were entitled to campaign in public and to express their views in favor of the ‘comandante’ and his running mate in the mainstream media, which is mostly run and controlled by Ortega’s sons. No one else had these political privileges.
Daniel Ortega won the elections on November 7, 2021 as expected since his government imprisoned all other contenders. He won 75% of the votes, but it is worth noting that 81.2% of the Nicaraguan population did not vote. As seen in the picture, many citizens protested by exercising electoral abstention. Foto: Dromómanos, Twitter.
Democracy was only used as a tool for his own ends, pretending that things were done according to the rules of Western democracy so that those from the right should regard him as a guy who “changed” by adapting to circumstances, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Latin American radical leftists did as chameleons do. Plus, a few other key teachings were incorporated to their own arsenal: speak up for environmentalism, feminism, anti-neoliberalism. Tactically, the words “socialism”, “revolution”, “class struggle” –that were so fashionable in the late XX century– were cautiously put in the wardrobe.
Daniel Ortega likes only the part of democracy when it comes to counting votes. Guess, who has been doing the counting of votes in Nicaragua for the last four presidential elections?
So, the morning after his henchmen had counted all the votes that only a few Sandinista followers casted, Ortega received condemnation communiqués from outstanding European countries, Latin American governments, and close neighbors to Nicaragua, like Costa Rica, whose President was the first to say that all that show taking place under the Managua regime was a farce. Only Russia said that the elections in Nicaragua “were done according to the country’s customs and laws…”
What was going through the Sandinista leader’s mind?
The Nicaraguan dictator sees democracy as a ladder he used to get hold of power, but now it is an obstacle he must get rid off. 130 opposition leaders are in jail for speaking up against the crimes committed since 2007, when Ortega regained power.
The international rejection towards the incumbent dictator in Nicaragua was not born yesterday. Ortega never proved to be a converted democrat; he has been cooking his recipe for long-term ruling since he crushed the Nicaraguan constitutional provision prohibiting reelection.
As young people started protesting in the streets, he cracked down on most opponents by sending them to jail without resorting to a public hearing in court before an independent judge. Or worse, many were killed by snipers during public protests across the country.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has continuously issued resolutions condemning the Nicaraguan regime for its violations of human rights. Likewise, have done other United Nations organs. But Ortega’s skin is like that of a Rhino. He does not care being blasted by international organizations or actors. He just wants to go on with his plan: to rule for as long as he can according to the script bequeathed by Fidel Castro (his mentor and supreme idol), regardless of some flirting with millionaires and market reforms introduced to attract foreign investors.
The precedent of Maduro in Venezuela, surviving to just about anything he confronted from Washington or Europe, is a good role model for Ortega to follow through.
Those Nicaraguans who can’t leave the country because they are unemployed, have a relative in jail or can’t afford to get a passport, are protesting in silence. The high abstention of voters (some say it runs as high as 84%) proves that Ortega had always been unpopular. Yet, he is just waiting for Washington to sit down with him and capture all attention form the media. He wants to go down in history as the man who twisted Uncle Sam’s arm. In his mind, there is no room for freedom for others, for reinstating the rule of law or doing politics according to the principles of separation of powers, respect for the minorities, political pluralism, free elections, respect of human rights, the consent of the governed.
For the time being, Nicaragua is descending deeper into the abyss of a totalitarian dictatorship. While Ortega is just committed to implementing his long-wished plan of turning Nicaragua into a new Cuba, so that Washington should respect him. That thinking in mind runs parallel to his tight grip to power.
For now, Nicaraguans can only wait to see what happens. Now Nicaragua is a giant jail, where the people cannot perform simple acts of protest like going out into the streets and start singing the national anthem. The immediate regime’s reaction would be to send in police patrols to the spot and put in jail those who dared to do it.
The question of how long Ortega will hold on to power correlates to another one: how long Nicaraguan can resist this new type of degrading dictatorship? For this to happen, Nicaraguans need help from outside.