1) A Return to April 18?
In the best case scenario, the agreements signed by Nicaragua’s Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance) and the Ortega and Murillo dictatorship on Friday March 29, in which the regime agreed to release political prisoners and reinstate constitutional rights, would have returned the country to the pre-April 18 status quo: a country without political prisoners but under the grip of an authoritarian regime that does not abide by its own laws.
And yet, Ortega was not even able to comply with these initial agreements which would have gvien him credibility while more substantial aspects were negotiated. Just 24 hours later after the agreements were announced, his police and paramilitary forces violently dispersed civilian protesters in one of Managua’s shopping malls. His spokespersons later announced that Ortega will not agree to have the IAHRC (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) or the UN to serve as international guarantors of the agreements.
He thereby undermined any possibilities of success for the “cool-headed” negotiations underway, in which the end-game goals where never the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of constitutional rights but justice for the victims and electoral reforms to hold early elections as soon as possible.
The government’s position, as stated by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, is clear: the perpetrators of last year’s killings will not submit to an independent investigation or legal process and they reject the demand for early elections, which Ortega had already negotiated (in mid 2018) with the United States.
2) At the Edge of the Abyss…again
Like in May and June of last year, when the first round negotiations took place, the country is at the edge of the abyss because Ortega and Murillo refuse to recognize their responsibility in the nation’s crisis and reject a political solution to step down and have new elections.
The difference lies that last year’s protest leaders are imprisoned or in exile and many more people have already been killed by police and paramilitary forces. The demand for justice is unavoidable along with the demand for democracy. During these past nine months, the regime lost all political legitimacy vis-à-vis the people, the business class and the international community.
By refusing a second time to allow justice for the victims and have early elections, Ortega is on the brink of more international condemnation and sanctions. This in turn, will accelerate the collapse of the country’s economy and his government. In the end, a collapse will introduce a new political and social dynamic to the crisis that will surely lead to his removal from power, except that neither he nor anybody else will be able to dictate the terms.
3) Early Elections and FSLN Succession
The demand for early elections is not only legal and constitutional but it is the only possibility for an orderly political solution to the crisis. Shortening the dictator’s term in office is a sine qua non condition for the progress of the country. Ortega and Murillo can no longer keep governing nor negotiating after the killings.
As of June of last year, Ortega ceased to be Nicaragua’s president. He became the supreme chief of the police and paramilitaries. He ceased to be the interlocutor of the Sandinista electorate vis-a-vis the business class and the international community. He was reduced to administrating his own family business and political interests under the mandate of Cuba and Venezuela.
The call for early elections is the final draw of a nepotistic dictatorship and opens up an opportunity for the FSLN, the Nicaraguan Army and Nicaragua’s state bureaucracy to become part of a national solution without Ortega and Murillo.
During his nearly forty years as the FSLN’s chieftain, Ortega never conceived of a plan of succession nor of any succession beyond his family circle. After a drawn out internal power struggle, he agreed to his wife Rosario Murillo becoming vice-president in 2016 and having her next in line for the presidency. As one of the main players responsible for the crisis, Murillo is also unable to run as a candidate and would be the main loser in an early election. That’s why her opposition to early elections is predictable. However the country can no longer continue to pay the price for Ortega and Murillo’s economic and political mal-governance.
4) The Error of the International Community
Ortega’s regime will not oblige to the agreements out of good faith or political will but only as a result of a balance of force calculus. Ortega will never step down “amicably” and will only do so under intense pressure.
This year’s round of dialogue generated hopes that gave the regime some breathing space in international arenas. All the while in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro was able to weather Juan Guaido’s challenge by commanding the loyalty of the Venezuelan Armed Forces. The international community, – the OAS, the European Union and the UN – mistakenly adopted a “wait and see” strategy. Ortega was able to win time and stall the negotiations without yielding results, attempting to impose a “mal-agreement” with cosmetic changes.
Accordingly, negotiations with Ortega can only move forward with maximum international pressure and with the “autoconvocados” pressuring for early elections, without repression or political prisoners, and for justice for the victims. This was the only agreement that could have come out of the session on April 3. Otherwise, Nicaragua’s Civic Alliance had no choice but to walk out of the negotiations and/or refuse further engagement.
Now, the exit road for a solution without Ortega and Murillo will be cleared by the pressure of the people and by maximum international and diplomatic pressure.
5) The Foundations for a Post-Ortega Nicaragua
The foundations for a post-Ortega future rely on the results of the negotiations between the Civic Alliance and the regime.
A “bad agreement” that does not address justice for the victims, born out of a cool approach without sufficient international and national pressure, could divide a future opposition alliance that would run in early elections. If the Azul y Blanco opposition does not unite, even if Ortega loses the presidency, he will still be able to exert power and derail the governance of the country.
An agreement that lays the groundwork for justice without impunity and for dismantling the repressive apparatus would provide a more favorable political scenario for an opposition alliance that would enjoy the steadfast support of a majority of Nicaraguans. This alliance would have the legitimacy to recreate Nicaragua’s democracy through a complete constitutional reform and for making a call for massive international aid.
A post-Ortega Nicaragua will need a great deal of international aid to create a supranational entity that assists in the reform of the state starting with the National Police, the Attorney General, the Judiciary, the Electoral Council and the Comptroller’s Office. All this effort would be to uproot the structural causes of corruption and its manifestations – impunity, lack of justice and unaccountability.
In the meantime, Ortega and Murillo’s countdown for stepping out of power is running.
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