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Nicaragua: Ortega Faces Key Deadlines in June

Political analysts believe that the dictatorship will come out weakened or will have to make concessions on thus far non-negotiable issues.

The second half of June brings an unprecedented and unfavorable external scenario for the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Three heavyweight actors from the international arena— the United States, the Organization of American States and the European Union—, will be making decisions that, according to political analysts, will weaken the regime or at least force it to yield on grounds up until now impenetrable.

June 18th is the deadline agreed upon by Ortega with the Civic Alliance, with the OAS and the Vatican as witnesses, to totally free all the political prisoners. June 20th is when the 180 days from the approval of the Nica Act in the United States are up and the US State Department has to present its assessment, with a list of functionaries to be sanctioned for having links with cases of corruption and violations of human rights in Nicaragua. This was the period of time established by the Nica Act law approved last December.  

The proximity of these deadlines have brought the regime to intensify its pressure upon the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy to request the suspension of possible international sanctions against Nicaragua, especially the Nica Act.

The US has already sanctioned members of President Ortega’s inner circle, including his wife and Vice-President, Rosario Murillo; private secretary and national security advisor, Nestor Moncada Lau (“Chema”); and his daughter’s father-in-law and Chief of National Police, Francisco Diaz. In addition, the FSLN’s treasurer and vice-president of Albanisa, Francisco “Chico” López and the general secretary of Managua’s mayor’s office, Fidel Moreno were also sanctioned.

The US administration recently included Banco Corporativo (BanCorp) into its blacklist. This bank was the financial branch of Alba of Nicaragua (Albanisa), a company created to privatize Venezuelan aid. Sanctions include blockades to the US financial system, impediments to access properties under US jurisdiction and the suspension of US visas.

The effects of the sanctions

Political analyst, Oscar Rene Vargas, stated that the individual sanctions “play out like a carom shot”, to the economic and political power of Nicaragua, because Ortega had “managed to take possession” of the leadership in both fields.

The Nica Act also contemplates establishing conditions on loans to the government from international financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

Dora María Tellez, former FSLN guerrilla fighter and currently a leader of the MRS, pointed out that individual sanctions actually have a greater impact within the Ortega top echelon because the multilateral organizations such as the WB and the IADB had already reduced their disbursements since last year.

OAS General Assembly

The Organization of American States (OAS) will be holding a General Assembly on June 26 in Medellin, Colombia, in which the Nicaraguan situation is expected to be appraised, and could end up in the activation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter for Nicaragua and its possible expulsion from the regional forum.

Getting expelled from this organization would imply greater isolation from the world and the loss of access to loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), which is one of the main financial sources for public investment.

On May 21st, the Permanent Council of the OAS approved a resolution that demands the liberation of all of Ortega’s political prisoners, the return of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to Nicaragua, and the holding of free elections, with 20 votes in favor, three against and ten abstentions.

The voting served to observe a slight increase in votes against the Ortega regime. In July 2018, a resolution condemning the repression obtained 21 votes. However, the last vote on a resolution against Ortega, last December, this number decreased to 19 because Honduras and Guatemala decided to abstain. 

Those 20 votes in favor of this last resolution brings the organization closer to the 24 votes needed to apply the Democratic Charter against the regime and expel it from the forum.

In an interview on the program “Esta Semana”, Argentinean ambassador to the OAS, Paula Bertol, spoke on the 24 votes necessary to apply the Democratic Charter: “They aren’t there at the moment, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be there tomorrow. Every day that goes by, we work hard to shine a light on the situation, to inform those countries that are abstaining, so they may know the true reality in Nicaragua.”

Central America will be key

The regime has lost Venezuela’s support in the OAS because the Venezuelan seat has been taken by Gustavo Tarre, delegate of the interim Venezuela president, Juan Guaido. The new ambassador is a voice critical of the dictatorship.

A change in position is also expected from El Salvador, whose out-going government was one of the regime’s allies and has been abstaining during the votes.  However, on June 1, Nayib Bukele took over the Salvadoran presidency, and has declared himself against the Ortega dictatorship.

Vargas noted that Guatemala and Honduras are experiencing major political crisis which make them “susceptible” to pressure from the US regarding the upcoming vote in the OAS.

In the Honduran case, the analyst highlighted that President Juan Orlando Hernandez is going through a political crisis due to a series of massive protests against him. This situation “also weakens any alliance there might be between Hernandez and Ortega.”

European sanctions

Behind the Nica Act’s 180 days deadline and the OAS’s upcoming meeting, comes the threat of sanctions from the European Union which is also weighing upon the regime. Ramon Jauregui declared that if the political prisoners are not freed by June 18, the deadline accepted by the government, it is very probable that the European block will announce sanctions during the second half of June.

The European Parliament has demanded of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, to start “personalized” sanctions against Ortega functionaries. In addition, they have requested the activation of the Democratic Clause of the European Union Association Agreement, signed by Nicaragua, which could leave the country outside of the pact, signed in 2012

“If the Nicaraguan government doesn’t free the political prisoners before June 18, and therefore does not comply with the first condition of the (national) dialogue, the EU will probably establish sanctions for the main figures of the regime,” said Jauregui.

Liberation, not release under house arrest

Dora Maria Téllez highlighted that the agreement signed by the regime and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, whose negotiations are suspended, pinpoints that the political prisoners must be totally liberated not released under house arrest, which is what the government has been doing.

The former guerrilla said the government must comply on the issue of political prisoners because that would have a big impact in a scenario of high international vulnerability, because it no longer counts on the economic support from Venezuela that upheld the Nicaraguan regime for years.

Jose Davila, former ambassador and political analyst, said the regime cannot just promise to free the political prisoners, but must carry out “urgent and radical measures” such as to free all the political prisoners, restore civil liberties and constitutional rights and “provide a date for early elections.”

He pointed out that only those measures would help the regime put a stop to the sanctions, even though to date it has done “very little” to avoid them. “Those institutions have sanction processes that are apparently slow, yet very solid; normally there’s no turning back and they cannot be fooled.”

The former diplomat added: “The government has locked itself into a dead-end street and it’s practically running out of space for negotiation for not having complied with what was already agreed upon in the dialogue.”

The political deadlines in June carry the imposition of economic sanctions or financial blockades, that will weaken the regime even more, being fragile as it is, in relation to economics after the loss of Venezuelan support.

“Ortega has money problems,” affirms Téllez, who added that the dictator needs money to maintain “his repressive machinery”, which is based on harassment, espionage, persecution and executions.

Davila underlined that in spite of the terrible consequences that June may bring, the regime “does not want to yield” for three reasons: it no longer has time to negotiate a better agreement; the block of countries to which it belongs– Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China and Turkey– “is forcing it to not yield” to the United States; and last, it has not found an “adequate response” to explain the steps it needs to take for its militant followers.

Vargas noted that the President is afraid of the germ of protest, therefore he does not allow marches nor the liberation of the political prisoners or the return of those in exile. “Ortega has achieved that people are staying home, even though that does not mean they support the government, instead they do it out of fear, but the germ of protest is still alive.”

“Freeing the political prisoners means incorporating the leadership that is imprisoned into the social movement. The same goes for those in exile (…), this would allow a second wave of protests which would mean the end of Ortega”, described the political analyst and former Sandinista militant.

Meanwhile, “Over one year after the crisis, the bourgeois, big money and the oligarchy are clear that Ortega can no longer be the man that guarantees social peace and a climate for investments, so they are looking for a post-Ortega alternative”, explained Vargas.

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