Sweden has been committed to Central America and Nicaragua since the 1970s, in peace processes, supporting the victims of dictatorships and then until 2010 through cooperation for regional and bilateral development during different governments.
Sweden’s support for Nicaragua during these years was significant, amounting to more than 800 million USD. The training of 500 midwives, the post-Hurricane Mitch reconstruction, assistance to small coffee farmers and dairy producers as well as the training of hundreds of judicial facilitators are just some of the positive and concrete examples.
In addition to assistance through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), there are many Swedish NGOs including Forum Syd, Diakonia, ABF, Swedish Cooperative Center, SASN, Svalorna who have made and continue to perform significant cooperation work. The Nicaraguan process has also been important at the level of the Central American region, both in the peace processes and in the strengthening of democracy and regional integration.
Since April of this year Nicaragua is in a deep political crisis where the opposition is being brutally repressed. The achievements of international cooperation and political dialogue are at risk.
In 2010 Sweden closed its embassy in Managua and ended bilateral cooperation with Nicaragua. This decision was based on the need to concentrate assistance in a smaller number of countries. Sweden’s commitment to Nicaragua would continue in the international field, especially through the EU.
In 1984, Olof Palme was the first European head of government to visit Nicaragua since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. At the time, Daniel Ortega was the Coordinator of the Junta of National Reconstruction (JGRN). This visit was important for future relations. Palme’s recommendation to organize democratic elections was followed by Sandinista and Liberal governments until Ortega won in the 2006 elections.
Authoritarian regime and brutal violence in today’s Nicaragua
The current government, with Daniel Ortega as president, took office in January 2007. His election (2006) was preceded by a series of strategic alliances with the aim of winning back and staying in power in future elections. Since last year Daniel Ortega governs with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice president. Very soon after taking office, it became clear that Ortega did not tolerate criticism. There are many testimonies of restrictions on freedom of expression, corruption and abuse, since 2007.
On April 18th, the country exploded with protests against a proposal to reform the pension system. What happened next is terrifying. The peaceful demonstrations were brutally suppressed by police forces and paramilitary groups. So far, more than 300 people have died, with thousands injured and missing. Carlos Mejia Godoy, the great poet and singer-songwriter of the Sandinistas, says that the fight against the dictator Somoza was a war, while what is taking place now is a massacre.
Several sessions of a National Dialogue between the government and the Civic Alliance opposition have been carried out, promoted and mediated by authorities of the Catholic Church. However, the brutal repression has continued, and the government has not accepted the proposal to call early elections as a measure to calm the conflict and open a path to the future.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR, has issued several recommendations to stop the violence. Those demands have not been heard by the Ortega government. Now the IACHR has formed a group of experts with prominent international jurists to follow up and document the situation in the field.
What can Sweden do?
The events in Nicaragua significantly increase the tension in a region marked by a high level of conflict and violence. In an interview in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on July 1, Bishop Silvio Baez asked the Swedish government to act.
For all of the above, we think it is time for the Swedish government to act, to use the international tools at its disposal. Sweden has actively raised – in particular from its representation on the UN Security Council – the importance of preventing and acting early in situations of conflict. Sweden holds the presidency of the Security Council in this month of July. From this position it can raise this case and initiate formal and informal consultations, as well as organize seminars in this regard. Although Nicaragua is not on the formal agenda during the Swedish presidency, this platform can be a space to trigger and promote an international dialogue on the subject.
All members of the OAS (with the exception of Bolivia and Venezuela) have demanded that the government of Nicaragua stop the violence. Sweden could hold a dialogue with the OAS and other regional organizations to agree on joint actions.
On May 31, 2018, the European Parliament approved by majority a resolution calling for an independent international investigation to bring to justice those responsible for the violent repression in Nicaragua against the opposition, which is resulting in a high number of deaths and injuries.
The EU has also pointed out the need for electoral reform in order to carry out fair and credible elections. It puts its hopes on the possibility of democratic and early elections as a way to solve the crisis. Among foreign ministers of the EU countries, Sweden could, with Spain as a possible ally, propose a European delegation composed of parliamentarians and NGOs active in Nicaragua, with the objective of investigating the facts in situ, and proposing a dialogue with the Ortega government with the aim of achieving concrete measures to resolve the crisis.
We three signatories, who for many years have been committed to Nicaragua, want to highlight the importance of Sweden acting in different ways and expressing a political commitment for this country with which for so long it has cultivated a close relationship and contributed cooperation for its development to eliminate poverty and strengthen democracy. Now we must fulfill the promise made when the cooperation concluded and show that commitment for the development of Nicaragua that we said we would maintain.
Eva Zetterberg, Ambassador of Sweden 2003-2008
Ewa Werner Dahlin, Ambassador of Sweden 2008-2010
Georg Andrén, Ambassador of Sweden 2014-2017
* Translation from Spanish by Havana Times