Contrary to the skepticism generated by the Ortega regime’s refusal to accept the newly formed high-level diplomatic commission in the Organization of American States (OAS), which must seek a political solution within 75 days, political scientist Manuel Orozco visualizes important changes in the international and national environment, which could break the impasse of the political crisis.
“By maintaining Ortega a political and diplomatic relationship with the OAS Secretary General, regarding electoral reforms, this is an opportunity for the Nicaraguan opposition,” says Orozco, and warns that a “phantom negotiation” could even be generated between the OAS, the Government and the opposition, although Ortega never admits that he is negotiating with the Alliance.
“There is a greater synchronization, by the national and international opposition, in relation to an important change in Nicaragua, which are the political reforms towards a democratic electoral process,” says Orozco, researcher of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, in this interview with “Esta Semana” (This Week).
What do these diplomatic efforts mean and what can be expected from an Ortega regime that has already advanced a rejection of this commission?
It has several meanings. One of them is that Nicaragua is being presented again with an opportunity to reconsider the approaches related to resolving the political conflict by negotiated means. It is also a very strong support of the Nicaraguan political movement, which has been advocating political transformations in the country through mediation and dialogue, which are consistent with the Democratic Charter. So here two very important things are being realigned, which is the demand of the Nicaraguan opposition, on the one hand, and on the other hand the opportunity, to the Nicaraguan Government, to reconsider its postulates about political reforms.
When you put a deadline like this, of 75 days, can this be described as a kind of diplomatic ultimatum?
Totally. Seventy-five days are two months and a little more. And in these two months it really is very little time for very deep changes to be achieved. However, it is sufficient space that the Inter-American system is giving Nicaragua to resolve a concrete issue, which is mediation, dialogue, within the context of agreements that have been made and within the context of what the Democratic Charter says, which is the alteration of constitutional order in Nicaragua. So, Ortega has to respond in some way, in a positive way. There are opportunities for the Government of Nicaragua: I am optimistic, and I think that it is something they should welcome.
A “Phantom Triangulation”
What capacity for persuasion can this commission have with a Government that has already said that it has not requested that commission, and that it does not accept it, but that wants to dialogue with the Secretary General of the OAS, and on the other side, maintain the expulsion of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights?
These are political positions that attempt to renegotiate the position of the Government of Daniel Ortega in relation to its continuity in political power. He is trying to negotiate his position to achieve a political transition without him losing. In trying to interpose himself on a one on one with the Secretary General, he is maintaining a technical and diplomatic relationship, around political reforms that are needed in the country, specifically the electoral reform. So, this is also an opportunity for the Nicaraguan opposition to seize the moment that their electoral reform proposals are taken seriously in that bilateral relationship between the secretary (of the OAS) and the president of Nicaragua.
Now, there are very important political costs that Ortega has to take into account, and that is that everything he wants done, which is a cosmetic proposal for electoral reform, cannot be achieved. So, he is self-sabotaging himself if he thinks that he will not offer any workspace with the Inter-American system.
What you are saying is that there could be a sort of triangulation in this negotiation through the OAS, if the OAS represents the agenda of the Civic Alliance, of the Blue and White Movement in this negotiation with Ortega, depending on what the OAS is willing to accept?
Correct, a phantom triangulation, in the sense that what is important to Ortega is his image with his grassroots support, which is a percentage of the country, and he promised no dialogue, promise that he would make his own changes. Then, he will speak directly with Almagro, however, within that environment there is a commission (of the OAS) that will investigate and is going to confirm what is happening in Nicaragua and will put pressure on the country to do its reforms.
Then, Ortega can say that he is not paying attention to the Civic Alliance, however, at the same time he will have to consider the proposals that the OAS will present, either within the commission or with the secretary general, which include the reforms proposed by the Civic Alliance. Then there is a triangulation, like it or not, the Nicaraguan political process is already on that route.
The commission of the five of the OAS
This week, the Alliance presented its electoral reform proposal, but Nicaragua today lives under a de facto state of siege. Ortega had committed to the Civic Alliance to restore democratic freedoms, and that is an agreement that has not been fulfilled.
If the commission of the five that the OAS created is not going to negotiate the electoral reforms with Ortega, can it be a pressure factor around these conditions for the restitution of democratic freedoms?
What the commission that was created by the Permanent Council of the OAS, is going to do is a role of guarantor and observer of Daniel Ortega’s compliance on certain agreements, on several national and international arrangements, and it has to verify whether Ortega is really violating these agreements, including the Democratic Charter. But it is not the only thing, the negotiation agreement that he did not fulfill is also still in force, so the commission is currently trying to verify whether Daniel Ortega complies or not.
One of the issues on the agenda is the restitution of constitutional rights, the end of the police state. The other is electoral reform, and the other, in some way, is the promise to advance the elections, which is different from the reform itself. And, afterwards, there are other important aspects that are within the national agenda, such as the issue of justice and human rights. Now, what scope can this commission have? Its scope will be to confirm that those elements that have been raised are valid and legitimate and must be fulfilled. So, Nicaragua is once again in the sight of the entire world at this moment.
Among the members of this commission are two countries that have a decisive influence on the continent, the United States and Canada, which have also agreed to apply severe sanctions against nine individuals who are part of Daniel Ortega’s high command, headed by his Vice President and wife, Rosario Murillo. How do you see the influence that these two countries can have on this commission?
From a technical point of view, the influence of these two countries is consistent with that of the other three members. They are strictly abiding to the terms of reference of the Democratic Charter, in that there has been an alteration to the democratic order. And they have a thematic content of what Nicaragua has breached in relation to the constitutional order, which not only has to do with human rights violations, but also with the lack of democratic institutions in the country. Now, what can happen is that the United States and Canada will somehow avoid introducing sanctions that they have on the agenda for September, and wait for these seventy-five days as a gesture of good will. It falls on Nicaragua, again, to demonstrate its good will starting with the restoration of constitutional rights. So, these 75 days are really critical for Nicaragua.
The weight of the civic struggle
How do you evaluate the dynamics of the civic struggle in Nicaragua and the demand to form a national democratic coalition? There was a moment last year with maximum national pressure and a total absence of diplomatic pressure. Now it seems that diplomatic pressure tends to become something very strong, but the country is under a de facto state of siege.
I think that there is greater synchronization, by both the national and international opposition, in relation to an important change in Nicaragua, which are the political reforms towards a democratic electoral process. On the one hand, the Nicaraguan opposition be it within the National Unity movement, or within the Civic Alliance, are reorganizing, are being rebalanced, in a way that they increase their balance of power against the Ortega regime, and at the same time, they are practically coinciding with international pressure.
The international pressure is aware that the Nicaraguan opposition is legitimate, has convening capacity, even in the context of high repression. The imprisonments that continue to happen in the country, for example, have not stopped this opposition from continuing to manifest itself. Thereupon that gives, rather, a motivation to the international community that they really have to continue driving this process of change.
The mirror of Venezuela
In the Venezuelan crisis there have been secret talks between senior officials of the United States and high-level officials of Maduro; and some talks were being developed through mediation of Norway, which Maduro also suspended. How does this impact on the dynamics of Ortega?
I believe that Daniel Ortega does have a screen in which he is seeing what is happening in Venezuela, and that has been his benchmark to determine if he is too far away or very close to the situation where Venezuela is.
The Venezuelan situation is getting more complicated for Maduro. It is a regime a lot less sustainable than Ortega’s in certain aspects, and, however, the two are trying to achieve the same goal, to finish the constitutional terms they have. If this is going to happen or not, it depends on the political times in which these two countries are living, but the international community has already lost patience with Venezuela. I think that is an important signal for Daniel Ortega, because, as regards the United States in particular, the options of the relationship between the United States and Venezuela are now limited to very few things. The economic relationship is practically nonexistent; and at the diplomatic level, these conversations are the last oxygen that is being given to Maduro, and internally even the Army is undecided whether or not it wants to support him.
In the case of Nicaragua, Ortega knows very well that the support given to him, by the Army at the public level, has its limitations as well. And, then, his political capital is running out, and rather it will depend on the United States, on what he can do in his relationship with the United States to solve this problem of political reform.