The government of Daniel Ortega threatened the private sector because it pretends that the problem in Nicaragua is economic and not political, says Roger Arteaga, the former president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham-Nicaragua). He points out that this attitude of the government “only achieves that the country’s economic situation worsens.”
In an interview with the television program “Esta Noche”(Tonight), Arteaga stated that the private sector has reaffirmed that the solution to this socio-political crisis is in the hands of the Ortega government itself.
The former General Director for Revenue also believes that a national strike of three or more days would worsen the situation in the country because, in his opinion, national strikes only work as a demonstration of the power of convoking that the people have.
Last week, Ortega publicly threatened the private sector with sending the police to keep open businesses if they support another national strike.
How has the private sector received Ortega’s threats?
The reaction of the private sector when these things happen is to become polarized, to regroup. What we saw after that was a very strong statement from COSEP, presenting its position and what it is demanding. This is supported by AmCham and other organizations of the private sector that saw the reactions of the president.
Instead of searching for possible solutions to this situation provoked by him, and in which he has to provide a solution, he reacts in such a violent way. A threat from a president could be interpreted by anyone that subsequent actions will be forthcoming. Thus, what the private sector felt was that it needed to defend themselves more and pointed out that the one who has the key to open this lock is President Ortega.
What do you think about this accusation that economic terrorism is being carried out by the private sector?
The intention is to confuse people by telling them that the problem is economic. The economic problem is a result of a deeper problem, which is a political problem. If the political problem is not resolved, any economic measure taken by the government—which has already tried several and has failed— will be lost in a vacuum because the situation that is causing this crisis is not resolved.
What are the consequences of these statements by Ortega in the country’s business climate?
No entrepreneurs, who have thought about making investments in Nicaragua and see this crisis and hear our president, who instead of trying to find a way to solve this crisis is threatening the productive sector, would think of coming here. Because, if the business person comes and joins this group, they will also be threatened. The other thing is how to bring dollars in a country where there is no legal security, no social stability and no economic stability, where the institutions are taken over and the Army and the Police are repressing the people—no one would think of coming to invest in Nicaragua.
What does a national strike mean in economic terms? What are the consequences for the regime?
The national strike has a purpose, but never has a national strike overthrown a government. Never has a national strike been the solution to problems. The national strike is only useful to show that when the people, civil society, and the private sector make a decision and say national strike, nobody is in the streets. That is called power to convoke. It is a way to demonstrate that there is agreement and it is almost a referendum, like when you go to vote.
What consequences does it have for the economy to be paralyzed for a day?
Undoubtedly, there is a loss. Simply, on that day nothing was produced, it is a day in which nothing was sold and all that has an economic repercussion. That is why it is important not to talk about long-lasting national strikes, it only has to be a demonstration.
On social networks people are demanding national strikes for more than 24 hours [of which there have been three thus far]. Do you see it plausible? What would that mean for the economy?
It is burning the house in order to roast the pork. It means losing a lot, for what you want to achieve. And a national strike is only useful to show that you have will-power, that you have a conscience. It is like a referendum, when you say national strike no one is on the street and when you say march, everybody is on the streets.
There is also talk about fiscal disobedience. Could it be done? What consequences would it have?
Fiscal disobedience has also occurred in several countries in Latin America. It is not solely in the case of Nicaragua. Simply, it is like Luis Almagro (Secretary General of the OAS) said, we must strangle the dictatorship and one way to strangle the dictatorship is to strangle the income that the dictatorship has. What a fiscal disobedience does is to close the tap from which the government receives resources to execute the budget, because a budget is fed by taxes, loans and donations. If you cut the taxes, it stops receiving resources.
Regarding donations and loans, the working group that the OAS created met with the World Bank and the IDB, because all the 21 countries that voted to sanction Nicaragua, all are members of the IDB and the World Bank. All the 12 members of the Working Group on Nicaragua belong to the IDB and World Bank and five of those 12 belong to the International Bank: Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. In the international order individuals are not named, only countries, and policies belong to the states. Whatever way a country votes in the OAS they will vote the same in international financial organizations.
How has this crisis affected the business climate? Are investors willing to invest in Nicaragua?
In this they have had to make use of a lot of their creativity. They have had to make the necessary adjustments in their accounts, and in their operations to be able to salvage the situation. Of course there are limits to that. They had to fire certain personnel, send some staff on vacation, redistribute operations, delay the payment of taxes in order to pay personnel because there is a work commitment and the employer needs to be faithful with the worker who needs to be retained because he is the one that maintains the company.
The other is to internally restructure, a facility provided by the superintendence of banks, so that banks allow customers to negotiate their debt and give them a reasonable grace period. Not restructuring would mean they lose their status of client, instead the idea is to make arrangements with them in order to give them some respite until a solution is found to this problem. Not to normalization, but a political solution of the problem.
What does the private sector think about the approval in the first instance of the Law known as Magnitsky Nica by the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate?
I believe that the issue of Nicaragua has overflowed. At the beginning, I remember that we felt what we were experiencing, but it was only Nicaraguans. There were people that did not know what was going on. And those who knew misinterpreted what was happening. As was the case of Almagro. When Almagro came the first time and was told that early elections were wanted, he said that the oligarchy’s leadership wanted to give Ortega a coup d’état. Today, he is the one saying: “we have to strangle the dictatorship.” We must also take into account that this has a solution, and that solution goes through the fulfillment of what the people want.
Do you believe that these initiatives can force Daniel Ortega to accept negotiations for a solution to this political crisis?
All these measures are to determine in which way they make Ortega see that he is taking Nicaragua to the precipice and that if he does not make a decision there will pressures. I have heard people say “that is going to take a long time.” By the time that the foreign relations committee sends it to the full Senate, and then to Trump’s desk, it will take a long time for the executive, in this case Donald Trump, and then the State Department to apply that which has become law.
I want to tell you not to sing victory, because the NicaAct was presented a long time ago in the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate. And the Global Magnitsky act is a law that is there and this law has already sanctioned four here, without having yet approved the Magnitsky Nica. And they can continue to approve it.
If this initiative is approved and Ortega does not yield, could he resist the pressures that the Law means for his government?
Without having to get to what nobody wants which is a civil war, I believe that is what Ortega is betting on. When we see that after a peaceful protest there is always a repressive apparatus, there are always dead and there are injured, it is done to provoke. They want to provoke the people so they will react violently, and I recommend to people not to fall into that trap, because it is the trap that Ortega wants in order to say “I have to repress because they are attacking.” So, you have to be careful with that because Ortega will win in a civil war because he has the weapons, the Police, the Army, the paramilitaries and against that no Nicaragua citizen can fight because it is not one on one.
Is there fear by the private sector that the approval of laws by the United States Congress sanctioning the Ortega Government will harm the national economy?
False. If you remember the Nica Act 1.0, it was a law to close the tap on loans to Nicaragua. Then, people began to say that if taps were closed there was going to be no food, there will be no jobs, businesses will close and all that. Afterwards came the Nica Act 2.0 and it included sanctions on corrupt government officials. So with that Nica Act the executive could act, which is Trump and the State Department, they could apply sanctions on those individuals stealing the resources sent by donors and other countries. In the earlier Nica Act [that was never approved] they included that those funds destined to education and social actions not be touched, and the bill considered now includes not to stop funds for social actions, such as human rights, democracy and restoration.
What is the desirable solution for the private sector of this crisis?
It is that Ortega will finally understand that if he wants to live peacefully after all this he has to yield, because if he is searching for the way out of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, that will be an extreme. He could find a reasonable solution and say OK, if what you want is to have early elections, let us advance the elections. If you want to release political prisoners, we can free the political prisoners. Let us go to elections and see who wins, but it is an election that will decide who wins, and that is the key that only Daniel Ortega has.