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The Crisis in Bolivia and Nicaragua: Similarities and Differences

The resignation of President Evo Morales in Bolivia, following three weeks of protests over denunciations of an electoral fraud, has resonated deeply in Nicaragua. There are a number of similarities between the political crisis in these two countries; but the Bolivian outcome has also served to highlight some marked differences.

Cocooned by his government’s economic and social successes, Evo Morales entrenched himself in power for three consecutive presidential periods. In 2016, he held a referendum asking the population to approve his right to seek a fourth term, which is prohibited under the Bolivian constitution. He lost that referendum.

Nonetheless, instead of accepting the result and backing another candidate from his party, just like Ortega when he couldn’t be legally reelected in 2011, Morales recurred to a Constitutional tribunal controlled by his party, alleging that reelection is a human right.  The tribunal awarded him the right to once more be a candidate in elections that were held this past October 20.

The nearly 24-hour suspension of the transmission of electoral results was followed by an alteration in the tendency of the results. This gave rise to denunciations of serious irregularities from the opposition headed by Carlos Mesa, and echoed by the international observers. Eleven days after the street protests arose, Morales invited the OAS to hold a legally binding audit. The results of this confirmed that a massive fraud had been perpetrated via the electoral tribunal, altering the popular will as expressed in the ballot boxes.

The verification of fraud, plus the mutiny among the Bolivian police – who refused to repress the civic protest and instead added their support to the demonstrators – plus the explosion of new, even more belligerent protests, intensified the crisis.  The resolution came with the intervention of the Army, which “suggested” to Morales that he should resign and seek a constitutional way out, in order to avoid bloodshed.

The political crisis of Evo Morales in Bolivia, like that of Ortega in Nicaragua, didn’t originate in any national or international conspiracy, but in the disease of reelection-ism, the violation of the Constitution in each country, and an authoritarian exercise of government power that led to a fraudulent dictatorship.

The notorious differences in the dynamics that have played out in these two countries, beyond just the correlation of forces, begin with the way in which each regime, designed to govern without opposition, responded to a massive civic protest. While in Nicaragua, Ortega instrumentalized the National Police and the paramilitary to perpetrate a massacre, in Bolivia, the police mutinied and refused to repress the demonstrators.

While in Nicaragua, General Julio Cesar Aviles intervened in the crisis by refusing to have the army disarm the irregular paramilitary bands, in Bolivia the army head advocated for the resignation of Evo Morales in order to avoid a national confrontation.

The debate continues on whether the Army’s intervention in Bolivia represents a coup d’etat or not, or if there was previously a self-coup perpetrated by Evo Morales through the electoral fraud, as Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS affirmed. It is a matter to be resolved by the Bolivian Constitutional Tribunal, which should also judge if the mechanisms for constitutional succession have or have not been correctly applied.

Evo Morales himself has never spoken of a military coup, but of a civic, political and police coup, in reference to the Police disobeying orders and refusing to repress the protesters.

In Nicaragua, on the other hand, a discussion regarding the supposed coup against President Ortega has never been contemplated.  At least three international human rights organizations – the OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, have all certified that there was no indication of a Coup d’etat, but instead the excessive use of state violence against the civic protests, extra-judicial executions and crimes against humanity.

At the heart of the matter, the difference between the departure from power of Evo Morales following three weeks of protests and the permanence of Ortega after nineteen months of repression, isn’t rooted in the determination or the capacity for resistance of one people or the other. Rather, it lies in the dimension of the brutal repression unleashed in the case of Nicaragua, and of the decisions adopted by the heads of the Police and the Army in an extreme situation.

The fact that in Nicaragua the worst massacre in its peacetime history was produced, with over 300 assassinated – all with total impunity – reflects a deep need for soul-searching among the officials of the Nicaraguan Police and the Army regarding the failure and the shared responsibility of these institutions in exacerbating the national crisis.

The main responsibility for the massacre perpetrated by the Police and the paramilitary lies with Daniel Ortega, and as such, he’s now politically and morally incapacitated to continue governing Nicaragua. Ortega is also the one responsible for the economic and social crisis that has brought three consecutive years of economic recession, with the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the impoverishment of two million people.

But the strongman has said that he doesn’t care if companies continue going bankrupt and workers lose their jobs. Meanwhile, the social fabric of the country continues being destroyed and tens of thousands of Nicaraguans continue emigrating.

That’s the tragedy that Nicaragua finds itself in today, a country where Ortega rules, represses and directs, but no longer governs. The only way out in the face of the collapse of governability must involve the immediate suspension of the de facto state of siege, in order to clear the road to electoral reform and early elections.

Therefore, it’s imperative that all the democratic freedoms be reestablished: freedom of the press, freedom of expression and religious freedom; the right to free assembly and movement, freedom of association and university autonomy. That’s the commitment that Ortega signed with the Civic Alliance during the second national dialogue on March 29 of this year, as the “Agreement to strengthen citizen rights and guarantees” with the Vatican and the OAS as international witnesses.

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Suspension of the police state, the dismantling of the paramilitary forces, and the return of the international human rights organizations to Nicaragua are the requirements that all of the vital forces of the country – civil society, the blue and white movement, political parties and company owners – are demanding in order to negotiate a political reform that would allow the realization of a free and competitive election.

An election with a non-partisan Electoral Council and with national and international observation, so that a sovereign people can decide the direction of their country without the threat of another electoral fraud, as occurred before in Nicaragua and was just produced in Bolivia.

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