25 | JUN | 2019
A family regime crumbles again in Nicaragua
Posters with an image of Daniel Ortega are seen at a barricade during a protest against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government - Photo:Jorge Cabrera/REUTERS

A family regime crumbles again in Nicaragua

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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Nearly 30 years after the fall of the cruel and kleptocratic Somoza dictatorship, Nicaragua is once again in rebellion, this time to overthrow the government of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra

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Nearly 30 years after the fall of the cruel and kleptocratic Somoza dictatorship, Nicaragua is once again in rebellion, this time to overthrow the government of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, paradoxically the same leader that came to power in 1979 leading the leftist Sandinista guerrilla movement.

In the current twist of history, however, the beautiful Central American country, a land of lakes, volcanoes, and rainforests shows a different face.

Far from the widespread destruction caused by an earthquake in 1972, the constant plundering of public funds by the Somoza regime and the indiscriminate repression against rebels, Nicaragua was considered stable and relatively prosperous compared with crime-ridden Honduras and El Salvador, just two months ago.

Unlike the so-called “Northern Triangle” made up by Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where structural poverty and violence fueled by low economic growth and drug trafficking are behind the immigration wave heading to the United States throughout Mexico, the one time Marxist Ortega both fostered business—last year the country’s gross domestic product experienced a growth of 4.9%—and kept gang activity under control in Nicaragua.

Five years ago, Managua attracted global attention with the ambitious plan to build a new USD$50 billion interoceanic canal in Nicaragua proposed by Hong Kong tycoon Wang Jing, which could increase the commercial flows between the Western hemisphere and Asia in USD$476 billion, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Nevertheless, protests erupted in the Polytechnic University in Managua and other places in April after the government’s rollout of hikes in income and payroll taxes, meant to shore up the foundering social security system.

Days later the official decree was scrapped, yet the unrest continues; more than 100 people had been killed by pro-regime militias, human rights groups said.

Ortega, 72, was first elected president in 1984 during the fierce counter-revolutionary campaign imposed by the Reagan administration using its proxies (“Contras”) in the midst of the Cold War and after the death of 30,000 people and the U.S. naval blockade denounced by Nicaragua in the International Court of Justice, Ortega lost a re-election bid in 1990, defeated by conservative candidate Violeta Chamorro.


Antigovernment protests in Nicaragua turn deadly

Eleven people were killed on Wednesday in one of the worst days of violence since protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega began more than a month ago
Antigovernment protests in Nicaragua turn deadlyAntigovernment protests in Nicaragua turn deadly

Corruption and money laundering

The next governments laid the ground for Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front’s (FSLN) return to power.

In 2003, former President Arnoldo Alemán, from the Constitutional Liberal Party was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption.

In 2006, Ortega won the elections with less than 40% of the vote, because of a change in law which lowered the percentage requiring a runoff election from 45% to 35% (with a 5% margin of victory).

Experienced and displaying a deep understanding of the political moment, Ortega successfully overcome past scandals (the “piñatacorruption case stripped the FSLN of moral authority in the 90s), combining his alliance with Cuba and Venezuela with a local approach close to the Catholic Church—banning abortion—and the business elite.

He won re-election in 2011 and in 2014 the National Assembly approved constitutional changes allowing Ortega to run for a third successive term.

In 2016, he resulted elected again, this time with his influential wife, Rosario Murillo, as running mate. Their elder son, Laureano Ortega Murillo, 32, would be preparing to head the governing family.

The coalition that supported Ortega’s growing authoritarian rule, however, is breaking down, just as the group of nine commanders from the first Sandinista junta in power.

Carlos Pellas, the country’s richest tycoon, told the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa that the protesters are representing “a clamor for the return of democracy, justice, and human rights” and urged Ortega to arrange “an orderly exit” through early elections.

He warned that business leaders may support a national strike, while the Catholic bishops, despite their mediation in the dialogue launched on May, are now rejecting government appeals to ease the unrest.

Pro-regime and independent organizations such as the Farmworkers Association (ATC), say there are two sizeable camps of the population with “dangerously contrary positions. On one side, there is a combination of university students, media outlets with right-wing owners, Catholic bishops close to the Opus Dei, the private sector and, of course, the U.S. Embassy.”

The ATC denounced that hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook profiles and WhatsApp accounts “amplify the hatred and pressure Nicaraguan users to share and post hate messages.” It added that many of these fake profiles and accounts have been created in foreign countries and in particular, Miami.

It is a historical coincidence that the Emeritus Archbishop of Managua, the Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, died last Sunday under the shadow of his alliance with Ortega sealed in 2002 when the Sandinista leader granted impunity to the judge Roberto Rivas Reyes, his protégé, accused of grave irregularities in the Supreme Electoral Council.

During the 80s and 90s, Obando y Bravo was a key opposition figure, even aligning himself with the Contras, incidentally, they were beneficiaries from the illegal U.S. weapons and financial aid provided by then-colonel Oliver North, now the National Rifle Association (NRA) President.

The winds of change could be blowing in Nicaragua again, yet the country’s current image looks very similar to the Venezuelan one.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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