What is happening in Nicaragua?

What is happening in Nicaragua?

Nicaragua’s decision to support Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the presidency of CELAC revealed bilateral tensions between Managua and Buenos Aires. What are the real motives? What other countries are involved in this impasse? What about the left in Latin America?

On the surface

On July 30, 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Nicaragua reported, through a formal diplomatic note its support for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as a candidate for the Pro Tempore Presidency (PPT) of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC-2022).

In this sense, President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo affirmed: “We support Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, we support their candidacy, recognizing the historical right of the Caribbean to coordinate our CELAC, a right that we consider should be respected. We also relieve the merits, the consequence, the courage and the firm defense of the dignity and sovereignty of our peoples in the Great Homeland, which we have always seen and admired in our brother, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

So far everything would seem normal. It is a decision of a sovereign country to nominate another equally sovereign country, which in the end is from the same region, the Caribbean, to temporarily preside over a Latin American integration space: CELAC 2022. However, a closer look shows other reasons why Nicaragua could have made that political decision. Let’s see.

A distant beginning

If we go back to the beginning of the bilateral relationship between Nicaragua and Argentina, the Nicaraguan president did not attend the inauguration of President Alberto Fernández in December 2019. Instead, the leader of the Sandinista Revolution sent the Minister of Foreign Relations, Denis Moncada. Certainly, this is also very understandable, since the siege suffered by the people of Sandino at the hands of the United States government is constant, which has put the government of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in a situation of economic crisis with serious social and political repercussions.

The Argentinian president, today fully in office after more than two years in government, has repeatedly declared his concern about the situation of the rule of law and human rights in Nicaragua (and Venezuela). Alberto Fernández has also acted in the field of declarations when, for example, on March 23, 2021, Argentina voted in favor of a resolution to protect human rights in Nicaragua.

Stick policy: UN Resolution on human rights

This resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council calls on the government of Daniel Ortega to “abandon arbitrary detentions and threats to opponents, the harassment of activists and cooperators with the UN, and calls for the protests to be allowed,” which it defines as “peaceful”. There were 20 votes in favor of the Resolution, 18 abstentions and eight against it. Among the countries that supported the UN instrument are countries with a right-wing government, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador or Paraguay, which were joined by Mexico and Argentina, two governments of the moderate left in Latin America. While, predictably, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and China, among other counter-hegemonic countries, opposed and maintained their support for the FSLN leader.

Carrot policy: OAS statement

Alberto Fernández’s pragmatism led him to the fact that, last June 15, when the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) met with the intention of issuing a statement on the political situation in Nicaragua, Argentina (again together with Mexico) abstained from casting their voice and vote.

Resolution No. 1175/2021, approved by the OAS contains 4 points:

• Express its grave concern that the Nicaraguan government has not implemented, as of May 2021, electoral reforms in accordance with applicable international standards, in order to guarantee that the elections scheduled for November 2021 are free and fair.

• Unequivocally condemn the arrest, harassment, and arbitrary restrictions imposed on presidential candidates, political parties, and independent media, and demand the immediate release of presidential candidates and all political prisoners.

• Strongly urge the Nicaraguan government to promptly implement legislative and other measures that are consistent with applicable international standards in order to promote transparent, free, and fair elections in November, including the good reception of electoral observers from the OAS and other countries.

• Continue monitoring the electoral process in Nicaragua, for its consideration and possible presentation to the General Assembly.

The pronouncement had the favorable vote of 26 of the 34 member countries of the OAS, an institution headed by the Uruguayan Luis Almagro. While only 3 member countries voted against: Bolivia (Argentina’s strategic ally), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Nicaragua itself. It is worth remembering that Venezuela is no longer part of this decadent regional body, and other countries seem to be heading to follow in the footsteps of Caracas.

One of salt: the Joint Communiqué

Returning to Argentina, the decision of the Casa Rosada to abstain from voting against Nicaragua should have been a factor in bringing Managua and Buenos Aires closer again. However, it was not like that, there was no time for it. On the same day of the vote, June 15, 2021, Argentina and Mexico issued a Joint Communiqué, which stated:

“The Argentinian Republic and Mexico, committed to respecting and promoting human rights from an integral conception within which civil, political and electoral rights are contained (…), express their concern about the recent events in Nicaragua. Especially, due to the arrest of political figures of the opposition, whose revision would contribute to the Nicaraguan electoral process receiving the appropriate international recognition and accompaniment. We have witnessed, in several countries in the region, inadmissible cases of political persecution. We reject this behavior.

However, we do not agree with the countries that, far from supporting the normal development of democratic institutions, neglect the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, so sensitive to our history. Nor with the intention of imposing guidelines from the outside or of unduly prejudging the development of electoral processes. In this context, we were unable to accompany the draft resolution submitted for consideration at the OAS. It is imperative that the OAS returns to the constructive spirit of its Charter. We appreciate the negotiating efforts of some member states and make a new call to reestablish the inter-American dialogue.

We express our full willingness to collaborate constructively. We are convinced that this situation will be overcome by the Nicaraguans themselves, safeguarding peaceful coexistence, the division of powers, respect for minorities, constitutional guarantees and, in general, full respect for all human rights”, concludes the joint statement of AMLO and Fernández.

However restrained the terms chosen for this Official Communiqué may have been, it clearly did not go down well in Managua. To understand why, it must be taken into account that, for many Sandinista militants and probably for members of the Executive Branch too, the left represented by the current Argentine government is “a caviar left”, a “center left” or, in other words, it is not a truly left government. In this framework, the position, which the governments of Mexico and Argentina have taken towards Nicaragua, is seen as interference in the internal affairs of the Central American country, which harassed by the United States sanctions and hit by the Covid19 pandemic.

One of ice: bilateral relations freeze

A few days later, on June 21, 2021, Argentina and Mexico called their respective ambassadors for consultation due to “the worrying political-legal actions carried out by the Nicaraguan government in recent days that have put the integrity and freedom of various Nicaraguan opposition figures (including presidential candidates), activists and businessmen.”

The situation remained tense, but much less mediated, until, at the end of July, Nicaragua decided to nominate Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in front of CELAC, and of course, there is no way to unlink one thing from the other. Just as it is not possible to unlink what happened, on August 4, when President Alberto Fernández retweeted a video of former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, in which Lula says “I don’t like to put a single name to things, because the problem goes beyond Nicaragua, but every time a leader feels irreplaceable or essential, a bit of dictatorship is emerging in that country” warned Lula, to then send a message to Daniel Ortega: “do not abandon democracy, do not abandon freedom of the press, do not abandon freedom of expression, because all this strengthens democracy”, in addition, said the Brazilian leader, who is running for president for the next elections in Brazil: “the same thing I say to Ortega, I have said to Chávez and Uribe”.

Lula’s statements are given in the framework of the Nicaraguan president’s decision to go for his fourth successive term, next November 2021, and compete against several candidates, some of whom are imprisoned under charges of “incitement to the violence and treason”.

This whole situation should have added more tension to Nicaragua’s relations, not only with Argentina, but with other countries in the region that questioned his reelection and the situation of economic, social and political crisis that the country is experiencing. And Commander Ortega’s response was immediate. On August 10, he called his ambassadors in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Bogotá and San José de Costa Rica for consultation.

In this context, on August 12, the right-wing Argentine newspaper La Nación reported that Nicaragua’s decision not to support Argentina’s candidacy for the PPT CELAC-2022 was due to Managua “being angry” and the same source indicated that “the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro would also be behind the initiative”. According to the Argentine media, “this suspicion has a certain basis: Argentina was excluded from the negotiations that, with the intermediation of Norway, Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition (without the presence of Guaidó) carry out to reach a democratic solution in the Caribbean country.” La Nación, for a change, in every situation likes to involve Venezuela, as the instigator of “everything that is wrong in the world” and even outside the planet. Of course, that conservative or reactionary newspaper was not going to miss this opportunity.

Nicaragua’s position

Nicaragua has been governed since 2007 by Daniel Ortega (75), leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The Sandinista Front has a positive image of 59.6% and the latest polls show an average voting intention of 65% in favor of Ortega.

Nicaragua, a Central American country of 6.5 million inhabitants, is mired in an internal political crisis, worsened by the economic crisis, the Covid19 and the siege of the United States and the European Community, which do not cease to apply unilateral coercive measures.

The last sanctions were on August 3, and both Cuba and Venezuela, as well as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) expressed their solidarity with Nicaragua: “the latest coercive measures hide behind the pretext of the violation of human rights,” says part of the statement.

Despite the sanctions, the Sandinista Revolution has maintained one of the lowest illiteracy rates in all of Latin America, with free and quality education. This country has a high-level and equally free health system. For this and other reasons, Ortega’s government maintains that the sanctions of the USA and Europe “are actions against the human rights of Nicaraguans. For us, sanctions are decorations because we know why and where they come from,” they say.

In this context of high internal conflict, regional questions and imperial pressures, next November 7, general elections will be held to choose:

1. Republic President

2. 90 deputies of the National Assembly of Nicaragua, and

3. 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament

Opposition reaction

The opposition to the FSLN government has taken advantage of this situation of apparent weakness, due to the internal and international situation, to boycott Ortega’s administration, reject the elections and promote coup attempts. In this sense, the President of the Nicaraguan National Assembly, Gustavo Porras, maintains that:

“The reality is that all these opposition gentlemen used money from American and European taxpayers, because they have had several NGOs at their service to use that money through them to finance the criminal coup of 2018, a coup that it was defeated by the Nicaraguan people and the Nicaraguan State and, therefore, these countries that invested money in that have a certain frustration,” said the Nicaraguan parliamentarian.

Regarding the arrests of opposition members, the Secretary for International Relations of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Carlos Fonseca Teran, says: “the right-wing coup in Nicaragua remains in evidence when they are detained for their misdeeds (not for their presidential aspirations not because they are opponents, but because of their crimes) the country continues in the most serene atmosphere of peace. If the criminals arrested were leaders of the people, the situation would be different”.

Supporting the above, many of these political opponents had benefited from the 2019 Amnesty Law, which in its article no. 3 reads: “the people benefited from this Law must refrain from perpetrating new acts that incur repetitive behaviors that generate the crimes contemplated herein. The non-observance of the principle of non-repetition results in the renewal of the benefit established by this Law”, something that the opponents did not respect, taking advantage of the resources they receive from the United States and Europe, and the current crisis context.

Concluding thoughts

The pressures that hang over the Sandinista Revolution, led by Commander Daniel Ortega, are multiple, but the vast majority of them have the stamp of the imperialist US. Faced with this, the left in Latin America, unfortunately, is not united enough. All this endangers the political pacts between the progressive, left and revolutionary projects in the government in Latin America

How can we build a new hegemonic power bloc in the region if – for example -Argentina and Mexico have positions similar to those of Colombia, Chile and Brazil against Nicaragua? How can we defend a bourgeois democracy and its bourgeois rights, against the pressure and harassment that the revolutionary governments of the region receive?

Certainly, if we do not show unity in diversity, we will not be able to help strengthen experiences such as those that are taking place now in Peru, whose president Pedro Castillo has not yet “taken power”. In fact, just over a month after receiving his mandate, he has not yet been able to form its Executive Cabinet, and the revolutionary Chancellor, Héctor Béjar, has already had to resign.

We end this analysis with more questions than answers, but we also end this writing with words of reflection and hope from Che Guevara:

If we were able to unite, how beautiful and how close the future would be

If the present is one of struggle, the future is ours!

Micaela Ovelar
Political scientist and international adviser, Argentine-Venezuelan scholar, feminist and social activist. Micaela has a B.A. in Political Science, a Masters in International Relations; with studies in issues of gender, government, democracy, and the state. She was the international relations adviser of president Hugo Chavez and has worked with the Venezuelan government for the last 15 years.She is also an independent journalist, producer, and in Film & TV Direction from EMPA (Venezuela). She was a producer and commentator at Radio Alba Ciudad (Caracas). Micaela worked as translator and transcriptionist on “South of the Border” by Oliver Stone, archival research on "Silvio Rodríguez. My first calling" by Catherine Murphy, and as a journalist for “Correo del Alba.” (Bolivia-Venezuela).

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December 2022