On Monday, October 18, the foreign ministers of the European Union met in Luxemburg to assess the worsening of the Nicaraguan political crisis and debate their position on the imminent re-election of Daniel Ortega in the November 7 elections. A voting that will take place without electoral guarantees or political competition, having all seven presidential candidates of the opposition in jail and the only two opposition parties stripped of their legal status.
Two days later, in Washington, the OAS ambassadors analyzed in the Permanent Council the consequences of the failure of these elections, without credibility or legitimacy. Likewise, the Catholic Church has said through the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua, the date represents “the loss of a valuable opportunity to straighten the course of the country.” With 26 votes in favor and 7 abstentions, the OAS demanded the release of the 7 opposition presidential candidates and 150 political prisoners and credible elections with international observation.
This double initiative by the European Union and the OAS to discuss the strategies and actions they will adopt against the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, before or after November 7, represents a clear warning to the regime about its growing international isolation. At the same time, it presents an opportunity to establish a dialogue between the democratic opposition organizations, which recently issued a declaration, and the international community. Both agree on the urgency of drawing up a national and international roadmap to restore democracy in the country. But there is an enormous distance between the declaration of objectives and the definition of the means and actions to achieve them.
So far there is a general coincidence around two points: first, to reject the results of the November 7 electoral farce, in which the constitutional right of Nicaraguans to elect and be elected in an electoral event has been suppressed, without guarantees or political competition. And second, freedom for all political prisoners and the cancelation of the bogus trials with which Ortega intends to disqualify the country’s democratic leadership in future elections, so that once they are completely free, they can preserve all their political rights.
The debate on which are the most effective means to connect national and international political pressure is much more complex and there are no easy solutions, free of political costs. For example, external diplomatic pressure, individual sanctions against senior regime officials, as well as eventual scrutiny actions before the multilateral credit organizations that finance Ortega, certainly do exert pressure on the regime and even generate the ire of Ortega and Murillo, but they are useless to restore democracy if they fail to influence the full recovery of all democratic freedoms in Nicaragua.
The solution to the national crisis is in Managua, not in Washington or Brussels, but to achieve it, Nicaraguans need to recover completely their liberty, with the support of the international community. And this passes through the adoption of actions—national and international—that aim to weaken the prevailing police state, in place since September 2018, until they achieve its suspension and restore freedom of assembly and mobilization, press and expression, and all constitutional rights are restored.
Nicaraguans and also the international community have to learn from the mistakes made after the April 2018 Rebellion, when in the National Dialogue, they thought that the dictatorship would put power at risk at the polls. It was conceived that it was possible to find a solution to the crisis through elections under a police state. The turning point was reached when the Ortega Government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy signed two agreements on March 29, 2019, with representatives of the OAS and the Vatican as witnesses. The agreement to free all political prisoners was only partially fulfilled, while the “Agreement to strengthen citizens’ rights and guarantees” (read suspending the police state) was never complied with by Ortega, who rather tightened the police siege and reinforced it with the constraining laws approved in 2020 to “legalize” the repression.
Despite the breach of this crucial agreement, the opposition agreed to go to elections on November 7th under a police state and without electoral guarantees. And the result has been the imprisonment of all the presidential hopefuls and political and civic leaders, including four of the six signatories of the 2019 agreement: Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Jose Pallais, Jose Adan Aguerri and Max Jerez, who today are accused of “conspiracy against national sovereignty.”
However, the OAS and the Vatican, the witnesses to the negotiation, never held Ortega to account for the breach of the agreement signed by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada and failed in their role as mediators and guarantors of the agreements. Meanwhile, the democratic opposition enacted a fatal discrepancy between civic resistance and the electoral route, which made it easy for Ortega to behead it by force.
The CID Gallup poll carried out in September has confirmed that, if the elections were today, 65% would vote for the formula of the opposition who are in jail and only 19% would vote for Ortega. Ironically, the political prisoners are defeating Ortega from prison, but the dictatorship will remain in power.
The demand for the release of prisoners of conscience should then become the first factor of unity in action, promoted not only by the relatives of the prisoners and the political opposition, but by all vital forces of the country with the support of churches, the leadership of the private business sector, and all civil society organizations.
Promoting national unity, without a short-term electoral political solution, entails costs and risks for all defenseless national actors that face reprisals from the regime, but it is imperative to demand international solidarity. If in the OAS the votes are still not there to decree as a hemispheric action the illegitimacy of the regime and the rupture of Democratic Charter by Ortega, what counts are the actions that Governments, alliances, or blocs of countries can adopt, who do have a commitment to support the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua. Inaction is the main ally of the dictatorship.
Change begins with the restoration of democratic freedoms to clear the way towards electoral reform and free elections, without Ortega and Murillo, and with the presence of the international human rights commissions, IACHR and OHCHR, to guarantee the safe return of the exiles and lay the foundation of an international truth commission.