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Daniel Ortega's international isolation will intensify in 2022

2021 was marked by the rejection of the “electoral farce” and an increase in sanctions against pro-Ortega officials

Redacción Confidencial

4 de enero 2022


In 2022, the international isolation of Daniel Ortega’s regime will deepen, following the adverse international scenario it faced in 2021 as a consequence of its authoritarian drift, the execution of an “electoral farce” and the imprisonment of dozens of opponents, among them seven presidential aspiring candidates, warn experts in international affairs who minimize the “lifeline” that the dictatorship seeks by realigning with powers such as China or Russia. 

The inauguration of  Ortega and Murillo's new mandate -his fourth consecutive as president and her second as vice-president- is scheduled for January 10. Experts in international affairs anticipate that this act will be an opportunity for countries to disavow the authorities. 

Professor Carlos Murillo Zamora, from the School of Public Administration of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), considers that there are two forms of isolation: “one that comes from multilateral forums such as the OAS, some United Nations bodies on human rights, and the European Union”.

The second is at the bilateral level. “We will have to wait until January 10 to see what some governments that have not recognized the result of the elections will do with the acknowledgement of the new authorities”, he commented. 

After November 7, almost forty countries declared the votes in which Ortega was reelected without political competition “illegitimate”, including the United States, the European Union - composed of 27 nations -, as well as Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, among others.

In addition, on November 12, the OAS General Assembly of Foreign Ministers approved -with 25 votes in favor, one against, seven abstentions and one absence- a resolution declaring that the elections “were not free, fair or transparent and do not have democratic legitimacy”, to which the regime responded with a request to withdraw from the OAS.

Ortega’s “allies”

A Nicaraguan specialist - who asked to remain unnamed for fear of reprisals - expressed the opinion that “Ortega is already isolated from a large part of the international community”, and only has the support of countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Russia, China, Belarus and North Korea, which have “despotic, totalitarian and autocratic regimes”. 

He explained that the “international non-recognition” will correspond to the day of Ortega’s inauguration, “in which he will immediately become an illegal regime, without legitimacy, nor recognition by the international community” so that “the isolation will be greater than the one he already has”. 

“The fact of being an illegitimate government would have to result in something more than sanctions to individuals or companies linked to the Ortega regime, and that is what the international community will have to work on to determine how far it can go”,  the analyst emphasized.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has warned that, in the international arena, Nicaragua will become increasingly isolated, both regionally and globally, “as the regime refuses to address the international community's concerns about violations of human rights and political freedoms”. 

Each month, the EIU -which is part of The Economist Group-, makes an analysis of Nicaragua, mixing elements from the political sphere with those from the economic area (national and international for both spheres). In its latest report, it detailed that isolation could lead to the closure of international financing, whose recent generosity has been based on humanitarian reasons, but if Nicaragua is expelled from the OAS, “even this financing could be at risk” so the future of the country will depend more and more on the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), where the United States has no direct influence.

Carlos Cascante Segura, professor at the School of International Relations of the National University (UNA) of Costa Rica, indicated that when diplomatic isolation occurs, the keys to cooperation are closed and the projects that benefit the most disadvantaged populations are affected. “This sometimes brings an undesired consequence: in the face of increasing poverty, the management of clientelistic networks becomes easier for dictatorships to govern”. 

International Sanctions

In 2021, at least 30 regime officials and one public entity - the Prosecutor's Office - were punished by 64 different sanctions imposed by the governments of the US. (14); Canada (26), United Kingdom (eight), Switzerland (eight) and the European Union (eight).

None of them can enter those countries or communities and their assets and shares in those territories have been frozen. In addition, citizens and companies from those nations are prohibited from transacting with those sanctioned.

Four officials stand out among the 31 sanctioned, as they received up to four sanctions each. These are: Alba Luz Ramos, president of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ); Ana Julia Guido, attorney general; and commissioner generals Fidel Domínguez Álvarez, chief of police in León, and Justo Pastor Urbina, chief of the Directorate of Special Operations (DOEP).

They are followed by Vice President Murillo, the president of the National Assembly, Gustavo Porras, and economic advisor, Bayardo Arce Castaño, who have three sanctions each.

On November 15, three countries coincided in imposing sanctions on Ortega's officials and operators. In the morning, the United States punished nine citizens and the Attorney General's Office. Hours later, the United Kingdom announced sanctions against eight Ortega supporters, among them the first lady. In the afternoon, Canada punished eleven high-ranking officials of the regime. In all three cases, these were the longest lists of sanctions to date. 

Danger in the face of the Renacer Act

EIU has highlighted in all its reports that “one of the main vulnerabilities of the regime is its exposure to punitive measures by the United States”. 

The British publication clarified that individual sanctions will not have “a major impact on the regime”, so “there is a risk that the United States will intensify pressure through economy-wide sanctions, which could eventually weaken Ortega's position”, through the Renacer Act, which was signed on November 10 by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The legislation - Strengthening Nicaragua's Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (Renacer) Act - was introduced in late March 2021 on a bipartisan basis in the Senate, where it was led by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. In the Lower House, the proposal has been pushed by Democratic Congressman Albio Sires.

​​The Renacer Act expands the grounds for sanctioning regime officials and recommends that President Biden “review Nicaragua’s continued participation” in the U.S. - Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-Cafta)

Exiting the trade agreement would cost Nicaragua some US$1.5 billion in exports in the textile sector alone. Businessmen and economists consulted by CONFIDENCIAL assured that it will also affect employment, tax collection and contributions to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS).

DR-Cafta -which came into effect for Nicaragua on April 1, 2006- represented a great opportunity for the country. Nicaragua went from exporting US$228.4 million to the United States in 2006 to US$1,402.1 million in 2020.


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Division in Central America

Voting within the OAS has shown a division among Central American countries on the Nicaraguan crisis: Belize, Guatemala and Honduras have almost always abstained, while El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama have voted in favor of the resolutions against the regime.

Professor Murillo commented that the countries of the region value the trade issue, since there is no way to evade Nicaragua. “If Nicaragua closes the borders it is a problem for land trade” he stressed. 

Intra-regional exports represent more than 25% of total Central American exports, according to data from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This percentage has changed little in recent years.

The greatest regional rejection of the regime has been seen in the election of the new Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (SICA), a position which corresponds to Nicaragua, but which the other countries have vetoed the list of three candidates presented by the Ortega government.  According to Central American diplomatic sources, the argument of the States is that Ortega has proposed “people without much knowledge” on the foreign service, and “very close to the regime”. 

The list is composed of the former Sandinista guerrilla and outgoing deputy of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), Orlando Tardencilla - he was appointed ambassador to the UN and other international organizations based in Switzerland in mid December-; the current head of the Ministry of the Interior (Migob), María Amelia Coronel Kinloch; and architect Luz Marina López Escobar, technical coordinator of the Secretariat of Infrastructure of the Autonomous Regional Government of the Northern Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.

The regional distancing with respect to Nicaragua also led to the cancellation of the LVI meeting of SICA Heads of State. Only two presidents - Ortega of Nicaragua and Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras - confirmed their attendance out of a total of eight presidents of the organization.

Guatemala's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgar Gutiérrez (2002-2004), considers that “there is a sign that the Central American integration system is reaching a fracture point, and it is determined by what happened with the re-election of Daniel Ortega”.

In view of the coming conflicts with Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic created last September, during the United Nations General Assembly, an Alliance for the Strengthening of Democratic Institutions.

Political prisoners held hostage by Ortega

Cascante Segura explained that international sanctions and isolation will “move” Ortega to negotiate the “situation” of the political prisoners currently being held in El Chipote. 

“For the last few years, the Ortega and Murillo front have been preparing to reach this situation of isolation and to negotiate within this scenario. It has a series of political prisoners who would be the first bargaining chip,” the expert stressed.

The release of prisoners of conscience has been a constant request in international forums. In its resolution last November, the OAS General Assembly reiterated “it's previous calls for the release of all political candidates and prisoners”. 

The European Parliament also reiterated, in its latest resolution, “its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, opposition activists, human rights and environmental defenders and journalists arbitrarily detained”, and demanded “the nullity of the judicial proceedings against them”.

The UN Human Rights Council held a special session on the Nicaraguan elections on December 14, in which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded the release of political prisoners detained before the elections, and the restoration of legality to the parties that lost it during a campaign: Citizens for Liberty (CxL), Democratic Restoration (PRD) and Conservative (PC).

“Many have been detained incommunicado for more than 90 days, some in prolonged solitary confinement, and have only been able to see their families on isolated occasions” Deputy High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif lamented.

During her speech at the XX Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Ortega again rejected the demand for the release of political prisoners expressed by the international community.

“Now it turns out that because they are detained, are imprisoned and are being processed, they should be released, the Europeans say it, the Yankees say it. So they do have the right to do justice, but we do not have the right to do justice. In Nicaragua there is a judicial system, there are laws, the Europeans have the right to imprison whoever they want,” said Ortega in Havana, Cuba. 

Farewell Taiwan, welcome China

Faced with international isolation, the regime made a surprising turn in its foreign policy on December 9: it broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan, one of its main cooperators in the last three years, and recognized the People's Republic of China as the “only legitimate government”. 

In its December report, the EIU concluded that behind this shift is “a complex mix” of foreign policy and domestic political considerations; “all aimed at preserving Ortega's authoritarian dynasty.”

“For Nicaragua, the most important factor behind its foreign policy shift is that it needs alternative sources of external financing. Ortega knows that after 2022, his chances of continuing to receive significant financial backing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other multilaterals, such as the World Bank and the IMF, which are subject to U.S. pressure, are slim,” the British publication reasoned.

Murillo Zamora considers it “difficult” that “freedoms will be restored” in the short term in Nicaragua. “The dictatorship is perceived as solid, now backed by two superpowers: China and Russia. It is not going to change no matter how many sanctions they establish against it, unless the sanctions harm the population and the population rises up.”

Experts agree that international pressure is a medium-term effort. “The Inter-American community will continue to make efforts to contribute to the restoration of fundamental freedoms, constitutional order and the rule of law. However, these are all processes whose results are not immediately apparent”, explained a Nicaraguan analyst who asked not to be named.

 “From 2022 onwards, there are many possible scenarios and many cards the regime will be able to play to stay in power and exercise a very rigid control, very strict and in violation of human rights” he added. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.