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Dialogue and Elections: “The Peaceful Way Out of the Dictatorship”

Although the regime has frustrated all attempts to end the crisis, citizens continue yearning for justice and democracy

Ernesto Medina, Azahalea Solís, and Max Jerez, all former members of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, have been banished and stripped of their nationality by the Ortega Murillo regime

Redacción Confidencial

22 de abril 2024


Six years have passed since the Nicaraguan social explosion of 2018, calling for justice, freedom, and democracy. In the interval, there’ve been three frustrated attempts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

During the first years of the crisis, the organized opposition, composed of different social sectors, made repeated attempted to sit down and negotiate agreements with the Ortega-Murillo regime, in demand of free elections and a transition towards democracy.

In 2018 and 2019, the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy was a central participant in two such attempts at dialogue with the dictatorship. The first dialogue was suspended with no results; in the second, the regime signed agreements but later refused to fulfill them, or only partially complied with them.

In 2021, with general elections approaching, the opposition prepared to demand and participate in free, transparent, and monitored elections. The regime responded by imprisoning the main opposition presidential candidates, as well as civic leaders, human rights defenders, former diplomats and journalists. It would eventually banish these leaders and strip them of their Nicaraguan citizenship, while at the same time cementing their own power by radicalizing their authoritarianism.

On April 17, 2024, Dr. Ernesto Medina, former rector of the Americana University in Managua and of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Leon, joined Dr. Azhalea Solis, specialist in Constitutional law, and Max Jerez, previously a youth representative in the Civic Alliance for a joint interview on the internet news program Esta Noche. All of them continue to believe in the mechanisms of dialogue and free elections as the only viable way out of Nicaragua’s current crisis.

During the interview, Medina, Solis and Jerez reflected back on the lessons learned from the previous failed attempts at dialogue. They reaffirmed their hopes in the continued citizen demand for justice and democracy in Nicaragua. “Every year, the dictatorship recalls what happened that April, because they live with the permanent ghost of the massive 2018 civic rebellion that nearly toppled them from power and that continues as a latent force for change,” Max Jerez summarizes.

Lessons from the National Dialogue

Max, in May 2018, you represented the student movement which was in the streets and occupied universities. What were your expectations when you arrived for the first session of the National Dialogue that month? What lessons did you learn during those days?

Max Jerez:  Our principal intention was to bring to the dialogue table the demands of the general public – those in the universities and the people demonstrating in the streets.

We had the opportunity to address Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo face to face and tell them exactly what people in the street were asking for. That moment marked a pinnacle in the history of the April Civic Rebellion, and in Nicaraguan history as well. To have the opportunity to tell the dictator to his face that he must stop the repression, that he must go, and that the Nicaraguan people were tired of his abuses and arbitrary actions.

There are those who suggest that the message Lesther Aleman gave Daniel Ortega about the student movements’ demands during the opening of a dialogue being televised nationally, was a grave political error. Do you think the regime could possibly have offered a different response or readiness for change at the dialogue [if this hadn’t occurred]?

Azahalea Solis: The Episcopal Conference had the wisdom to formulate a conversation with a government where a willingness to dialogue didn’t exist. That must be acknowledged, before critiquing anything that happened that May (2018).

Once all the sectors were seated, we decided that what we were going to present at the dialogue table was what was being shouted on the streets, which was the demand for justice and democracy. The other thing we determined is that the dialogue would be political and not by sectors, because we were used to the dictatorship’s trap of placing us in different camps, so that we’d fight amongst ourselves.

Whether it should have been broadcast live… certainly, in terms of a traditional (televised) dialogue, it wasn’t in line with the normal elements. Nonetheless, let’s recall that we were in a country where there had been no intermediaries, because the political system had been destroyed. Credibility was a fundamental element for the dialogue, and that day we earned the credibility of the citizens who were watching with great hopes, much frustration, and a lot of grief.

We know what happened with that first attempt at a National Dialogue, but in March 2019, Ortega agreed on a second attempt at the petition of the large business sector. The regime signed two agreements for the restoration of public liberties, but never followed through with them. The Vatican and the Organization of American States were witnesses, but not guarantors, of the agreement. Why did you agree to sit down at the table once again with those who months before had violently squashed the citizen protest? Was there some sign of change? What expectations did you have?

Ernesto Medina:  The decision to sit down once again was because we were convinced the way out had to come through negotiation, dialogue, and the situation in the country was extremely grave.

We thought that the presence of Mr. Rosadilla, who represented Luis Almagro, General Secretary of the OAS, and of the Apostolic Nuncio [Waldemar Sommertag], was a guarantee. Along the way, we discovered that they didn’t have the capacity to act as guarantors.

A document was signed by both [the Civic Allilance and the government]. When you read it, the agreement points the way to resolving the crisis in Nicaragua. However, the regime never showed the least sign of wanting to comply with that accord, and we had no one to guarantee it. That’s among the most important lessons – why the technical structure behind a dialogue is important.

The agenda that “killed” the dialogue

For the first dialogue, the different sectors presented that agenda for change that was the agenda of the street, as you already said. The Episcopal Conference did the same, but shortly afterwards the regime called it an attempt at a coup d’etat. Was that agenda in accordance with the political reality of the moment?

Azahalea Solis: Absolutely. The path for democratization that was presented on May 18 (2018) during the first working session of the dialogue, which wasn’t televised, had been under construction for ten years. It was a legal path based on the fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution, and on the right to participation. The government slammed it as a plan for a coup because they don’t want to change their rule of corruption, impunity, and abuse based on electoral frauds.

Ernesto Medina: That agenda was created based on a petition from the Bishops. On the table where the dialogue participants sat, there was a sheet of paper placed there by the Bishops. It said: “Constitutional mechanisms to resolve the crisis.”

We don’t know if the government delegation reported anything at the end of that day’s session. We gave the Bishops what we’d been working on. Foreign Minister [Denis] Moncada stood up and said: “This is a recipe for a coup d’etat!” but they were [really] mechanisms to democratize the country. This was totally unacceptable to the government, which had no will to discuss them.

I don’t know if [the conclusion of that first dialogue] could have been avoided if, perhaps, the Bishops had worked with us a little more as mediators, in order to say: “Look kids, take this down a notch to facilitate a dialogue.” The truth is, they respected our position, which represented what the citizens on the street were demanding.

The protests of April 2018 were clearly spontaneous. People poured out onto the streets, indignant over the government’s repression and killings in April. That demand from the street, that agenda for change from the grassroots – How did you channel it? Were there organized efforts and communication between those at the negotiating table and those in the street?

Max Jerez: We were part of the movements on the street before we were called to participate in the national dialogue. As such, we knew first-hand the essence of what was happening. There was a connection between the demands and what was happening in the street, what people were demanding there. That was for change, the resignation of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, and a replacement for the authoritarian model that we were experiencing.

It would have been catastrophic for us to have gone to the negotiating table if we hadn’t understood those demands, but instead brought demands that were disconnected from the needs of the people, or from the expectations they had of us. When people saw us, they saw people like themselves, citizens from the different social strata: students, farmers, civil society, academics. It was a moment of extremely close connection.

Is there anything that you would change, or that you think could have been done better, during those days of trying to find a way out through the national dialogue, your agenda for change, and the pressure in the street?

Azahalea Solis: You can’t be a prophet of the past. True, it’s our job to study what happened in 2018, and in the dialogue of 2019, but without flogging ourselves. At that time, we did what could be done. Let’s keep in mind that [we were dealing with] a failed State – destroyed, with no independent institutions or intermediaries. And with a general society that didn’t believe in politics.

Nonetheless on that first day of the dialogue, people felt a renewed belief in political action and dialogue. Over the following months, Nicaraguan citizens followed with great interest the meetings of the OAS Permanent Council, because they wanted to see a negotiated solution. Even today, people don’t believe in an armed solution.

Of course there are things that could have been different. Without a doubt, I myself was extremely impassioned in that moment. But I believe there was a fundamental connection with the Nicaraguan citizenry. In terms of the contents, I don’t think there’s anything to change.  Certainly, the form would be different, but – I repeat – I don’t want to be a prophet of the past.

Max Jerez: We did what we could at an exceptional moment. A State of Emergency was never decreed in Nicaragua, but there was social turmoil. Decisions had to be made in the heat of the moment. We invested every possible effort in seeking the best solution at that moment. Above all, the principal demand was to end the repression, because at that time what was going on in the street was a protest movement, but simultaneously, there was also a massacre occurring.

The demand for change “continues latent”

In 2021, there was a third peaceful civic attempt to end the dictatorship through elections. However, the regime effectively annulled those elections by imprisoning and exiling the entire opposition leadership. If change can’t be accomplished through dialogue and elections, then – How can Nicaragua get out of the national crisis that’s sharper every day?

Ernesto Medina: If we believe that the way out must be democratic and peaceful, then [there has to be] some kind of negotiation or political dialogue; and at the end of it all, I see elections. We’ve already had this experience in Nicaragua’s history, in the [1990] elections, when Violeta [Chamorro] won. That served to put an end to a terrible and bloody war.

There has to be an organized, united, cohesive, political force to confront a regime we know doesn’t want to leave power in a peaceful way.

In addition to the challenges the opposition in exile faces, in organizing and serving as a counterweight to the regime during an ongoing Police State – Is it possible to dialogue once again with Ortega and Murillo? Or for the way out to come through a national agreement without Ortega and Murillo and the governing leadership?

Azahalea Solis: Another dialogue with Ortega and Murillo isn’t on the horizon at this time. In the case of Ortega, it’s clear he doesn’t want to dialogue with the Nicaraguan people. At this moment, I could see two possible kinds of dialogue: one, among Nicaraguan citizens; or two, a dialogue between the Nicaraguan citizens and the major international political actors.

The dialogue among the citizens has taken place to some extent, but I think it has to be much more systematic and much more profound, regarding what the priorities might be.

Max Jerez: We have to look at things optimistically and with hope for the future. Six years after the civic rebellion, Ortega and Murillo and the Sandinista dictatorship haven’t succeeded in regaining the trust of the Nicaraguan population. They’re fully aware that they don’t have popular support. They’re still waiting for a reaction from the Nicaraguan people, one aimed against them.

Six years after a rebellion they claim to have wiped out, they’re still taking containment measures. Every year, the dictatorship recalls what happened in April, because they live with the permanent ghost of the civic rebellion which nearly toppled them from power and that continues as a latent force to bring about a change towards democracy and freedom for all Nicaraguans.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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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.