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Dynastic Succession, the Mortgaging of National Sovereignty, and the Army

The ball is in the court of the 20 generals who refused to disarm paramilitary forces and now face the uncertainty of dynastic succession

Ceremony for the 90th anniversary of the assassination of Augusto C. Sandino, February 21, 2024. // Photo: CCC

Carlos F. Chamorro

27 de febrero 2024


On February 21, after 56 days of absence from public office, the absent President of Nicaragua reappeared in an official event in homage to General Sandino.

Last year, Daniel Ortega appeared in only 30 public events. Most of them were protocol ceremonies, and they included a trip to Cuba and another to Venezuela, according to official media outlets. At the beginning of 2024, he set a record by remaining absent from public office for almost two months. Meanwhile, the regime's vice president and spokeswoman has become increasingly omnipresent through her day-to-day management of the strings of power and her daily official noon-time monologues. 

Regardless of the cause of Ortega's inability to fulfill his public functions as chief executive, it is clear that the dynastic succession in power has already begun. Last year's police intervention and clearing out of the Supreme Court of Justice paved the way for the still-pending appointment of 13 new magistrates who will no longer be under Ortega's tutelage, but rather loyal only to Rosario Murillo. 

Ortega and Pinochet

Ortega has boasted of having stripped hundreds of Nicaraguans of their nationality for demanding free elections, justice and democracy. This unconstitutional act, which violates international agreements signed by Nicaragua to prevent statelessness, has been roundly condemned internationally. Ortega's attempt to mock the 110 Nicaraguans who have received Spanish citizenship backfired as it highlighted Spain's extraordinary gesture of solidarity in the face of the crimes against humanity and the political persecution imposed by the Ortega-Murillo regime.

Ortega justified imposing statelessness on hundreds of citizens by reading a 1927 manifesto by General Sandino. But in reality his inspiration is not Sandino, but the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the only Latin American ruler who dared to strip the nationality of a dozen citizens in 1976. Among them was Orlando Letelier, the foreign minister under Salvador Allende, Chile's president who was overthrown by a military coup in 1973. After being stripped of his nationality, Letelier was assassinated in a terrorist act sponsored by Pinochet in Washington, DC. The Nicaraguan dictator has far surpassed the Chilean dictator by stripping not a dozen citizens of their nationality, as Pinochet did, but some 317 Nicaraguans. Ortega's desire for hatred and revenge seems to be even greater and more irrational than that of the Chilean military dictatorship. 

Refuge for the corrupt

In addition to stripping Nicaraguans of their nationality, Ortega has turned Nicaragua into a refuge for the corrupt. In exchange for help with money laundering, he has offered protection and granted citizenship to former presidents who have been persecuted and prosecuted for corruption in their countries –such as Salvadorans Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sánchez Cerén–, as well as to several former high-ranking officials of Honduras and Guatemala. He has also granted political asylum to former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, convicted of corruption.

How much does Nicaraguan nationality cost in Daniel Ortega's market of corruption, and what are its political and economic returns? One would have to ask the Libyan Mohamed Lasthar, nephew of Muammar Gaddafi, now a nationalized Nicaraguan and ambassador to 11 Arab countries. You could also ask Mauricio Gelli, son of the Italian Licio Gelli of the P2 Lodge and Banco Ambrosiano scandals, who as a nationalized Nicaraguan is now the brand new Nicaraguan ambassador to Spain and three other European countries.

The mortgaging of Nicaragua's sovereignty 

To his supporters, Ortega and his wife present themselves as heirs of General Sandino, the highest symbol of the defense of national sovereignty. But everyone knows, including Sandinistas themselves, that with the 2013 interoceanic canal Law 840, known as the Ortega-Wang law, the regime mortgaged national sovereignty for 100 years by handing it over to Chinese businessman Wang Jing for the supposed construction of the canal and a dozen subprojects to be carried out in any part of the national territory.

Despite the multi-million dollar scam and the failure of the canal project –protested against by some hundred marches of the Peasant Movement and its allies–, this law is still in force and represents a threat to the territorial integrity of Nicaragua. That is why the first task of any new democratic government that will eventually replace the dictatorship and begin the reconstruction of Nicaragua must be the annulment of Law 840 and the establishment of the basis for justice without impunity. 

But the country also needs to recover its sovereignty more integrally and put an end to Ortega's sell-out policies towards Russia and China.

In 2022, on another anniversary of General Sandino, Ortega sullied the legacy of the national hero by justifying his support for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's military invasion of Ukraine in the name of Sandino, the anti-interventionist icon.

Now, two years later, on February 21, Ortega appeared publicly once again, backed by the high command of the Army and Police, to boast of the support of the armed institutions for his discourse of hatred and revenge, as well as for his actions as a pawn of Russian and Chinese interests in Central America.

The generals' dilemma

What can be expected from the Nicaraguan Army which, in breach of its constitutional mandate, in 2018 refused to disarm Ortega's paramilitary army? What level of institutional integrity exists in an Army that in 2024 was complicit in the transfer of one tons of cocaine from Nicaragua to Russia?

The ball is in the court of the 20 Army generals, headed by General Julio César Avilés, who for more than a decade have represented an institutional obstacle by preventing the promotion of career Army officers. Now they are struggling with the uncertainty of the "dynastic succession."

Will General Avilés' appointment as Army chief be renewed for a fourth term in 2025? What is the future of the other 19 generals, in the event of Avilés' departure? Will they declare their loyalty to Murillo, or will they be displaced by the senior military officers who will be appointed by the successor to power? Will the Army be politically controlled by the command and control system run from El Carmen (the presidential couple's residence), as has already happened with the Police and the judiciary and electoral branches of power?

For now, no one can predict the answers to these questions, but as long as the Army leadership remains subjugated to the Ortega-Murillo family dictatorship, the military institution is mortgaging its own future to the fate of the "dynastic succession."

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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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.