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Four Premises to Negotiate Ortega’s Surrender

This is the last historic opportunity that Nicaraguans have to implement a lasting democratic change, with justice and without impunity.

This is the last historic opportunity that Nicaraguans have to implement a lasting democratic change

Carlos F. Chamorro

17 de junio 2018


In the solitude of his bunker in El Carmen -the enclave of the State-Party-Family-, President Daniel Ortega took five days to “reflect” on the justice and democratization agenda and the road map for his departure from power that the bishops presented him in the name of the National Dialogue.

After having massacred more than 131 people since April 19, he added more than thirty victims to the massacre unleashed by his paramilitary forces, increasing the death toll to 164 people and going on two thousand wounded. Ortega sent a letter to the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, which still does not dare to outline his capitulation to the civic revolution that demands his resignation, but agrees to enter into a negotiation from which there is no turning back.

The surprising thing is that among both his close and broader political circles, the FSLN’s leaders, including the “historic” ones, the ministers of their government and the magistrates of the State powers, their Police, their Army, even their most loyal paramilitary forces, absolutely nobody, except his wife and vice president and his family, knew the content of the terms of his surrender, which he first offered to a representative of the Senate and the United States Government.

For the vast majority of supporters, as happened with the National Guard, when the dictator Anastasio Somoza resigned as president on July 17, 1979, cornered by popular insurrection and international pressure, the mere possibility that Ortega might agree to negotiate to shorten his term of government and call early elections, is the beginning of a political earthquake for which they are not prepared, because until before April 18 they only contemplated succession within the family dynasty.

Such is the miracle that takes place in personality cult authoritarian regimes, which the great Spanish sociologist and political scientist Juan Linz baptized as “sultanistic” because of the extreme concentration of power in a caudillo and his family, without any kind of institutionality. When the head wobbles or falls, the whole system irretrievably collapses. And after 58 days of civic rebellion, the Ortega regime is on the verge of collapse, only sustained by police and paramilitary repression.

On the agenda of the National Dialogue that was re-established on Friday, everyone understands that the time has come to negotiate the surrender and dismantling of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. The government’s participants will try to prolong the agony of the regime, gaining time to improve their positions with more repression, while the Civic Alliance corresponds in the negotiation relying on the mobilization of the people and their formidable mass civic marches, the barricades for self-defense and the roadblocks on the highways, and citizen and national work stoppages.

The Alliance represents the national longing for justice and democracy endorsed in the pain of families who’ve lost their children. They must bear in mind, therefore, that this is the last opportunity that Nicaraguans have to implement a lasting democratic change, with justice and without impunity. For that reason, it is important to remember what the mandate of the streets and trenches is, and what that the mediators of the National Dialogue and the spokespersons of the Alliance have established as the premises of the negotiation.

1-      The cessation of repression and the suppression of the paramilitaries

Of the four requirements established last May 11 by the mediators of the Episcopal Conference to install the National Dialogue, Ortega has only complied with accepting the visit of the IACHR to Nicaragua, which he even now denies. And of the fifteen recommendations of the IACHR, Ortega as only accepted the formation of the Independent Experts Group, or International Truth Commission.

However, as the Supreme Chief of the National Police, he has not complied with the demand to order the cessation of repression and suppress the paramilitary gangs, whose existence he continues to deny in a display of cynicism, with more deaths and repression, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The first demand of the people in this negotiation is to stop the repression and the killing. The National Police, under the orders of Ortega y Murillo and their political party, has collapsed as a public order institution, becoming a backup force for the paramilitary bands.

It now falls to the Nicaraguan Army, by its constitutional mandate, to disarm the paramilitary bands and submit them to justice. Otherwise, the Army will become an accomplice of the regime in the repression against the people, and its commanders will be responsible for the consequences that will affect the future of the institution.

2-      The departure of Ortega and Murillo and the constitutional succession

The departure of Ortega and Murillo from power is imperative, through their resignations before the National Assembly. After the massacre that has never stopped, the country is going through a situation of total lawlessness in which Ortega and Murillo are morally and politically unable to govern. No promise of electoral reforms and early elections has any viability with Ortega and Murillo in power, nor a return peace and stability to the country. On the contrary, their presence at the head of the Government, or under any scheme that allows Ortega to continue “governing from below” would mean the threat of more chaos and insecurity for all.

The Ortega reformed constitution itself offers the legal and constitutional means to elect a transitional president, among the current deputies in the National Assembly, who will lead the country while the political, constitutional and electoral reforms are being carried out, and the total replacement of the Supreme Electoral Council prior to the announcement of early elections. This is what should be negotiated in the National Dialogue, to ensure a transition with stability and avoid the risk of a power vacuum.

3-      Reforms to ensure justice without impunity

The demand for justice raised by the victims of the repression and the Mothers of April is inseparable from the national demand for democratization. There can be no democracy without justice, or justice with impunity. These are two parallel processes, each with its own channel of institutional reforms, but with the same level of national priority. The final report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the investigation that will be carried out by the Independent Expert Group, or International Truth Commission, represents only the first step to establish the individual, direct and intellectual responsibilities of the perpetrators of the slaughter. However the possibility of imparting justice and punishing those who are found guilty, depends on the political reform leading to a total reform of the Public Ministry, the National Police, and the Supreme Court of Justice.

Just as the cleanup and replacement of the entire Supreme Electoral Council is a sine qua non condition for participating in free and competitive elections, the possibility of achieving justice, without any kind of amnesty, will depend on the scope of these reforms and the option to appeal to international courts.

4-      The international guarantors: UN-EU-OAS and its mandate

Back on June 1, the Civic Alliance demanded the appointment of international guarantors to support and ensure the compliance and implementation of the agreements adopted in the National Dialogue. The scale of the reforms required to peacefully dismantle the Ortega dictatorship will urgently require an international assistance process, involving the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States, not only to support electoral reform, but to ensure stability in the transition and during the reconstruction.

The transitional government and the new government that wins in free and transparent elections will require international support and assistance to achieve:

  1. The disarmament and detention of the paramilitaries, providing security conditions for all citizens
  2. The reform and restructuring of the National Police
  3. The reform of the Public Ministry and the Judicial Power and support in the investigations and the processes to impart justice.
  4. The reforms of the Comptroller’s Office and the support in the investigations into the corruption of the regime and its inner circles, to bring them before the courts.

The United Nations has a vast experience, which has left good and bad lessons, in the accompaniment of the peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala, guaranteeing the implementation of the agreements, and later creating the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

In a post-Ortega Nicaragua, transition and reconstruction will require the support of one or more international institutions with an even broader mandate than that of CICIG, to rebuild the democratic institutional fabric of the country.

The task is ours, the people, the protagonists of the first civic revolution of the 21st century, but Nicaragua needs and deserves international support to take advantage of this historic opportunity.

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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.