Since the end of last year, a process of legally normalizing the Police state has been advancing. This process could mark the definitive end of the democratic structure of the 1987 Sandinista Constitution. Law #1055, passed last year by Nicaragua’s National Assembly, empowers the government to try political opponents as “coup plotters”, “terrorists”, and “traitors to the nation”. The law is called: “The Law in Defense of the People’s Rights, Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”.
Following the dictates of this law, fourteen Nicaraguan political figures have been arrested in the past weeks. Those imprisoned include two former comandantes of the Sandinista Revolution: Hugo Torres and Dora Maria Tellez. Also jailed are four presidential candidates – Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz and Felix Maradiaga – along with opposition leaders like Margarita Vigil and Suyen Barahona. Although the law was approved at the end of last year, its indiscriminate application in the last few weeks is aimed at impeding those leaders and their parties from competing in the upcoming November elections.
In 2014, the National Assembly in Nicaragua introduced a bill allowing indefinite reelection to the presidency. This was clearly a political import from one of the central elements of Chavism in Venezuela. In accordance with that constitutional reform, Daniel Ortega was reelected for the third time in 2016. This year, if elected, he’d begin his fourth consecutive term in office; if he completes that mandate, Ortega will have governed Nicaragua for twenty consecutive years.
The immediate precedent for the policy of indefinite election is Chavism, but the legislation that allows Ortega to criminalize his opponents was inherited from Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Cuba’s Law #88, for “the Protection of National Independence and the Economy”, was passed in 1999. Conceived as an antidote to the Helms-Burton Law, it’s based on the premise that critical exercise of free expression and association on the island could serve the objectives of the US blockade, contributing to its justification and implementation.
The two laws present as an aggravating factor the possibility that public questioning of the lack of freedom could come from civil society organizations with foreign financing. Most electoral laws prohibit any influence from foreign funds. However, in this case, the logic of sovereignty is taken to the extreme by putting a legal lens on public opinion and undermining the autonomy of civil society.
Classifying peaceful dissidents as coup plotters, terrorists and traitors to the nation implies justifying the Police state and the limitation of political rights as a means of defending national sovereignty. Not only that: by subordinating the supremacy of the law and due process to a law to defend national sovereignty, it ends by legally postulating that nation and State are identical, or people and government. This form of identification opens the door to different forms of undemocratic organization.
*Article originally published in La Razon.