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Is It All Over? Nicaragua 45 Years After "Triumph Over the Dictatorship"

Season Two of the nightmare continues: dynastic succession and kleptocracy

Dictator Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo preside over a ceremony in commemoration of the death of Comandante Tomás Borge. Photo: Taken from El 19 Digital

Manuel Orozco

27 de junio 2024


The Nicaragua of July 2024 is very different from the one commonly seen and experienced ten years ago. It’s a place that’s been transformed into a corrupt, opportunistic and deceitful police state.

Forty-five years after the joyful victory of the Sandinista guerrillas over the Somoza dictatorship, the country isn’t celebrating a triumph, but reliving a Deja vu.

That’s the “normalcy” that Daniel Ortega has imposed: a nation where the population has settled into their reality – like it or not – because they have no other choice.

Even though the Ortega-Murillo duo want to claim, “it’s all over,” the nightmare has entered Chapter Two: dynastic succession and kleptocracy.

Fear reigns. The population live with a pistol pointed at their heads, because getting involved in political action is considered “undermining the national sovereignty,” a charge that leads to jail, or death, or – in the best case scenario – banishment from the country.

In public, the principal and nearly sole concerns of Nicaraguans are employment, the cost of living, inflation, and low salaries. Not corruption, politics, or the police-dominated government. Yes, those things weigh on them, but they’re only discussed in private. They’re not talked about – like in Cuba, where people whisper quietly that the best way to live decently is by keeping your mouth shut.

The one ambition on people’s minds is to leave. Or, failing that, to receive remittances from someone who left, or to get someone in the government to look favorably on them, or else to live cradled in a bubble of denial, so that nothing bad will happen.

This is the Nicaragua that today, 45 years later, is celebrating their historic revolution. Who could have imagined in 2007 (when Ortega came back to power) where Nicaragua is now, after so many struggles?

The economy

Most people truly live on very little. Half of Nicaragua’s (6 million+) people rely on money sent from family members who have left. Even with this income, they don’t have enough money to save, only to buy the basics. In a survey conducted in May 2024, 70% of Nicaraguans responding said that the money they had was barely enough for necessities. Fewer than 10% could save anything and of those who did, half of them were receiving family remittances.

The level of formal employment hasn’t grown, and the informal labor market continues at a peak. In April 2024, there were fewer people in formal jobs than in 2018.

Fewer than 90,000 workers enter the workforce yearly, but since 2021, around 500,000 people have left Nicaragua. In other words, migration has served as an escape valve for the labor market, cushioning the government from the challenge of generating new jobs for those entering the labor market. Even so, employment has fallen behind, and the government has laid people off instead.

Despite those layoffs, public investment grew by 20% in the first trimester of 2024, at the cost of increased external debt and taxes on the increased consumption from family remittances. The government continues investing in construction and public works, but these programs don’t create permanent jobs, only lucrative business for companies run by friends of the Ortega-Murillo clan. Someone is getting rich, while people continue without stable employment.

After six years of increasing indebtedness, the population isn’t seeing any fruits from the promised projects. This isn’t discussed, however, and is little known. The censorship doesn’t allow people to realize the magnitude of the kleptocracy, and the lies create a distraction, together with the entertainers that are brought it from outside.

They can’t use the “coup promoters” as an excuse anymore. The economy is in a disorder that’s 100% branded Ortega-Murillo. The country’s economic bases have gone from productive economic activity to consumption from remittances (27%); exports from transnationals (43%); and government expenses and investment (22%). Those three activities now represent 92% of the national income. There’s no confidence in the economy – there’s liquidity, but no appetite for risks. Six years later, bank loans have not recovered pre-2018 levels, nor is the credit-deposit ratio growing: it remains at less than 80%.

There’s no wealth, only endurance, dealing with the situation, and a certain degree of resignation.

Nouveau riche? Maybe. Among the Ortega-Murillo clan.


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The political day-to-day is concentrated along two prongs: dynastic succession, and the “new international order” the dictatorship has adopted.

Rosario Murillo and her minions (Horacio Rocha, Ovidio Reyes, Fidel Moreno, Gustavo Porras) along with the Kid [favored son Laureano] have organized the regime’s continuity before and after the death of Daniel Ortega. While Ortega fires up the hate speech, Murillo controls nearly everything through her cohabitation with the Army generals, the military, and an incestuous codependence with the Police, all under an atmosphere of terror.

She knows they dislike her.

The governing party, the FSLN, is a kind of zombie. Its militant members are violent, moving according to the Comandante’s orders to respect and obey his wife and first lady. Demoralized, directionless, confused and not knowing what the future will hold, they live day to day, repeating the lies that she reads out every day. Without access to further education, with no option to attain a high position, they live with the anxiety of not knowing when Horacio Rocha [Security advisor to the presidency] might come after them.

The Police have been taken over by Horacio Rocha and long-time Ortega operator Nestor Moncada Lau, in a model from the socialist era, like the East German Stasi.

In the Army, General Julio Cesar Aviles knows he must continue under Murillo, because his friend the Comandante has little time left. And the other generals know that she will assure them a spot in public administration once they retire. No one dares to diverge from her in public, because if they do, there are examples of the consequences: Hugo Torres, Humberto Ortega. The members of the military know that they’re not on the right side of history.

The new international order is based on Nicaragua’s political subordination to Russia and the search for economic dependence with China to cushion the loss of the loans from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration, and the country’s diplomatic isolation. Daniel Ortega’s only ideology is allying himself with the enemies of the United States and the European Union, with his verbal attacks on one hand and on the other his willingness to use his territory to facilitate and profit from irregular migration. What this new order represents is a kleptocratic system, with open palms pointed outside.

Is there any hope for Nicaragua?

Can Nicaragua ever become a republic again? Possibly, but not while Rosario Murillo remains in charge. Given the absence of a democratic counterweight, the lack of a legitimate Nicaraguan counterpart for external pressure to back, and an economy increasingly based on consumption, bets are on for the dictatorship to continue under Murillo’s control.

Rosario Murillo is the pillar sustaining a regime based on fear and economic opportunism. Without her -more than without Ortega – their five chief operators plus the favorite son wouldn’t have any other options except seeing who they could find to arrange the change of venues. They don’t have the capacity to govern; they’re operators who take orders, as long as they’re well paid for it.

The people don’t want any of this, but although they may have the will, they don’t have the strength to defeat Murillo. The Nicaraguan people aren’t greedy, or violent, or bad.  They’re Christian… and they’re wait for a sign.

Meanwhile, they live a double life: they spend, they try to have fun, they keep their mouths shut; but they also protest within their family circles. They detest the dictatorship for having separated their families (two-thirds of Nicaraguan homes have a sibling, child, spouse or grandchild outside the country), for not having work, for having to go around being careful of what they say and avoiding the regime’s snitches. And they hold on to the expectation that, sooner or later, something will happen. They’re not deceived. When they say that everything’s expensive, it’s code for the feeling that someone is stealing. When they say there’re no jobs, they’re noting that “They,” in the government, are doing well. When the Police come by, they warn each other for protection.

The hope for a democratic change won’t fall upon them by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It will occur as the sum of the internal contradictions brought about by the continual government purges; through the voices and actions of those who haven’t forgotten their people; through the extreme inequality that the dictatorship is generating; and through the political sincerity of citizens willing to serve their people.

In all of this, we share a moral and political responsibility. Those who are sending family remittances and those who are receiving them should realize that everything is political, including the dollar they pick up at an agency. Those who speak about politics from the outside, should know that nothing remains static, and that the important thing is to know what the people want, not what they themselves prefer.

Those who are accomplices of the government should heed the warning – the right side of history always wins.

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


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Manuel Orozco

Manuel Orozco

Politólogo nicaragüense. Director del programa de Migración, Remesas y Desarrollo de Diálogo Interamericano. Tiene una maestría en Administración Pública y Estudios Latinoamericanos, y es licenciado en Relaciones Internacionales. También, es miembro principal del Centro para el Desarrollo Internacional de la Universidad de Harvard, presidente de Centroamérica y el Caribe en el Instituto del Servicio Exterior de EE. UU. e investigador principal del Instituto para el Estudio de la Migración Internacional en la Universidad de Georgetown.