Manuel Orozco: OAS can suspend Nicaragua before November 7

“Ortega’s coup d'état ended democracy, 60,000 Nicaraguans will emigrate to the US this year, crisis scenario in 2022”

Manuel Orozco | Foto: Confidencial

17 de agosto 2021


The Organization of American States “could suspend Nicaragua before the General Assembly, which will take place days after the Nicaraguan elections” on November 7, considers political scientist Manuel Orozco, due to the growing international isolation in which the regime of Daniel Ortega finds itself, after liquidating the electoral process by imprisoning seven aspiring presidential candidates and cancelling the legal status of the Citizens for Freedom party.

Orozco described the implementation of the repressive laws of the regime, approved in 2020, as a “coup d'état against the constitutional state… because what it does is eliminate the constitutional rights of Nicaraguans,” and warned that despite thee police state, “civic resistance has not disappeared in Nicaragua”.

The researcher, expert on migration, family remittances and development, warned that the political crisis is already generating a migratory wave to the United States, which by the end of this year will total 60,000 Nicaraguans. “In July, more Nicaraguans left than Salvadorans”, said Orozco, and explained that there is a change in the tendency to emigrate predominantly to Costa Rica: “There were only 2000 Nicaraguans who tried to cross the border (to the United States) annually, this year there are 60,000”.

After Ortega's reelection without political competition on November 7, the political scientist considers that Nicaragua will face a scenario of greater economic recession, political crisis and migration in 2022,  in which he does not rule out “an implosion within the circle of power”.

What is your assessment of the impact of the closing of the electoral route in Nicaragua? More than 140 political prisoners, among them the main presidential aspirants, and the elimination, first of the PRD, now of the legal status of CxL. 

In practical terms, this is a logical consequence of the new “Rule of Law” that was established in Nicaragua as of September last year, in which a series of laws were introduced that came to disarticulate the whole constitutional order of the country for a new “Orteguista Rule of Law”. Then, practically since April and March, it entered into a stage of implementation of this law.

Ortega's coup d'état ended democracy

Is this "Orteguista rule of law" more like a coup d'état?

It is a coup d'état against the constitutional state, because what it does is it eliminates the constitutional rights of Nicaraguans. To be Nicaraguan today is a crime, whether you look at it from the point of view of nationality or from the point of view of political participation, social protest, the right to organize; from any point of view to be Nicaraguan today is a crime. Even being Sandinista tests the tolerance of the “Orteguista rule of law”, and being an Orteguista is the only thing that guarantees your nationality. 

Although there were no conditions for a credible, transparent election, until before Friday of last week, when the CxL party was stripped of its legal status, there was a sector of the population that thought: if this party registers, and has a presidential candidate, there is perhaps a chance to compete. That option was completely closed. What is the impact of an electoral process without political competition? 

The impact is that the only people who are going to vote are those who are going to vote for the Sandinista Front. In practical terms, the rest of the Nicaraguans are going to abstain or vote null, or simply watch things from the outside, like the thousands of Nicaraguans who have left Nicaragua. 

There are more than 30 political and civic leaders imprisoned, among them are the main aspirants to the presidency of the republic, and leaders of the civic organizations that participated in the protests and in the resistance against the regime. 

They are the hostages of the regime. At this moment they are being held as a sign that they are exercising their full state of political power, and they will simply be released when the regime determines that the threat is no longer of such magnitude as to have political prisoners. So let's see how this unfolds between now and November. 

Now that the electoral road is closed and the opposition has been decapitated, is there any chance that the civic resistance will be maintained or revived?

Civic resistance has not disappeared in Nicaragua, it is very strategic, it is not categorical in the way it manifests itself in the street with social protest, but it is manifesting itself in other ways. For example, people are not going to Sandinista or State establishments; people are not expressing their opinion openly, but they are making use of the so-called Güegüense. That is to say, it is clear to them that there is no freedom of expression in Nicaragua and, therefore, they are manifesting their resistance with a quite evident silence. 

This silence has been questioned by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua, which clearly says: -in Nicaragua political rights have been annulled and these elections will not be credible-. However, the private sector, the Cosep and AmCham associations, have remained silent after they had called for a free election, and promoted a civic campaign. 

I had suggested that the Church was going to have this role, to take on the courage to tell Nicaraguans that the political state in which Nicaragua finds itself is not adequate for a democratic environment. 

According to a survey we did in April 2021, more than 60% of Nicaraguans firmly believe in the political opinion of the religious authorities, both national and parochial. So, the Church responded to that feeling, people want to know what is going on; and they are bravely assuming that situation, because they are on the list, and it is no secret to anyone who is going to be the first ones that the Government is going to go against.

Cosep's silence leaves many questions. It is very difficult to accuse someone of cowardice when they are threatened with a rifle or jail in their house every day. The main issue is why they wrote a letter that went against practically everything that is happening. I think it was political clumsiness of Olympic proportions, which they have to correct in some way. There is division within the business sector; those in favor of echoing what the Catholic Church has done must prevail. And I think they are going to do so, assuming the risks.

The OAS, the U.S., the EU and international pressure

What has been the international impact of the closing of the electoral road? Last week there were sanctions from the European Union, this week Switzerland was added. What has been the repercussion of this crisis in the OAS, in the United States, in the European Union?

The international community is isolating Nicaragua; the condemnation is practically absolute, with the exception of the friends of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: Cuba, Venezuela and Russia, North Korea, and other little countries out there; but the real democracies have been condemning the violations of human rights, constitutional rights, and sanctioning. 

We are entering a second stage of international pressure which is going to consist of seeing how to make it known that there are no conditions for the November elections in Nicaragua; and that pressure is going to manifest itself in different ways to tell Nicaragua that they are not going to recognize any electoral process; it is even possible that the OAS will suspend Nicaragua before the General Assembly, which is going to take place days after the Nicaraguan elections. The pressure is quite strong. 

 Can the OAS muster the votes, taking into account the abstentionist positions of Mexico and Argentina, and that of other countries such as Honduras and Belize, which they expressed in the last vote?

I believe that most of these countries are ready to vote now. It is clear how constitutional rights have been violated and, therefore, at least 24 countries are going to vote for the suspension. What they need to see is a declaration that not only suspends the country, but creates a road map for Nicaragua to enter into a political transition. 

What does that road map mean in political terms? If these elections are not going to be recognized, then they have to be annulled, or is the Ortega regime going to acquire legitimacy? 

The international community will not recognize the elections and will enter a stage of pressuring the Government to initiate a new electoral process where political reforms are produced, where all these realities are reversed, because in a way, not recognizing the elections means that they will not recognize any government that emerges from them, and Nicaragua will not receive loans from the Monetary Fund, and may not even receive them from CABEI, IDB, the World Bank, and from other countries, such as South Korea. So, this does have very big repercussions for a State that is financing its electoral debt with foreign debt. 

Does this political transition imply the exit of Ortega and Murillo from power? Can those who have led the country to the bottom of the barrel be part of this political transition?

That depends on Nicaraguans, not on the international community. What the international community is going to tell you is: you have to play by the rules of the democratic game, which establishes that, in the face of the illegitimacy of a government, conditions must be created so that the sovereignty of the people is restored; and we start by eliminating the law of defense of sovereignty, which basically annuls the citizen's right to be Nicaraguan.  

Can the Renacer Bill, which will soon be discussed by both Chambers, have any impact on Nicaragua? The individual sanctions that have been applied so far have not weakened the regime, and every time a sanction is applied, the regime's onslaught, the repression, is even greater.

Yes, to a certain extent, Ortega's tantrum when there are sanctions is transferred into attacking the Nicaraguan opposition, to accuse them of being lackeys of imperialism. What this law does is to specify the continuity of the sanctions with multilateral work together with other countries and international organizations, to continue pressuring Nicaragua.

Starting in September the Biden Administration is going to go outward, and what has been happening in Nicaragua has repositioned the place it had on the U.S. agenda. Nicaragua was below Central America, below Venezuela, and even below Cuba. Nicaragua has moved up to a much higher level, and there is even a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, a State Department representative for hemispheric affairs, Ricardo Zúniga, was appointed as assistant secretary; all these changes have a very important implication for Nicaragua. 

The new wave of migration to the United States

What does the new wave of Nicaraguans leaving the country not only to Costa Rica but also to the United States mean? How does it compare with other Central Americans?

It means that they are voting with their feet. So far, statistics show that at least 32,000 Nicaraguans have left Nicaragua for the United States from January to July; if we calculate from January to today, August 13, we are talking about almost 40,000 Nicaraguans, only to the United States, and these are detained at the border, add to that those who managed to cross on their own, which could be 15% of that number, another 6,000. 

The intention to migrate among Nicaraguans has been sustained in the last two years, according to surveys. In 2020, it grew to 35% and that number was maintained this year. 

More than 60,000 Nicaraguans will try to go to the United States, and another 40,000 to Costa Rica; a minimum of 100,000 people, for a country of six million inhabitants, is practically 2% of the adult population that is leaving Nicaragua.

Is this flow of Nicaraguans now equal to, less than or greater than the flow of Salvadorans and Hondurans migrating to the United States?

In July more Nicaraguans left than Salvadorans. This year we estimate that there will be close to one million Central Americans leaving, of that million there are practically 60,000 Nicaraguans, and we are talking about the fact that historically migration has been predominantly from what we call the Northern Triangle. Annually there were only two thousand Nicaraguans who tried to cross the border; this year there are 60,000. 

Is this migration due to the political or economic crisis? Are these people who see no way out for their families in the country?

It is the political-economic crisis. People who are unemployed, working in the informal economy, and with incomes of less than 9000 córdobas per month, have a much higher propensity to migrate than any other group; but, also those who believe that there is going to be fraud, that human rights violations continue in Nicaragua, have a much higher propensity to migrate than the rest of the population.

Will this migratory flow of Nicaraguans change the vision of the Biden Administration towards Central America, towards the Northern Triangle of Central America? 

I think they are going to have to adapt to some of the trends of what is happening. So there is a process, now, of rethinking that strategy, and in some ways the strategy that Biden came out with three weeks ago is going to be adapted to Nicaragua.

The departure of more Nicaraguans from the country implies a strengthening of their family connections in the United States and in Costa Rica. How does this impact the flow of family remittances to Nicaragua?

From January to June, remittances grew by 18%. The rest of the year, my projection is that they will grow by 13% compared to last year. That is to say, it will increase from 1.8 to 2 billion dollars, and that will represent more than 17% of the GDP. 

From 2018 until now, at least 200,000 Nicaraguans have left. The number of Nicaraguans, at this point, is around 800,000 residing abroad, and there were 650,000 in 2018. So, this is a very large magnitude, which is reflected in the remittance of money. 

Crisis scenarios in 2022 and 2023

Is there a political scenario of a way out of this crisis in 2022, assuming that Ortega will be reelected without political competition? 

The most likely scenario is that Nicaragua will enter another period of economic recession. In 2022 there will be more unemployment and less economic growth; people will continue to leave Nicaragua; there will be no political stability, there will be a police state controlling citizen behavior. And that, obviously, is going to continue taking the country to the bottom. Ortega keeps this situation projected, because his strategy is to hand over power, at the end of 2023, to someone from the circle of power. So, what he has projected is to maintain a level of socioeconomic stability in 2022 and 2023, so that the rest will be taken care of on its own. 

Who is he going to hand over power to in 2023?

Let's ask them. They already have several people in mind. 

But there is only one person in the line of political and constitutional succession.  

Daniel Ortega is not going to stay after 2024; and if he passes it to his wife (Rosario Murillo), the political cataclysm that is going to occur within Sandinismo is going to be strong; and the division within the Legislative Assembly is going to be quite strong. The other scenario is that during the electoral transition from November 2021 to January 2022 an implosion takes place within the circle of power, that one of the closest members leaves and reveals, not only the magnitude of corruption that exists within Ortega, but also reveals atrocities of the regime, and that this creates very strong fissures that destabilize the system of political control that Ortega has. 

Could an implosion occur, if the population does not have the possibility of recovering its liberties, of mobilizing and protesting?

That is a possibility; there is a lot of dissidence within the Police, within the Army, within the public workers: they do not see a way out at this moment, to protest; the political dissidence within the circle of power is an imponderable that is growing, and may explode in 2022.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff


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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.


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