Nicaragua: Misrule and Power Vacuum

The task of the opposition is to organize to fill the power vacuum from below, and to exert political pressure that will lead to reform

If the opposition doesn’t unite to put the brakes on Daniel Ortega's wishes

19 de julio 2020


President Daniel Ortega has completed another 38 days of absence in the exercise of his office, without providing accountability.

With more than five weeks absence, Ortega surpassed his own record of 34 days that he set in April at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the difference that now in the midst of the contagion there is a national tragedy: 94 deaths among health staff and 2,225 deaths in total, according to the Citizens Observatory, without the regime having adopted effective measures to prevent and mitigate the coronavirus.

Certainly, Ortega’s recurring absences have been a common practice in the distribution of roles between the absent ruler and his wife, the omnipresent Vice President, in a family government. But this model of power management is sinking with the negligent and criminal handling of the health crisis and, therefore, the political responsibility for the failure falls equally on Ortega and Murillo.

At this stage of the misrule that reigns in the country, it no longer matters if Ortega reappears tomorrow or disappears one more week, or if Murillo extends her daily monologue for half an hour more to co-govern. Both merge into a new political creature, a third, inseparable entity, which the popular wisdom baptized in the April marches as Ormu (Ortega-Murillo), which transcends even their individuality. The national problem is not limited to Ortega and Murillo, but encompasses the structures of their dictatorial, authoritarian and corrupt system, which must be dismantled to give Nicaragua the hope of rebuilding in democracy again.

This week the regime adopted two contradictory measures on the health crisis, which exemplify the consequences of misrule. On the one hand, it canceled the celebration of a massive FSLN rally for the July 19th anniversary celebration, but continues to call on people to participate in crowded events in the municipalities or in the Managua baseball stadium and is ordering the return to classes, which never were officially suspended, on Tuesday, July 21st.

On the other hand, it imposes the obligation to test for Covid-19 on all passengers, foreign and nationals, who wish to enter the country, but in Nicaragua it prohibits free access to tests for coronavirus, and has never provided the results on the few that the Ministry of Health performs at its central laboratory.  

Despite irrefutable evidence that local community transmission has existed for three months and that the pandemic is out of control, the Government continues to promote a false normality, to the rhythm of “the cumbia of the imported virus,” exposing tens of thousands of people to contagion.

In a true democracy, the irresponsibility with which Ortega and Murillo have handled the pandemic and the unjustified absence of the President, could have been the subject of a parliamentary interpellation to enforce the law and the Constitution, but in a dictatorship that controls all the powers of the state and abolished their autonomy, that is an impossible mission.

Under a dictatorial regime like that of Ortega and Murillo, the worsening of the political, economic, and human rights crisis, which erupted in 2018, has been fueled through the power vacuum that is increasingly difficult for them to fill solely with the force of repression.

In reality, since the April 2018 massacre, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are politically and morally disqualified to govern. In the coronavirus health crisis, they have ratified that they no longer govern or have the capacity to establish alliances or social consensus but, in addition, they are pushing the country towards the cliff, with the painful cost of the loss of thousands of human lives.

The power vacuum derived from the incapacity of the Government is also expressed in the weakening of the state-party system and its’ operators in the territories, now with fewer resources to dispense for political cronyism. So, what is urgent to debate in Nicaragua today is not about electoral ballot options or new legal status for political parties under the rules of the regime, but instead, how to fill the power vacuum to promote a democratic solution from below.

This is the main task of the opposition grouped around the National Coalition, because only by defying the police state and exerting extraordinary political pressure that connects with the demands of the population in the face of the economic and social crisis, will it be possible to force true electoral reforms from the regime.

If the Supreme Electoral Council has extended a postponement for the political parties to hold constituent assemblies throughout the country, the Blue and White majority can and should autonomously exercise the freedom of assembly and the freedom of mobilization to organize in the 153 municipalities, with the restraints that prevention of the pandemic establishes.

Only pressure, organization and the capacity of the opposition leadership to join with new forces, can bend Ortega and Murillo’s decision to maintain a monopoly on the electoral system.

The collapse of Ortega and Murillo, verified by the latest public opinion polls, is being recognized even by supporters of the Sandinista Front. But as long as the opposition is not perceived as a power alternative, civil society, private sector chambers, and public employees will not take additional risks to support political change.

Public servants, civilians and military, who are not responsible for crimes and corruption, must also be part of a national solution, which begins with a political electoral reform, with or without Ortega and Murillo, to clear the way for free and competitive elections.

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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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