Two weeks are left before the Nicaraguan elections, to be held in the shadow of a police state, with the human rights violations totally unpunished. The reelection of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo is a foretold conclusion, meaning a prolongation of “the destruction of Nicaragua’s institutions and the imposition of terror,” against activists, state employees and the opposition.
Miguel and Maria, both assumed names, have worked in government offices for over ten years. They’ve had to face a life of pressures and fear of being fired if they don’t obey the orientations of the official party’s political bosses. They also feel growing disillusionment, because they can’t glimpse any possibility of a political change in the near future.
To them, the results of the November voting have already been decided, after turbulent months in which 40 opposition leaders were imprisoned, including seven aspiring presidential candidates. The rival parties were then stripped of their legality, individual polling places were put in the hands of Sandinista supporters, opposition media outlets were closed. The strict police control of citizens and the prohibition of demonstrations – in place since September 2018 – have continued.
“You feel pain, sadness, anger, at the idea of continuing with the same nightmare; with the constant fear they’ll fire you for not being a party militant, and living under a permanent decree that you must collaborate with the activities they [the Sandinista party] realize. Not only that, but you’re under permanent watch by the internal security within your workplace, and then in the neighborhood [by the “citizens’ committees” or CPC],” Maria commented. She works in the field of health.
Neighborhood vigilance amid a downturn in FSLN support
Maria explained that in every neighborhood there are Sandinista militants who assume the job of campaigning in favor of Ortega and Murillo. They begin early in the day with the radio at full volume. They blast propaganda music and, at noon, Rosario Murillo’s daily monologues. These are known as the Units for Electoral Victories, the ones charged with political vigilance in the territories.
Karla [assumed name] is a nurse who worked for the State for 12 years, until she went into exile in 2019. She affirmed that the life her colleague describes is typical in the State institutions, where there are often WhatsApp groups through which they issue instructions to the workers.
“You can’t do anything. You have to say what they tell you to. If they want you to go to the plaza with the Sandinista flag, you have to go. They frequently make a list of those who attended, and if you didn’t go, you’re accused of being against the government,” Karla stated.
According to the nurse, the health workers are under obligation to accompany each medical explanation they offer the population with the introductory phrase: “Thanks to the Commandante and his Compañera,” a stock phrase that refers to Ortega and Murillo.
The structures that keep watch over them are based in the Federation of Health Workers, a government-allied union. In the neighborhoods, the Citizens’ Power Councils” (CPC) are organizations of neighborhood-based Sandinista militants.
Karla recalled one time when they had to collect signatures in support of Ortega, who had been condemned for human rights abuses by the international organizations. The so-called family cabinets within the CPC ordered them to gather these signatures during the field work carried out by doctors and nurses.
Karla watched how her colleagues filled the petition papers. “If you don’t do any of that, they begin persecuting you, or they put someone on your case, as happened with me. I had problems with a paramilitary who passed himself off as a worker in the health sector and kept watch over me,” she recalled sadly.
The complaints of the public servants reflect one aspect of the growing disapproval of Ortega. In the latest survey published in September by the Costa Rican branch of the CID Gallup company, only 8% of those surveyed said they backed the Sandinista party. That’s the lowest point registered in the last 30 years, according to political consultant Luis Haug, who directed the survey.
The explanations for this plummeting support revolve around the government’s inefficiency in managing the COVID pandemic, and with discontent at the repression [and imprisonment of the opposition leaders]. Those repressive actions, in turn, have been justified by Ortega as an investigation of criminal charges for a conspiracy to destabilize the country. Meanwhile, there’s no attempt to control the abuses his government commits.
Former opposition deputy Eliseo Nunez considers the FSLN’s political base very weak, because it’s made up of government employees. These can easily change their political preferences, since their loyalties tend to be tied to a patronage system.
According to data from Nicaragua’s Central Bank, there are at least 113,534 workers in the central government. Added to these are workers in the town and city governments, 90% of which are under FSLN control.
Uncertainty surrounds Ortega
The new presidential period will begin in January of 2022. It’s marked by uncertainty – for dissenters currently being persecuted, but also for the regime, which for years have been immersed in battles for control.
The differences within the Ortega ranks are centered around two groups: the so-called historic Sandinistas, who participated in the fight against Somoza and are allied with the strongman figure of Ortega; and those of the new stamp, who sympathize with Murillo. Former Magistrate Rafael Solis characterized it as a “monarchy” with two heads. Solis, who had been the presidential couple’s best man, resigned from his post on the Supreme Court in 2019 and left the country, denouncing the fabrication of criminal trials against members of the opposition.
Costa Rican Carlos Murillo Zamora, a foreign policy analyst and professor at the University of Costa Rica, warned that, unfortunately, Nicaragua will be under a dictatorship “for a while”, since they maintain control over the security forces.
Professor Murillo noted that Nicaragua should be watched attentively by the region, but he doesn’t think they’ll be taking any measures against the regime.
Instead, in Central America, “authoritarian regimes and dictatorships continue proliferating.” Ortega is attempting to impose himself under the logic that legitimacy is earned through force of arms and not through votes, Eliseo Nunez affirms. Thus, the Nicaraguan strongman feels like he’s in a war, in which terror is just one of his instruments. The State employees have no safeguards against that repression.