From his unique perspective as Argentine ambassador to Nicaragua from 2013 to 2019, Marcelo Valle Fonrouge has published a narrative of the traumatic Nicaraguan present.
Fonrouge was a privileged witness to the drama unleashed by the 2018 protests. In his new book, Democracy violated: Actions and Measures for Institutional Strengthening and the Protection of Human Rights in Nicaragua (2021), he reviews the principal points for the future of the Central American country, where – as he confesses – he feels both ties and mixed emotions.
In the book, Valle Fonrouge reviews one by one the principal features and actions of a country that up to a short time ago had been largely forgotten, eclipsed by Cuba and Venezuela. This is the Nicaragua of the matrimonial dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo.
Nicaragua had been largely out of the spotlight until the protests that began on April 18, 2018, and the ferocious repression that followed. This was the build-up to the electoral farce that took place last November 7th, when Ortega and his wife brought to fruition the dream of every dictator: an election with no opposing candidates.
The author introduces us to the family dictatorship of Ortega and Murillo. He traces their erratic foreign policy, their close relations with Chavez’ Venezuela and its petrodollars, including the drying up of these dollars in the last period. He speaks of their ties with the United States, and describes a diplomatic corps within the family circle and at the service of the regime.
Valle Fonrouge doesn’t leave out Managua’s relations with China and Taiwan, and the fantasies of the much-tried inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua, as an alternative to Panama. He speaks of the regime’s ties with Iran, a country that shares with Nicaragua the unique circumstances of a 1979 revolution. He notes the role of Mexico’s regional hegemony, and he presents a detailed description of the multilateral organizations’ conduct in the face of the Nicaraguan drama. In this aspect, he covers the regional organizations as well as reactions within the United Nations.
Beyond this, the author details the regime’s ties with Russia, bonds that led to Nicaragua’s formal support for the Russian position in recent past conflicts, such as the 2008 war in Georgia and the 2014 Ukrainian conflict, which is still ongoing.
Fonrouge also reviews Ortega’s underhanded pact with former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Aleman (1997–2002). This deal cleared the way for Ortega’s return to power, with a series of Constitutional reforms that reduced the percentage of votes needed to be declared president.
The book describes the country’s economic model and the regime’s cooptation of the large business class. Fonrouge notes the paradox of a country where the number of millionaires has grown exponentially, in the midst of the enormous general poverty. The author underscores the incredible reality in which – according to publications- there are more millionaires in Nicaragua than in Costa Rica, despite the fact that the latter’s GNP is five times greater. This situation illustrates in stark black and white the enormous inequality in Nicaragua.
Valle Fonrouge dedicates some time as well to the key figure of Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s all-powerful wife and vice president. Together with her, Ortega has built a true “ruling dynasty”, as the author outlines. He states: “Today’s Daniel Ortega can’t be explained today without Rosario Murillo. They complement each other. Ortega found in Murillo the things he was lacking, and Murillo found in Ortega the vehicle she needed.”
Sadly, the Nicaraguan case illustrates how fragile democracy can be in the Americas.
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It’s here that the author highlights the persistence of a political culture inherited from Sixteenth Century Spain, in which vices such as authoritarianism, nepotism, the utilization of the State to enrich the few, and the scorn for the law are repeated over and over.
The work contains another great quality, which is that of inviting other witnesses to share their experiences and visions after they’ve fulfilled important public duties.
*This article originally appeared in the Argentine website Infobae