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The dictator is still there

Costa Rica, Chile, the United States, and the European Union did the right thing by not recognizing these elections as legitimate.

68% believe the elections were neither credible nor legitimate; 70% said the re-election of Ortega does not bode anything positive for Nicaragua

Jorge Vargas Cullell

14 de noviembre 2021


Why did Daniel Ortega bother to hold elections when everyone in the world – including himself and his co-president Rosario Murillo – knew they were a farce? There are a number of possible answers to that question, not all of them mutually exclusive. Let’s choose this one: Ortega needed the elections in order to drape his regime in a cloak of legitimacy.

When I say legitimacy, I mean a recognition of his right to rule in Nicaragua, or at least enough public acquiescence to do so. I have no doubt that if he’d had another option, he’d have skipped the elections. However, cynical realist that he is, he understood that he had no other way of justifying his permanence in power.

If he’d had a strong and organized ruling party behind him, like the Chinese Communist Party, it would have been enough to have the Central Committee anoint him. If he’d had a monarchy, he’d have claimed the divine right of kings to rule. However, he had neither god nor a party at his side, hence he turned to the electoral pantomime.

He has a number of things going in his favor. He continues on the offensive: his decision to jail the opposition candidates, then proceed to open the balloting process like nothing had happened, surprised everyone. He faces a fragmented opposition, eternally enmeshed in internal fighting and lacking a project for national unity. He knows that those willing to be bought are always at hand – he need only toss them a few pesos to participate in the farce. He’s muddied the Army and the Police, and many of those there understand that if he falls, things will go pretty badly for them. Finally, he knows that the large Latin American countries like Argentina and Mexico will play the fools, which opens for him a space for survival. Meanwhile, the support of Russia and China weakens the international isolation.

Costa Rica, Chile, the United States and the European Union did the right thing by not recognizing these elections as legitimate. However, it’s not enough: the dictator is still there. So – now what? Every day in power is a triumph for him, as he can now play the game of wearing people out and having them forget. Maybe he’ll provoke an international incident to inspire an internal national unity, or try to selectively forge pacts with some of the powerful businessmen, something I fervently hope he doesn’t succeed in doing.

Sanctions on the regime may be escalated, but these per se don’t guarantee a happy ending. To me, the key is the opposition. If they unite around a program a leadership and a message, they could transform the popular indifference into a force for change. That could produce fissures in the regime, which would be the end of Ortega.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.  The author is a sociologist. The Article was originally published in La Nación.



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Jorge Vargas Cullell

Jorge Vargas Cullell