The Ortega Dictatorship Crosses the Red Line

Something broke in this latest onslaught, altering the path of events. Ortega has evidently opted for a de facto suspension of the elections.

The judgement concludes that the State of Nicaragua committed crimes against humanity when police and parapolice forces tortured and sexually raped protesters

17 de junio 2021


Following Daniel Ortega’s terrorist operation – I call it this, because it is – the phrase “red lines” is being mentioned, both internationally and nationally. The phrase appears in questions about limits. At what point should the electoral process foreseen for November be perceived as completely collapsed?  I offer my opinion at the outset: following the recent outrages, the only red lines left to cross are those of a new tragedy. Those lines are certainly red, and they are not lines drawn in paint.

Here’s my reasoning:

Ortega’s terrorist operation went beyond merely electoral matters. We’re facing a regime that’s transitioning from dictatorship to State terrorism as a formula for preserving power. As with all terrorist tactics, the killer unleashed a hostage-taking operation to spread deep fear and immobilize the population. In addition, he did this to ensure his domination with an act of brute force, without clothing it in any institutional or electoral niceties.

The dictatorship had been preparing a new version – revised and adapted to the new realities – of the electoral circus they mounted in 2016. They took care to establish a framework for the repression, with the Cybercrimes Law, the Foreign Agents Law, the establishment of life imprisonment, the law to restrict political candidacies, and the provision allowing prisoners to be held without formal charges for 90 days. But that wasn’t enough for them.

When the moment came, they tightened the shackles. They transformed the electoral law into an instrument for coercion. They handed themselves complete control of the Supreme Electoral Council. They imposed a crafty electoral calendar. They stripped the Democratic Restoration Party of its legal status, while meanwhile holding a knife to the jugular vein of Citizens for Liberty, the other opposition party.

Up to that point, Ortega had constructed a legal, institutional, and political web that was more than sufficient to manipulate the electoral process at his whim and impose the results he wanted.

The sloppy set-up mounted against Cristiana Chamorro was already on the outer edges of that framework. As things stood, Ortega had enough levers at his disposal to impede her participation, with no greater consequences.

Clearly, at some moment, they passed the breaking point. The intimidation of journalists, the terror campaign on social media, the imprisonment of presidential candidates Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Arturo Cruz; these actions had a different backdrop. The hypothesis that something had changed was then confirmed, with the imprisonment of Jose Adan Aguerri, Jose Pallais and Violeta Granera, plus the attack on FUNIDES. Finally, the abductions of Suyen Barahona, Tamara Davila, Dora María Tellez, Hugo Torres and Ana Margarita Vijil can in no way be interpreted as electoral moves. It’s terror, way past the red lines.

Something broke, and the path changed. We’re making a big mistake if we continue interpreting Ortega’s onslaught through a purely electoral lens. For now, it’s a matter of speculation which of their schemes crumbled, but something broke.

Just as we have a de facto state of siege, with these acts Ortega has opted for a de facto suspension of the elections. As things stand now, the November balloting won’t even reach the level of an electoral circus. The regime is planning a simple protocol to hand themselves the reelection.

According to his timeworn practice, if the dictator doesn’t encounter any resistance, he won’t stop. His calculations surely include his conviction that – for now – the recent blows and the repressive yoke are enough to contain or suffocate any popular resistance.

Although it appears that he didn’t calculate the extent and intensity of the international reaction, the risks, up until now, aren’t fatal. Certainly, he’s paying a considerable political cost. Still, the multitude of condemnations may well deepen his isolation and international discredit, but they don’t have the force needed to move his will. He’s used to that.

Under these conditions, it makes sense to ask if the course of Ortega’s terrorist action is irreversible, or if there are any alternatives that could contain it. In other words, if his tragic march past all the red lines of a murdered country is inevitable.

In past critical situations, Ortega has reacted only when he senses that the bull is seriously charging towards him. We saw this with Esquipulas, San Isidro de Coronado, his February 1990 election loss and several times during the 90s, April 2018, and February 2019. So, the road ahead depends on whether the bull is seriously coming towards him, and if Ortega can manage to perceive that.

Another route begins to be distinguishable with the Argentine government’s initiative for negotiations. The depth and viability of that initiative remains to be seen. It could be genuine, or it could be a friendly ladder which Ortega could use to climb out of the swamp he’s put himself in. We should remain attentive to those two options.

It’s difficult to imagine that the Argentine government would take this on without previously coordinating with Mexico. If both Mexico and Argentina are involved, it’s not in Ortega’s interest to antagonize Argentine President Alberto Fernandez or Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. In that case, he’ll try a few feints to gain time, until reaching the point when his plan for November is irreversible.

Despite the drastic change in the scenario, a sector of political and public opinion still refuses to see the new realities. To them, there are no red lines. They’re still determined to participate in Ortega’s show, which has openly stopped being electoral. Some continue on in good faith, while others are clearly motivated to “see what they can get.”

Those taking this position believe that Ortega’s onslaught is merely aimed at dissuading the population from voting for the opposition in November. Dreaming of the milk cow, they put forth their sophisms: for example, it’s a matter of either participating on November 7 or facing a war. False.  Or that all those who don’t agree with their positions are abstentionists, advocating standing with arms crossed. Also false.

The worst of that position is the thesis of the “last of the Mohicans”. We’ll go with the last one left standing. That is, we’ll go with the candidate that Ortega chooses. That path turns its back on the new realities.

In the current circumstances, the phrase that should be guiding the struggle against the dictatorship is: active, peaceful, unified, permanent political opposition on all fronts. The objectives: the liberation of the hostages, free elections under democratic conditions, and keeping the serial killer from his deadly crossing of red lines, all over the country.

As always, the unification of the opposition forces is the essential condition. At least, those able to hold onto their freedom.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times


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Enrique Sáenz

Economista y abogado nicaragüense. Aficionado a la historia. Bloguero y conductor de la plataforma de comunicación #VamosAlPunto