The Ortega regime has established a de facto policy of “revenge and punishment” aimed at the opposition. This has become their way of responding to the sanctions the international community continues imposing on their top officials.
On the other hand, sanctions to exert diplomatic pressure have become the constant reaction of the international community to the regime’s outrages and human rights abuses, which were aggravated after the violent repression of the April 2018 rebellion.
However, these sanctions have in no way moved the regime to seek a negotiated settlement that could lead to a way out of the socio-political crisis. Instead, they’ve placed their bets on what analysts consulted by Confidencial call a “policy of internal vengeance.” This mainly strikes the dictatorship’s political opponents, plus independent journalists and other citizens who don’t sympathize with Ortega.
The two most recent cases occurred after the sanctions passed by the European Union and Switzerland. Three days after the EU sanctioned Rosario Murillo and seven high functionaries of the regime, the Electoral Council – dominated by Ortega – cancelled the legal status of the Citizens for Liberty party.
This action meant the end of the legitimacy of next November’s elections, since it left the presidential formula of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo essentially running unopposed. A number of other small parties will appear on the ballot, but these are parties that collaborate with the regime and, in addition, have no credibility or political weight with the populace.
Switzerland subsequently endorsed the EU sanctions, and a short while later the Ortega police assaulted the head offices of the newspaper La Prensa, in the sudden context of a money laundering investigation, plus accusations of customs fraud. The newspaper’s manager, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, was imprisoned.
The invention of “traitors to the nation”
Gustavo Araya, university professor and specialist in political communication, believes that the message the regime wants to transmit has three fundamental pillars. This message, which he calls a “strategy of terror”, is the regime’s response to the sanctions passed against them.
Pillar number one is: “cut off the head of any leadership that presents the possibility of an alternative political force. Number two is to create the specter of an external enemy [from another country], to deny any assistance to the people and to obscure the visibility of the dictatorship’s outrages. Third is the more ideological pillar, which consists in inventing that any stance opposing the dictatorship is treason, something that’s absolutely false,” Araya explained.
Manuel Orozco, a researcher and expert on topics of migration, family remittances and development coincided with Araya during an interview with journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who directs the online television news program Esta Semana. Orozco also believes that the sanctions have forced the Ortega camp to invent internal enemies and blame them for the decisions made by other countries.
“Up to a certain point, Ortega’s tantrum when sanctions are imposed is transferred over to an attack on the Nicaraguan opposition, accusing them of being lackeys of imperialism,” Orozco stated.
Araya noted that the regime’s terror strategy also seeks to plant a narrative in the population that the Ortega rule is “inevitable” in Nicaragua’s political and social reality.
“The idea is forged that the regime is inescapable. As a result, the population feels orphaned, that their effort makes no difference, that there’s no help or hope anywhere. Not from internal or external leaders, nor from themselves as individuals,” Araya stressed.
The “agents of outside enemies”
Carlos Murillo Zamora, an international affairs analyst and professor at the University of Costa Rica, stated that the Ortega regime has entered a spiral of repression and civil rights violations which is very difficult to reverse.
“They’ve entered into a critical situation and can no longer revert it. At least, it’s very difficult to go back, without recognizing the error. They’ve been increasing the areas of confrontation against everyone. They’re trying to say that the whole world, in general, is Nicaragua’s enemy,” he explained.
“Hence, they must continue constructing this complex reality where today they attack Spain, tomorrow Costa Rica, later the United States - that’s their main reference point for domestic consumption. They link in the opposition as agents of those outside enemies. Each time there are questions, sanctions, pressures or criticism at an international level, they must transfer them over to the domestic scene with these acts of political vengeance,” he added.
In his view, there’s no logical explanation in political terms for the Ortega regime’s policy of vengeance. “It demonstrates paranoiac and completely irrational behavior. The only thing that interests them is exercising power,” he said.
Carlos Murillo offered as an example of this panorama the recent statements that Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry issued against Spain and Costa Rica, full of epithets and offensive allegations against those countries.
“What the Foreign Ministry issued weren’t verbal notations, nor do they use the language of diplomacy. They use a vulgar language that’s not conventional in Spanish, in terms of its spelling and phrasing. That’s the case of the verbal note congratulating the ‘Republic of Afghanistan’, when in reality what’s being established there is an Islamic Emirate,” Murillo added.
The professor is skeptical about the effectiveness of the strategy of personal sanctions that’s been employed by the US, Canada, the European Union, Great Britain and Switzerland.
“The effects of the personal sanctions are slow and very limited. The sanctions that could have greater weight are those that directly affect Nicaraguan society, so that they react. There are also those sanctions that affect the business interests of Ortega and Murillo, but it remains to be seen how much this type of sanctions affects them directly,” he concluded.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times