The Urgent Need for Political Action in Nicaragua

Dictatorship must be weakened today, while in crisis over a dynastic succession.A strategy must be designed to confront the devastation "the day after"

29 de enero 2024


 The urgency of effecting political change in Nicaragua through external pressure, and of recovering a national civic space goes beyond merely removing the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship from power.

The destruction caused to the country, and the costs a democratic reconstruction will demand in both time and resources, make such mobilization something that can no longer be put off.

First, the total control over society that the regime has consolidated has been destructive to the country. Second, the level of destruction they’re causing to the country is such that, should a change occur in three years time, it would take another five years to begin to recover democratic and economic stability in the country. However, by then the world will also have advanced much more.

The international community, like the civic groups committed to a democratic transition and those who oppose the regime and want to be part of a national solution, must assume the challenge of beginning to transform Nicaragua now, because otherwise today’s disaster will be tomorrow’s irreversible backwardness. Postponing the transition in Nicaragua will condemn the country to remaining a failed and frustrated nation.

The family clan and inner circle of power currently exercises total control over society. This is a country where pluralism no longer exists; there’s no legal civil society; they’ve eliminated and confiscated private schools and universities; there’s no freedom of association; religious freedom or any other form of expression is prohibited. Politically there’s no plurality of parties, institutional checks and balances, nor guarantees of civil and political rights. A policeman can stop you in the street and check the information on your cellphone. Freedom to do business is a myth, because added to the threat of confiscation or jail is that of extorting or eliminating the business. The police and the army work for the family clan, and the family clan repays them with impunity and economic perks.

The regime is having an asphyxiating effect on several social and economic sectors, whose existence depends on the family clan’s approval or veto. Freeing oneself from that strangulation is an imperative for the transition.

The totalitarianism has caused an increased weakening of the FSLN’s political bases and reveals that the regime won’t succeed in sustaining itself in power permanently. It could enter into crisis and collapse in three years. The combination of continual international pressure, both political and material, the economic inertia that doesn’t generate wealth, the political actions of the opposition, and a critical mass of dissidents within the regime (willing to risk themselves amid the purges) point towards a political way out of the crisis of dynastic succession to Ortega and Murillo before 2026.

However, the political transition towards a change of government in Nicaragua through the electoral route, without Ortega and Murillo, will demand a return to political action of the blue and white movement that arose during the April 2018 protests, in addition to the return of the exiles and the participation of the excluded civic groups and parties, in a kind of political concertation.

While it’s true that obtaining power is vital to assuring a political transition towards an agenda of democratic reconstruction and stabilization, it’s difficult to complete in five years. It also represents a monumental challenge in the face of the debacle inherited from the dictatorship. The destructive effect on pluralism, the free market, constitutional rights, and human development leaves scars that will require an arduous labor which – if done successfully – will take over ten years to rebuild the country.

First, reestablishing pluralism and justice without impunity in Nicaragua will require a material, human and political effort. Politically, it means creating a legal scaffolding that not only disarticulates the totalitarian structures, but also promises never to repeat them. Such a political arrangement will need negotiated accords during the transition, in order to make justice the pillar of this process.

Reconstructing Nicaragua’s social fabric in both government and civil society is a task for the medium run and implies recruiting the human resources and the leaders who can promote the social themes needed to offer services and social representation in the country.

The majority of the executive directors of the four thousand NGOs that were closed have left the country due to the persecution. Even if they were to return, there’s no guarantee that – following such destruction – they could just pick things back up again the way they were before. In material terms, considerable external financing would be required, more than what the NGOs received previously, since the losses and the damage done by the absence of services to the population for over three years will spawn a need for fairly high investment. Reconstructing just a third of the NGOs that were eliminated will take an investment of at least 500 million dollars over three years.

The reconstruction of the educational tissue after the confiscations of universities and private schools, and the damage in the educational preparation of over 100,000 young people – not including the 200,000 youth who have emigrated, a fraction of whom may choose to return – is a monumental labor. The reconstruction of the system of independent media outlets, that were persecuted, shuttered, and confiscated and now operate from exile, is a long-term task that demands new modalities of investment and a strategy for gradual transition.

Secondly, the development of free enterprise in Nicaragua requires once again encouraging trust in the judiciary, and security that their commercial operations won’t be usurped. In addition, private investment will depend on the way that small businesspeople are able to obtain adequate loans, and whether large capital feels in a position to assume the political risk of investing in this reconstruction. Currently, the large capitalists distrust the opposition civic groups, and if this group should succeed in becoming the governing power, it will take great effort to negotiate and build trust so that credit and investment can take off.

Nicaragua’s economic backwardness is reflected in the increase in the informal economy and the drop in income, but also in the loss of a modernizing leadership needed to adapt to the economy of knowledge, the digital economy, and artificial intelligence. These are the stronger economic movements, at a time when the free trade zones maintain a modest level of production with very low level technologies and poor competitiveness, without national value chains. Investment in human capital is vital, because the level of learning needed to operate in the twenty-first century economy is currently absent in Nicaragua.

Third, Nicaragua will need to reform the public policies and move from a Taliban philosophy to a democratic one. In doing so, they must prioritize investment in human capital above public works. However, the sources of financing are limited. Public investment in Nicaragua totaled around 1.4 billion dollars in 2023, and half of that was dedicated to public works that were disconnected from human capital. Reorienting expenses and investment in education and health care in particular, will mean increasing the debt, although this is contingent on the already existing debt (60% of the GDP) and the capacity to pay the debt service (3% of the GDP). An incremental increase of 15% in the social outlay won’t be enough to recover the losses incurred by over five years of government negligence. At this moment, Nicaraguans on average have received only five years of education, while modern society requires some 14 years of preparation.

Fourth, the reconstruction of an institutional scaffolding includes the restoration of the political checks and balances, the revocation of the dictatorship’s laws, and the introduction of democratic frameworks that include new laws for political parties, election, fomenting pluralism and economic competition, among others. The starting point is creating mutual trust among the democratic forces, the dissidents (who have placed their bets on turning their backs on the dictatorship), the economic elites, the military, and the international community regarding the political model to develop. This mutual confidence will include implementing a program of justice without impunity and the return of the exiles and creating incentives for a portion of the 800,000 who have left. It will require a viable plan for physical and financial integrity that can cut off at the root any form of corruption that was established under the abducted state.

As we look ahead three years to 2026, the movement for democracy must assume – starting now – not only the task of promoting a strategy to remove the dictatorship during their crisis of succession, but also that of designing a strategy for the democratic reconstruction of Nicaragua in order to confront the destruction “the day after.”

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Manuel Orozco

Politólogo nicaragüense. Director del programa de Migración, Remesas y Desarrollo de Diálogo Interamericano. Tiene una maestría en Administración Pública y Estudios Latinoamericanos, y es licenciado en Relaciones Internacionales. También, es miembro principal del Centro para el Desarrollo Internacional de la Universidad de Harvard, presidente de Centroamérica y el Caribe en el Instituto del Servicio Exterior de EE. UU. e investigador principal del Instituto para el Estudio de la Migración Internacional en la Universidad de Georgetown.