President Daniel Ortega’s brand of “state capitalism” has sharply divided the Nicaraguan society. His failure to acknowledge the mood of the public may cost him presidentship as he is fighting a war of survival
As public protest in Nicaragua has deepened, Daniel Ortega, the embattled President of the country, is battling for his survival. Though his term will end in 2021, protesters are bent on seeking his immediate resignation and an early election. His revolutionary party Sandinista National Liberation Front (in Spanish, Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional — FSNL) came to power with a promise to offer a reformist Left front regime in the country. He was the man behind ousting dictator Anastacio Somoza Debayle from power in the 1970s. However, since his first term in office in 1985, Ortega has changed his style of governance, turning the whole Government into a family business and promoting his cronies in Government enterprises. Besides, in 2016 when he came to power again, he chose to make his wife Rosario Murillo his Vice-President.
Now the moot point is why protests are continuing unabated and how the Ortega Government is planning to address the crisis. The saga of stand-off started on April 18, 2018, between his Government and a section of people as a reaction to cut in the pension system. Once protests intensified, the Ortega Government reversed the order for the status quo. Surprisingly, the protesters resolved to remain on the streets across the country and raised many other issues. These all include massive corruption charges against Ortega family and a section of cronies, his increasingly dictatorial style of functioning, and finally, the elevation of his wife, Murillo to the office of the Vice-President. The demonstrators seemed to have made up their mind to push Ortega out of office.
The capital city of Managua has become “Tahrir Square” of Nicaragua. The regional human rights body, named Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), says hundreds have died during the protest against the Ortega regime since April 18 as the Government deployed special force “Grupos de Choque” (Shock Forces) to repress protests. Currently, demonstrators openly blame the Shock Forces and the Army for all the violence taking place in the country. But, the establishment accuses criminal gangs and specific political groups of creating unrest against the legitimate Government of Ortega.
What surprises the international community is that this chaos is completely different from earlier ones in Nicaragua. Precisely, the lead protesters are no other than students from universities from different parts of the country. Joining them are ordinary people from all walks of life. This is making the whole chaos complicated for Ortega. More particularly, the Catholic Church and the business community to have joined hands with the commoners against the Government.
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People are demanding deep democratic reforms. And all of them believe that if Ortega continues in office, no such reforms can be carried out. Simply put, his administration will not allow any reform which might derail him from power, they believe. However, the Ortega Government thinks the new rebellion is nothing but a “coup” to remove a democratically elected president of the country.
The IACHR and Amnesty International are urging the Nicaraguan Government not to use lethal weapons against the protesters. Also, they are calling for an investigation into the use of force by paramilitary forces in the country. However, the Government has straightway denied any allegation of using lethal forces against the people and blames the opposition political forces and thugs for the current mess in Nicaragua.
Currently, a national dialogue between the Government and the protesters has failed as the latter insisted on the resignation of Ortega. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States have offered to mediate. But frankly speaking, it would be difficult to bring the Government and the protesters back to the table soon. In case, the national dialogue revives, it can work well, but then Ortega will not step down so easily. What will happen next, no one knows for now. If Sandinistas have to go, they won’t go peacefully. The record shows when he lost the election in 1990, millions of dollars of public money was transferred to Government loyalists on Ortega orders and bureaucrats looted the offices in broad daylight. Is it going to be another affair to be remembered with horror and despise? Let’s have a look at history.
By 1970s, America’s hemispheric policy was dominated by the specter of “another Cuba”. With the rise of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime right in the backyard of the US, Washington too was cautious about such upheavals in South America. To prevent such unwanted fears, then US President Lyndon Johnson had sent a force of 20,000 men to the Dominican Republic in 1965 and equally cautious Henry Kissinger quickly brought Chile under the surveillance of the CIA. But then, the fall of the thuggish Samoza dynasty in Nicaragua made this fear more palpable for Washington. At any cost, the policy-makers in the US wanted to prevent a Sandinista regime in Managua. What happened in Nicaragua literally shocked the Americans — a Sandinista regime was formed by the guerrillas. Ortega initially ran the Government very well with a friendly attitude towards the business community. But he continued to suppress the Opposition and cut freedom of the press.
Described by his admirers, Ortega is not a public intellectual as he had to cut short his studies to join the Leftist guerrilla warfare in the past. But surely, he has mastered the craft of becoming an astute political operator — he is an expert in making new alliances and dividing and debilitating his enemies.
Again, Ortega’s bond with the church is remarkable. An atheist earlier has gradually cemented his ties with the priests across the country. Between 2013 and 2015, his Government spent $3.2 million public money to install decorative metal trees in and around Managua. These biblically inspired trees, called “Trees of Life” come up with high power lights at night showcasing both beauty and his reverence for the faith. In 2016 election, wherein he won a landslide victory, the party posters display the curious slogan across “Christian, Socialist, Solidarity”. Since then, he has been using this policy of mixing religion and politics only to promote his policies and programmes through them. But the irony is that this is the same old church which helped oust the authoritarian Government of Ortega is now fast becoming his friend.
His brand of “state capitalism” has more loopholes than advantages. It has sharply divided the Nicaraguan society. Ortega faces his last test of survival. His failure to acknowledge the mood of the public will cost him dear. Nicaragua is soon falling into an abyss. Political pundits say it is in the process of turning into another Venezuela.