This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group experts Tiziano Breda and Ivan Briscoe about politics in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras and why Central Americans are leaving for the United States.
Originally published in Global Americans
Amid widespread condemnation of crackdown on dissent, Managua broke relations with Organization of American States, and authorities scored victory in maritime dispute with Colombia. Govt 24 April expelled representative of Organization of American States (OAS) in capital Managua, withdrew its representatives to regional body and said it will no longer participate in any OAS-related activity. Govt also expropriated building where OAS embassy was located, and announced creation of “Museum of Infamy” on site instead. Sec Gen Luis Almagro 27 April said Nicaragua’s move was unprecedented, including during times of worst dictatorships in the Americas. Move follows widespread international condemnation of country’s human rights record, as 38 European Parliament members 4 April sent letter to President Ortega expressing concern about human rights situation, demanding “immediate and unconditional release of the 169 political prisoners”; OAS Sec Gen Almagro same day had also urged international community to “increase diplomatic pressure” on Ortega to end “system of repression and torture”. U.S. State Department 12 April published 2021 Report on Human Rights Practices, denouncing how Ortega “awarded himself a fourth consecutive term” and arbitrarily imprisoned “nearly 40 opposition figures”. Despite international condemnation, repression continued during month. Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua 5 April said at least 181 political opponents still held in prison for political reasons, some since 2018; regional civil society network Voces del Sur 13 April reported at least 103 attacks on press freedom during March; Parliament 20 April cancelled legal credentials of 25 NGOs; at least 164 have been cancelled since Nov 2018. Meanwhile, Managua scored victory in maritime dispute with Bogotá after International Court of Justice 21 April ruled Colombian activities in Nicaraguan marine zone violated Nicaraguan sovereignty, ordered Colombia to stop interfering in Nicaragua’s waters. Govt 7 April voted against UN General Assembly resolution suspending Russia from UN Human Rights Council (see Ukraine).
With Nicaraguans heading to the polls in November, the government is already trying to engineer the outcome in its favour. An unfair ballot could spark unrest and a violent crackdown. External actors should push for reforms and dialogue with the opposition while eschewing counterproductive sanctions.
President Daniel Ortega’s government has released almost all political prisoners held since Nicaragua’s April 2018 uprising. It should stay this course, honouring its other commitments to the opposition in national dialogue. International actors should promise consequences if the government drags its feet.
Public resentment is high in Nicaragua after street protests in April were crushed in a brutal government crackdown. To prevent further unrest, President Ortega should implement agreed electoral reforms while international actors maintain diplomatic pressure to create conditions for dialogue.
[Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega] has shown that political survival outweighs any possible internal or external pressure. It was a matter of life or death for him to ensure re-election.
What we are seeing is a quiet stifling of opposition [in Nicaragua].
This virtual roundtable assesses the risks of turmoil and political violence, the aggravation of the country’s humanitarian predicament resulting in a surge of emigration and its significance for the region’s democratic backslide.
Originally published in World Politics Review
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
Political repression and economic hardship are pushing Nicaragua toward a low-intensity, protracted conflict. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to press for compliance with earlier agreements and a fresh round of negotiations that can help the country out of this deadly standoff.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.