Three decades from the end of its civil war, Nicaragua was shaken in 2018 by a mass uprising that President Daniel Ortega met with a violent crackdown. Hundreds died and thousands fled the country as security forces broke up mostly peaceful protests, spurred by an unpopular reform to the social security system. Despite Ortega’s major achievements in the fight against crime and economic development, critics accused him of undermining democracy and seeking to establish a dynastic authoritarian regime. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group seeks to contribute to a negotiated exit from the crisis and prevent further bloodshed.
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 Ortega tightened his grip on electoral process by filling electoral authorities with loyalists and barring opposition from running. Ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov, govt-controlled National Assembly 4 May elected Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)’s magistrates, mostly members of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front; same day amended electoral law, de facto restricting opposition participation and limiting international electoral observation. U.S. State Dept, Organization of American States and EU 6 May all condemned appointment of new CSE magistrates and changes to electoral law; U.S. State Dept also warned it will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against Ortega’s govt. In response, Ortega 18 May accused U.S. and European diplomats of election interference. CSE 18-19 May withdrew legal status of Democratic Restoration Party, electoral vehicle of opposition bloc National Coalition and Conservative Party. Attorney General’s Office 20 May said opposition presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities and money laundering; police same day raided premises of Chamorro’s NGO and independent news outlet Confidencial, run by her brother, in capital Managua. U.S. State Dept 21 May condemned “another alarming step away from democracy”. Attorney General’s Office by 26 May had summoned at least 16 journalists in relation to case. Meanwhile, opposition remained divided, with National Coalition and Citizen Alliance failing to form electoral alliance by 12 May deadline set by new CSE.
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.
What we are seeing is a quiet stifling of opposition [in Nicaragua].
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.
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.